Training people for the benefit of others: What to do?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Training people for the benefit of others: What to do?

It’s a question asked by every employer that invests in training: What do we do about the folks who lap up the learning, but then take it with them to another employer? In other words, are we in the business of training people for the benefit of others, including competitors?

Unfortunately, there’s no single answer that I can see. But I do find it interesting that employers’ reactions to the problem range across a very wide spectrum indeed.

On the one hand, you have the open-handed attitude of Starbucks, which recently announced it would help pay for employees’ college educations and not require any particular commitment from those who take up the offer.

On the other hand, you have the financial institutions that spend tens of thousands of dollars training investment advisers, and want to make so darn sure of getting their money’s worth that they will try to recoup their costs by dunning trainees who leave the training program early.

Clawing it back
The latter approach was highlighted recently when a former Wells Fargo adviser trainee sued the big banking company for trying to recoup its training investment in her. The trainee said she was forced out of the program.

In her lawsuit she claimed that, by trying to force her to repay $50,000+ in what it said were training costs, the bank was violating federal labor laws. Specifically, she claimed, a take-back of that amount would mean the bank was able to avoid paying her the minimum wage and also overtime.

According to an account of the lawsuit in Investment News (subscription required), many large financial firms with training programs require commitments from trainees, and may seek to recoup their expenses from people who fail to complete their training or leave the company early.

Most training agreements require trainees to stay at a firm for the duration of the program — often in excess of three years — and then a year or two after that, according to Investment News. Wells Fargo has trainees sign a five-year contract that values the training at $55,000, the former trainee’s lawsuit says.

Assessing the situation
I’m not here to tell you that investment firms are being draconian when they seek to protect themselves from wasting training costs in this way. They’ve made a business decision that they’re apparently comfortable with.

On the other hand, there probably aren’t all that many employers out there who are prepared to go after former employees to recover their training costs. No doubt a large number of employers will decide that the risk of bad feeling and reputation damage outweigh any financial benefits of recouping costs.

And there’s another point. According to a recent white paper from IBM, when employees believe that they’re receiving the training they need, only 22% of them say they intend to leave the organization. (Some 16% are undecided and the rest – 62% — intend to stay.)

But among those who aren’t getting the right training, fully 64% say they intend to leave. In other words, training may be more of an incentive to stay than an incentive to leave.

So with all these facts in mind, what’s the best, balanced approach for you?

What you can do
First, it’s a good idea to quantify what the training you offer is worth in dollars and cents, on the open market. Find out what similar programs cost at local community colleges or night schools.

Then tell your employees how much you’re investing in them. They deserve to know the value of the non-salary benefits they’re receiving, and they may be pleasantly surprised by how much you’re willing to spend to help them grow and develop.

As for trying to lock them in for a reasonable amount time after completing the training, you don’t necessarily have to make it a contractual matter. You can do a couple of things:

    • 1) Let them know how the training will suit them for further opportunities — including promotion — within your organization.

2) Appeal to their sense of honor and responsibility. If you tell trainees it’s only fair that your organization be the one to reap the fruits of their training, at least some people will hesitate to jump at the first competing job offer that comes down the pike.

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