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Too often, small business owners think employee training is something big businesses do, but that’s short-sighted thinking. Employee training not only teaches your team how to do something better but benefits your company and is a powerful tool for employee retention.

And in today’s tumultuous environment, providing DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) training to your staff is key. According to Epignosis, a pioneer in learning technology, DE&I programs “improve workplace culture, foster inclusive behaviors, and provide practical tactics that allow [your team] to be more inclusive in everyday interactions.”

To understand more about the importance of employee training, I talked to Elena Goulas, the content manager at TalentLibrary, an Epignosis brand.

What types of training programs do employees want the most?

Elena Goulas: Since companies have been working remotely, there has been an increase in interest from employees for training initiatives that will help develop their soft skills in the workplace, including communication/collaboration and proactive thinking. The new challenges created by physical distance and remote work have highlighted the need for communication and collaboration skills. And recent research shows business leaders say among the most important soft skills employees lack communication and collaboration skills rank first (57%).

Dispersed workforces today collaborate and communicate through asynchronous interaction, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings—accelerating awareness of the soft skills gap. But, it can be very challenging for companies to effectively teach these skills since they’re much more difficult to train for than technical abilities but are critical to have since they are directly related to a company’s survival.

A recent TalentLMS survey, which examined the working and training habits of remote workers, looked into the type of training they want from their employers. The top answers: hard skills (80%); soft skills (53%); COVID-19 training (39%); compliance training (32%).

Other data from the survey highlighted the difference in inclination towards hard skills or soft skills training, based on employees’ age.

Specifically, 86% of respondents aged 18-34 want to receive hard skills training, and 50% want soft skills training, while 77% of those aged 34 and up want hard skills training, and 54% want soft skills training.

How important a benefit do employees consider training? Is it a good retention tool?

Goulas: We have seen a significant increase in employees who see the benefit of training and development programs and their impact on the employee work experience. Using these programs, employees find they can achieve their goals better, faster, and strive for continued growth. Plus, employees say these programs are key to improved morale, increased retention, and positive corporate culture.

According to a past TalentLMS report, employees who receive training from their employers report feeling valued by their companies at a higher rate (63%) than those who don’t (44%). The same is true for reported levels of happiness while working from home (73% versus 64%), communication with their team (65% versus 52%), and their productivity (72% compared to 65% of those who don’t receive training).

Plus, more than 7 in 10 remote employees who got soft skills training say they have no plan to leave their employers.

Why should small business owners invest in employee training, and what specific types of training can most benefit a small business?

Goulas: Employee training is essential for all types of businesses. Small business owners should consider investing in these types of trainings and programs as they provide many benefits to their businesses. For one, it increases employee engagement by allowing employees to be able to participate in additional activities, and in return, motivates and encourages them to work harder.

Since a small business has fewer employees and less revenue than bigger companies, incorporating development training will save businesses money by advancing talent from within, giving workers the opportunity to learn a diversified set of skills, and cultivate a workforce (regardless of size) that performs a variety of functions and responsibilities. Overall, employee training will help shape a small business’s future to be more successful and efficient.

One type of training that can benefit a small business is soft skills development in emotional intelligence and self-awareness. The importance of emotional intelligence (EI) in the workplace is critical yet overlooked. Intelligence isn’t just about being a good learner, top-performer, or talented problem solver. Emotionally intelligent individuals know how to listen and can work well with others. This is one of the main reasons EI is essential to good teamwork and collaboration. Offering direct course-oriented training in emotional and cultural intelligence through direct upskilling coursework can help employees understand what cultural intelligence (CQ) is, how emotional and cultural intelligence coincide and why they are important in both the physical or remote workplace.

Developing these skills is critical to maintaining a positive workplace and helps employees and managers find ways to engage with one another as effectively as possible, leading to an improved employee experience.

Another type of training that would benefit small businesses is compliance training—knowing how to build a compliant business with the proper licenses and tax requirements and how to operate a business without violating any laws.

Given that small businesses don’t have L&D budgets and departments as bigger companies do, they can benefit from ready off-the-shelf courses created by training experts.

Why is DE&I training so important to employees and employers today?

Goulas: eLearning can boost inclusion and diversity. Even though it may look like online training gives employees a hard time (to those who may not be tech-savvy), modern learning management systems and training platforms have features that help build inclusive learning. It’s important to remember that diversity and inclusion are not just boxes to tick. You can’t just install software and reap the benefits of a diverse workplace. However, with careful planning and the correct input, you can create an environment that fosters inclusion and boost your efforts by developing training that works for everyone.

As people have many different needs and perspectives, training should not always follow the same pattern for all. Unfortunately, it often does, falling into the trap of serving only the general norm—without taking different needs, cognitive diversity, backgrounds, and learning styles into consideration.

Opening the doors of employee development through accessible, representative training communicates your company values. It shows your employees what you care about by removing barriers to advancement that underrepresented people often face.

What are the latest training trends in the DE&I space?

Goulas: Companies often look very heavily at diversity training in a one-sided manner—thinking only about diversity as it relates to someone’s ethnicity or background. While training in the DE&I space should undoubtedly focus on biological diversity, cognitive diversity also plays a major role in training your workforce. Because people learn through various styles, it’s critical that companies take this into account when implementing learning systems. That’s why companies need to initiate solutions that accommodate different learning styles, including auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc., to ensure all employees receive equal access to L&D opportunities and the same chance to excel.

Any other trends you see in the learning and development space?

Microlearning and mobile training have become very popular. When it comes to training programs, many people have short attention spans or don’t enjoy the trainings because they are too long and time-consuming. Microlearning can be a better way of learning since it is much shorter, quicker, and provides bite-sized exercises that people can do throughout the day. Also, microlearning generates 50% more learner engagement since learning in 3-to-7-minute increments is a perfect match to the brain’s working memory ability.

We see more and more companies investing in soft skills and the mid-and long-term benefits they bring to teams. For one, having a set of soft skills allows employees to have more self-confidence and self-esteem in knowing what it takes to do in their roles and responsibilities. Having more confidence also leads to lowered stress levels, helps employees reduce risks, and enables them to solve problems independently. Overall, soft skills build a stronger, better-connected, and happier team leading, in turn, to improved productivity. 

Have more questions about training for your staff? A SCORE mentor can help. You can find one here.

About the Author(s)

 Rieva  Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBusinessCurrents.com.

CEO, GrowBiz Media

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