As a payroll professional, understanding the many compliance issues, rules, and regulations involved in my role is crucial. Training is a huge part of the job: gaining new industry knowledge is essential to maintaining the high-performance standards my clients have come to expect from my team.
Unfortunately, a disconnect currently exists between employees' desires for workplace training and employers' attitudes towards it. The fact is, many employers see employee development as costly, time-consuming, and inconvenient - all factors which can lead business-owners to underestimate the importance of training and overlook opportunities to deliver it.
Costs and losses
Recent research by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) would seem to confirm this trend, revealing a growing number of small businesses neglecting employee training opportunities. The research revealed:
- Around 15% of SMEs spent nothing on workplace training.
- 26% of SMEs spent money only on 'ad hoc' training - as opposed to budgeting for it.
- Those businesses with training budgets spent only £1,739 per year (that number dropped to £603 for micro-businesses).
Significantly, the study found that around 40% of UK SMEs saw employees leave to join a larger competitor to take advantage of the training opportunities offered there. The cost of losing an employee amounted to an average £3,340 - a figure which, ironically, would likely have been more than the cost of providing the very training the employee left to seek.
It goes without saying that businesses are obliged to (and do) train their employees to a certain level of competency for a number of obvious reasons (such as health and safety), but from a financial perspective, the importance of training grows. Errors and mistakes can quickly snowball: the AAT estimates UK SMEs lose around £1,277 per year in incorrectly calculated tax, unpaid invoices and punitive fines - a net loss of around £2.9 billion to the economy. In larger businesses that figure may grow exponentially.
Attitude and culture
Attitudes to workplace training would seem to run contrary to the professional needs and desires of both employers and employees. Research shows that, rather than being an afterthought, training should be high on every employer's priority list:
- 76% of employees want to receive opportunities for career growth
- 87% of millennial employees say career development is important in their current roles
It's important to remember that the benefits of training should go both ways - the knowledge and skills employees gain should ideally translate to a boost for employers' bottom lines. The importance of training is overlooked or dismissed, however, when employers fail to see value for money which, given employees' obvious desire to pursue career development, suggests a problem in both its perception and implementation. Nobody likes travelling cross-country to sit in a costly, unfamiliar conference room to receive training... but is there another way?
Changing the culture of workplace training may offer a solution to the current disconnect between employer and employee attitudes. Given its importance in our field, Activpayroll decided to take a new approach to payroll training - and deliver development opportunities to our team members using the existing infrastructure, expertise and skills we had at our disposal in our headquarters in Aberdeen.
Having identified a general lack of industry training in Scotland - and especially poor access to apprenticeship schemes - in 2015, we launched a training academy in collaboration with the Chartered institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP). The academy is run from our premises in Aberdeen and is designed to serve both current employees, and prospective future employees who may be thinking about starting a career in the payroll industry.
The academy is built around the expertise of our senior employee, and removes many of the traditional pressures and disadvantages of the training process. While many employees hold specific payroll qualifications, obtained through the CIPP, training for those courses traditionally meant travelling to a third-party location, and the need to balance on-going work affairs with study requirements.
We decided to engage our existing employees (some of the most experienced payroll managers in the business) as tutors within the academy - guiding learning programmes, and disseminating their collective knowledge to trainees. Working in collaboration with the CIPP, we also developed a bespoke online portal, which provides students with access to training materials and facilitates interaction with tutors. Most importantly, our in-house training infrastructure is streamlined, reducing the off-putting costs, loss of time, and productivity dips associated with conventional courses.
Beyond those immediate benefits, since implementing the academy training system we have seen results in three significant areas:
- Job Satisfaction: The disconnect between training, and its effects on performance, has been reduced - leading to an increased level of job satisfaction for trainees. Specifically, trainees feel much more able to share their knowledge - a factor which encourages teamwork and boosts morale. Students also believe the CIPP-endorsed skills have given them more confidence to carry out their day-to-day tasks, and engage with clients and colleagues in a much more pro-active way.
- Service Delivery: The bespoke training provided at the academy is able to address employee's specific weaknesses by identifying gaps and delivering relevant knowledge. In practice, this has translated to a series of wide-ranging improvements to the packages and services we offer: employees are able to complete assignments more quickly, with less assistance, and to a higher standard - and pass those benefits on to customers.
- Talent Retention: The on-going nature of the training provided by the academy, and its association with the CIPP, has enhanced employee retention rates. Not only is turnover lower, but our company has become more attractive to potential employees. This aspect of our training culture is central to the academy's goals - advancing the career development of employees, while simultaneously boosting the performance of the company.
Challenges and evolution
While our new academy has brought positive changes, we'd be the first to admit the system is still evolving.
We encountered a range of challenges while setting up the academy framework, not least the general, daily stresses of the workplace, including urgent phone calls, emails, and deadlines - which all find a way to infringe on even the strictest of training schedules. Off-site training, by definition, reduces those distractions.
Another potential disadvantage is the propensity of workplace training to exacerbate bad practice. While our CIPP-accredited employees are trained in the professional standards of the payroll industry, companies without the benefit of similarly-recognized accreditation bodies may find themselves disseminating incorrect, or simply bad, information.
With those issues in mind, any system of workplace training must be implemented with careful consideration - and include competent, top-down leadership, and quality controls. The strength of our academy has been its flexibility: finding a balance between empowering trainees to succeed and grow, while also providing a robust, accredited, educational framework.
Our system may not work for every company but thinking outside the box, and being willing to challenge the culture of workplace training promises to open up new, rewarding approaches. If your business is struggling to give its employees the development opportunities they desire, it might be time to start thinking differently.