Reap what you sow – talent shortages or a failure to plan training?


If you can’t find the right skills then what are you doing to grow the skills you need? Size doesn’t matter in this context but understanding value does. Are you even remotely prepared or leaving it to others?

training-with-coffeeSo, your firm can’t find enough qualified personnel. You blame the government, universities and competitors for this but did you ever think it’s partly a self-induced problem?  Maybe what’s driving the dearth in talented workers is an equally large absence of employer provided training. Complaining is not a solution to this skills shortage issue – action is!

While clearing out some old files, I discovered old training records of mine during my Accenture (nee Andersen Consulting/ Arthur Andersen) days. I knew then that the company invested heavily in training its people and possibly spent more than most firms. The firm had its own training division, training center, etc.  Even as a fresh out of college lad, I knew I’d be more marketable and skilled by working there than at some of the other firms that made a run at me. I was right.

I was with the company for 18 years. In the first seven years, I completed 1202 hours of training. That represented approximately 8.6% of my total available hours. Some of that training was self-study and some was in classrooms. A detailed recap of those first seven years is at the end of this piece.

Here are some important points to ponder:

  • When I joined the Consulting Division all those years ago, they only had approximately 3400 consultants globally. Yet, they still had a monumental amount of training available. Small company size is NOT an excuse for failing to have a comprehensive training program.
  • Training was core to the growth of the company. When I left the partnership, it had grown to over 65,000 employees. Today the company has over 394,000 employees You can’t grow aggressively by waiting for competitors and others to develop the people you need. To take control of one’s destiny, you must take ownership of the talent and leadership development processes.
  • Starting in my seventh year, I became an instructor at different courses. A year or two later, I was helping construct new content and new courses. I’m sure, someone, somewhere at Accenture is seeing me right now on some video explaining business process reengineering or other matters. This is important as the best teachers and content may already exist within your own firm. Are you doing everything you can to get their knowledge and experience transferred to as many people as possible? Shouldn’t you?
  • The leadership development and training processes are interrelated. It always amazed my non-Accenture friends how we could fly to distant cities all over the world, show up at a client and be productive within the hour. That was because we all possessed a shared training background, methods, education and skillset. Our leaders had the same background, too. I miss the bench strength that Accenture possessed. There were always dozens of highly skilled individuals at every level of the firm. The firm built its own leaders. Does your firm build its own bench or must it always look elsewhere for new leaders? The answer to that question will shed a lot of light on the success or failure of your training efforts.

Today’s debates re: skills/talent shortages are long on emotion and short on strategic thinking.

Some companies do not have training/leadership development programs because they’re cheap. That’s right – they see people as costs – not assets. As a result, they’d rather distribute all earnings to shareholders now rather than build up the capabilities of their workforce.

Some companies claim that the nature of work is too dynamic and volatile. As a result, they don’t know what their manpower requirements are going to be from one day to the next. Therefore, they don’t plan and they don’t train. Somehow, they HOPE others are training people for the just-in-time skills they’ll need someday. Unfortunately, if those new skills don’t arrive in time and en masse, then the company can fail. The overused cliché “Hope is not a strategy” is appropriate in this context. I have never believed this argument. Planning is something that is hard to get right and takes time – do it! A failure to plan is a corporate death sentence.

Some argue that they do offer training – it’s all just-in-time. That won’t work either. I had someone come to my home to install a big screen television. He told me he had never done one before but was going to watch ‘internet videos’ to get up to speed on it. No way was I going to trust my brand new $1,000 television to a novice. Just-in-time training works for some skills and needs but not all. If you’re an experienced appliance repair person, I’m fine with you consulting a just-in-time tool to point out some weird nuances with the particular appliance that’s malfunctioning. However, some skills, like customer interaction/satisfaction training, basic business understanding, etc. are not just-in-time but core capabilities all employees should have. Training is an amalgam of techniques, capabilities and content that needs to be tailored to the role and the person. One-size fits all won’t cut it.

Look at my training curriculum (below) from all those years ago. Does your firm offer anything close? What resources would be required to create something 25% as intense? Could you get your executives and board to support it? If you’re not building the leaders and skills for tomorrow, then where will those skills come from? Training IS a corporate responsibility – it’s just one that fewer firms have the courage to accept.

A review of my early career training at Accenture

  • First year: I completed 475 hours (out of an annual 2000 hours) of training that year. I took courses in:
    • Effective writing
    • Online design
    • IMS DB
    • Data administration
    • Detailed design
    • Programming management
    • Revenue systems
    • Word processing
    • Code review techniques
    • Documentation techniques
    • Systems projects administration
    • Assembler Language
    • RPG Language
    • Oil & Gas Industry
    • And more
  • Second year: I completed another 274 hours of training. I took courses in:
    • Computer performance
    • Data storage
    • Computer testing
    • Ethical standards/Independence
    • Data communication
    • Professional practices
    • Technical architecture
    • Operating systems
    • Automated application development aids
    • Work measurement
    • Functional analysis
    • Process design tools
    • Data analysis
    • Estimating guidelines
    • Expenditure systems
    • Revenue process
    • And more
  • Third year: That year I got married and had a huge conversion project. Nonetheless, I clocked in 80 hours of training in these subjects:
    • Data dictionary design
    • Cost accounting
    • Treasury systems
    • General ledger
    • Database design
    • And more
  • Fourth year: another 104 hours of training in these and other subjects:
    • Information planning
    • Controls design
    • Cost management
    • And more
  • Fifth year: 81 more training hours
    • Project quality assurance
    • Client service
    • PL/1 programming language
    • Ethics
    • And more
  • Sixth year: 87 more training hours
    • Computer crime/fraud
    • Practice methodology
    • Office automation and electronic data processing
    • Materials management
    • Artificial Intelligence
    • Application economics
    • And more
  • Seventh year: 101 more training hours
    • Financial accounting software
    • Planning
    • Master limited partnerships
    • Transaction systems
    • Practice methods

Image credit - training concept © cacaroot via fotolia

    Comments are closed.

    1. Your comment:
      “Some companies do not have training/leadership development programs because they’re cheap. That’s right – they see people as costs – not assets. As a result, they’d rather distribute all earnings to shareholders now rather than build up the capabilities of their workforce.”

      Keeping Staff
      I found this article very interesting and your comment (above) is really a typical employer answer here in South Africa and do not regard employees as assets needing to be nurtured. They see employees as an expense rather than building up on the talent pool. Employees in turn get frustrated as they do not feel that they are “an important part of the company”. Resulting in lots of moving around from company to company.

      Skills training to an employee is like, “the company is recognizing me enough to give me training they must appreciate me.” It’s seen as a compliment to a staff member and they become much more “brand friendly” so you are not only improving the skill set but also building more loyal employees.

    2. Employees leave bad bosses not companies.

      If the strategy is not to invest in training and nurturing but to buy in talent at least have this as the known plan and give yourself time to recruit properly.

      86% of the employers that approach is are not ready to recruit. It is frightening.

    3. brian sommer says:

      Gordon –
      Interesting point about training turning employees into brand advocates. A nice add to the post. Sadly, the employee as an expense thinking is way too common. THX for the comments.

      Christopher –
      Agree that bad bosses are the #1 reason for many people to depart firms. Your comment that firms don’t plan to give themselves enough time to recruit (when they don’t train) is probably right on, too. A sad and avoidable outcome awaits those firms – I feel for the employees in those organizations, tho’.

    4. says:

      Great article Brian. Did your skill development/ training experience at Accenture start more tactical in the early years, then overtime focus on softer behavioral skills. Or was it more mixed from the start?

    5. brian sommer says:

      The soft side skills were always part of the curriculum but the sheer number of technical skills I got in the early years was considerable. Overall, the initial years had a lot of technology focus, the middle years were about project management/team building/etc., the latter years were focused on practice building (e.g., sales, strategy, hiring, ethics, etc.).

    6. Cecilia de Freitas says:

      What a great topic! Training and development is something I personally and professionally strive to promote in companies. Thank you for highlighting the other side of the training coin (the company). Hopefully this will encourage more companies to invest in their talent.

    7. Abdul Rahman says:

      Interesting article really. However​ many employers today are more focused on short terms business growth and survival. As a result not many of them do not pay attention to human capital development as they used to be. Business is too competitive and they would rather spend more time on business process improvement to compete and import proven talent from out side to get that quick impact for business success. Similarly talented employees keep job hopping to move up the career ladder quickly. As a result less and less employers are genuinely concerned to invest time and money in human capital development, unless it’s a legal requirement.

    8. says:

      The Madrid became a meeting place when I returned to Thailand in the mid 90’s during exercise Cobra Gold.