Training is an expensive business and for a young company strapped for cash it can be difficult to invest money in an activity where the returns are often at best difficult to measure. On the other hand, training and development can also mean the difference between prosperity and failure.

This is an exciting time to look at training; it is high on the Government’s agenda. There is also a great deal of effort going into promoting good standards in training. For more information on standards, see www.sfediuk.com The government wants to create a learning society that will enable UK plc to become more competitive. And they are throwing millions of pounds into the pot to help small businesses play their part in achieving that.

Why should you do it?

The arguments for training in a small business are basically the same as for UK plc but on a smaller scale. The argument goes like this: creating what is often referred to as a learning organisation – one in which everyone is constantly learning and applying their learning to bring about improvements – will help create a more dynamic and competitive entity. People will work smarter, they will innovate and your company can beat the competition into a cocked hat.

Put like that, it sounds compulsive, and it is easy to see why it has caught the imagination of so many organisations. But when people first start to think about introducing a training strategy in their company, they often find the process bewildering and the consequences alarming. The blank sheet of paper syndrome takes hold as people ask themselves: “What kind of training should I be providing?” Their second question is usually: “How much is this going to cost me and how am I going to pay for it?”

What training should you provide?

The process of determining what training you need to provide begins with your business strategy, of course – what are you trying to achieve? The second stage is to determine what skills and knowledge you need in order to achieve your goals.

The third stage is to identify which of those skills the people in your organisation already possess. From there you can identify the skills gap and therefore the training you need to provide in order to fill the gap.

This is a crude description of the process that forms the core of the Investors in People (IIP) standard. Introduced by the government in 1991, the scheme aims to provide a recognised benchmark for good practice in achieving business success through people. In simple terms, the standard is about ensuring that people development is linked to strategic business issues.

The process of achieving recognition as an Investor in People is a long and, some would argue, an over-bureaucratic one. Nevertheless, it does offer a very useful model that can help you plan your training and development even if you decide not to go for recognition. The IIP process is currently looked after by the Training and Enterprise Councils (TEC). So to find out more, contact your local Tec, or visit the IIP website at www.iipuk.co.uk

If you want a shorter route to identifying your training strategy, a relatively quick brainstorm based on your business aims will probably enable you to fill up quite a few blank sheets paper. If you find that easy to do, the next stage is to organise those ideas into something meaningful.