There is a chronic under-investment in training around digital subjects. This leads to employee turnover, a lack of innovation and a failure to keep up with digital evolution.
Every time I speak at a conference I am shocked. Shocked by how many of the people there pay for their own tickets. Instead of companies paying for training, employees pay out of their own pocket. In fact many are even required to take time off of work to attend the conference.
Although I am shocked, I am not altogether surprised. It shows a lack of understanding. A lack of understanding about the importance of investing in staff. Nowhere is this more true than when talking about digital skills.
The truth that makes digital training unique
We can moan about how management don’t get it. How they don’t understand our need for training. But we are the ones that need to get better at explaining. We cannot expect them to see the need, especially if they don’t come from a digital background.
After all, few of their other staff need the same level of ongoing training that we do. Although things change in other professions, they don’t change at the rate they do in our sector.
We need to get better at making this difference obvious. We need to put the rate of change in terms they understand.
For example the iPhone has only been around 10 years. We have only had apps 8 years. Responsive design has only been available to us for 6 years.
We can also talk about the torrent of new technology emerging on an almost daily basis. Virtual reality, wearables, chatbots, AI, augmented reality etc.
Now you might not need to know about these technologies for your job. But you can explain that for every one your boss has heard about their are five more in your field that he hasn’t.
Of course he might not care that you are slipping behind in your skills. He might not even care that an under-investment in training leads to higher staff turnover. But he will care when he realises it will impact his bottom line.
Why stagnant skills matter to your bottom line
When it comes to digital, I often compare it to swimming up stream. If you stop swimming you don’t stand still, instead you get swept backward.
We cannot stand still in digital. If we do our digital channels will become dated and customers will stop using them. Worse still, our competition will get further ahead until catching up becomes impossible.
It falls to you to explain. That although they hired you for your skills, those skills will be redundant within a year or two. That what you build will become obsolete. Obsolete as technology advances and user expectations increase. That if your skills atrophy you will be unable to keep the company competitive in digital.
We need to explain that one way or another the company will pay. They can either pay in training or pay external experts to fix things later when your skills fall behind. The difference is that training is cheaper and stops the company falling behind in the first place.
Once we have made that case. We need to then suggest a level of training that is reasonable.
How to introduce training to your manager
If we want our managers to pay for our training we have to be careful how it looks. It is easy for our training to look like a jolly or a reason to escape work. We have to make the case. But we also need to not ask for too much.
No asking for conferences abroad. At least not in the early days. In fact to begin with don’t ask your manager to pay out for a ticket at all.
Start by asking for time. Time to attend a local meet-up event. Time to read and learn. Time away from your day to day responsibilities.
When you get given that time, make sure you feedback to your manager. Tell him what useful things you have discovered and how it might apply. Show him that it was time well spent.
Once you have done that, ask for a small amount of money to signup for an online teaching platform or to attend a virtual workshop. Not only is this a small investment for your manager, it doesn’t need you to be out of the office.
As before, provide feedback. Show that the investment was worth it. Because once you have done that your manager will be much more receptive. More willing to pay for a conference and giving you the time out of the office.
We need to earn our managers trust. We need to show that training makes a difference. That means starting small and building up.
But we also need to remember the broader context.
Why it is not only digital staff that need digital training
Another thing we need to point out to management is that it is not only you who needs training in digital. The world has changed. Digital is a critical component of almost any business. The jobs of so many people are changing because of digital. Almost everybody needs to gain at least some digital skills. Whether it is writing for the web or handling customer support online.
Of course this is another reason to provide you with training. If you receive training, you can in turn train others. But it might also be worth considering getting external trainers to offer in-house workshops. This is often cheaper than sending several staff to external events like conferences.
The truth is digital is in a constant state of flux. Innovation in the field continues to plow forward at a blistering pace. Ensuring that staff can keep up with this pace of change is the only way to ensure your company survives. And it falls to you to explain that to management.