Is There a Training Crisis in American Business?

Written by Jessica Stillman | Apr 13, 2011 5:08:14 PM

When the advertising industry gathered in March for the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies) conference, participants probably expected a bit of networking and some chat about the state of the industry. Less expected were survey results delivered by Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas' Arnold Worldwide.

Together with 4As, the firm polled employees and managers to see how the industry is doing when it comes to training and retaining talent. The answer: pretty badly.

Sink or swim in advertising

"The average Starbucks barista gets more training than the average communications employee," Bennett announced, noting that the survey found that 90 percent of employees learn to figure out problems on their own. The effect of this lack of training on retention was predictably bad: 30 percent of workers leave their agency within a year and 70 percent of employees told pollsters they would call a recruiter back if one contacted them.

Is the training situation really that terrible in advertising? According to Kathleen, a Washington, DC area marketing manager, things really are pretty terrible: “Each agency that I have worked for had either a lack of training, or no training whatsoever.”

Are other industries any better?

But Kathleen and her brethren in advertising aren’t the only ones simply thrown in the deep end. Roberta Matuson, author and president of Human Resources Solutions, explains: "Lack of training, especially for new managers, is a pretty widespread phenomenon. Companies view training as an expense, rather than an investment, and when the economy tanks, training is the first thing to go."

Matuson’s diagnosis of a generalized crisis in training is supported by a recent CareerBuilder survey that found 58 percent of newly minted managers received no management training whatsoever. Companies may be trying to cut costs when they neglect training, but according to Matuson, they’re likely to end up paying for their failure to get employees up to speed in the long run.

Little training, big costs

Take the case of Julie Melillo, a New York-based life coach, who wasn’t even shown how to open the cash register when she got her first job in retail. “I had to tell customers I couldn't check them out because I didn't know how to use the cash register. It was mortifying.” It may have been embarrassing for Melillo, but it was also annoying for customers, who are likely to take their business elsewhere.

Add to these costs the expense of increased employee turnover and -- should word of your abysmal training get out -- problems attracting top talent with your tarnished employer brand and you’re talking some significant sums.

Need some numbers to back up your case that training pays off? In a follow-up post commenting on Benett’s shocking talk, the 4As blog offered some ammunition to those hoping to argue that increased training pays for itself through a more engaged workforce:

  • Highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their organizations than highly disengaged employees. (2004 study by the Corporate Executive Board)
  • Organizations that had employee engagement scores in the top quartile had 18 percent higher productivity and 16 percent higher profits. (Gallup)

What’s been your experience: is the experience of being thrown into the deep end at a new job really as common as these stories and surveys suggest?

More about employee training and retention on the Mindflash blog.

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London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for