An investment in ongoing training for your employees today guarantees a return later.

"Would anyone put a thoroughbred horse into the Kentucky Derby if the horse hadn't been trained to perform?" That apt analogy was made recently by a government training executive commenting on corporations and federal agencies cutting back on employee training. To answer his question, your response would most likely be "Of course not." The fact is that without the skills, you aren't able to win.

At The National Conference Center, training—more specifically, leadership training—comprises the largest part of our business. We are fortunate to gain insights into the value of training from our clients, and we have learned that while building skills is essential, other results of training are equally important. Clients tell us that training also plays a key role in employee engagement, and employee engagement means a successful organization.

Employers often are surprised to learn that money is no longer the primary motivator for their workforces. Today, employees won't necessarily stay because of a high-paying salary or because they enjoy their work. But they will stay because of a more basic interest—career development. So while training can be a natural target for budget cuts in tough times, it's important to avoid cuts that take it out entirely.

As you might guess, a negative consequence of cutting training is turnover. Shockingly, the average turnover cost for a midlevel employee can be 150 percent of his salary. By understanding the impact that training has on employee engagement, retention, and the company's performance, organizations can make wise decisions about budget cuts with both short- and long-term advantages.

Training shouldn't be limited to new hires

The National Conference Center spoke to a sampling of training executives about their training programs and goals. Our conversations confirmed the widely accepted theory that ongoing training gives employees the essential tools they need to succeed in their jobs. But beyond that, senior leaders should note that long-term retention often is a result of training investments that extend beyond first-day orientation.

The best employees will leave if the company isn't invested in their future. Expect a return-on-investment when you train employees who already are vested in the company. Performance improvement is typically the first return—a win-win for the company and the individual employee. Employees receive a confidence boost from in-person coaching that enables them to improve their skills and develop new ones.

Your boss's boss is another employee who can benefit from training. A senior-level executive needs the skills and leadership abilities to be an effective manager and, in turn, ensure satisfied and engaged employees. Although identifying future leaders within the organization is an important practice, you cannot identify people for high-level leadership positions and expect them to automatically possess the skills and leadership abilities required of them.

Investing in training for senior-level executives also plays a key role in employee retention. When trained senior-level executives are equipped with the tools and communication skills needed for their jobs, performance levels increase both within themselves and throughout the organization.

Clients tell us that the training experience must be as meaningful as possible for employees. Although it might sound trite, adult learners want to know the answer to "What's in it for me?" It needs to resonate that what is being taught matters to them.

For this to be true, the type of training also should be taken into consideration. From an employee's perspective, participating in case studies, simulations, and action learning is much more valuable than passive learning. Some of the highest rated activities in our clients' training programs include those that can't be done by working alone. Instead, they are high-level projects that allow teams to collaborate to brainstorm and try out new ideas.

Expensive mistakes

In addition to enhancing long-term retention and employee engagement, training has the potential to create a performance culture, increase customer satisfaction, and build sales. However, there are greater negative consequences associated with not training employees.

Cutting training budgets can lead to uneasiness and a state of uncertainty and chaos. In the private sector, employees perform so their company will be competitive and be able to show results to stockholders. Government agencies need to show operational results so they can answer, "Are we delivering the mission promised to the American people?" If neither has invested sufficiently in training, corporations and government agencies are unable to meet stakeholder expectations.

Three takeaways

Whether we are in an economic recession or a booming economy, employees are most interested in companies that are investing in their professional development and career growth. To be a desired organization that is able to retain everyone from entry-level associates to top senior leaders, keep in mind these three significant takeaways.

Training no longer is a process that new hires experience in the first month. It's a career-long endeavor. Understanding the material, knowing how to use it well, and applying it back on the job are extremely valuable in positioning employees for success. Employees who feel confident and secure and have a positive outlook on their skills and jobs possess the tools needed to achieve their goals such as increasing sales, providing exceptional customer service, and creating a performance culture.

Money no longer is motivating the workforce. Instead, training and development is the motivating factor. In this millennium, employees are focused on advancement and want to know, "How will this company help me? How will this training event help me reach my career goals?" If your organization is serious about doing amazing things and having a performance culture, training is the most obvious part of successfully competing in the marketplace or workforce.

Training is part of a critical strategy of the future. If the United States is interested in competing on an international level, then the key to being a serious player is investing in the future of the workforce. Progressing forward with the tools of yesterday can result in expensive losses, including lack of communication, a loss of key accounts, and disastrous mistakes. Organizations should support training as a means of ensuring high performance levels and to maintain competitiveness in the private sector and efficient operations in the government.