Training is a significant expense for employers. But according to LinkedIn's 2022 Workplace Learning Report, having "opportunities to learn and grow" is the top driver of a great work culture.
A potential solution is to train employees to then train their colleagues and co-workers.
Kaplan, a global educational services company based in New York City, has successfully trained employees to train their fellow workers. The firm acknowledges that it's well-positioned to do so because of the work it does, but its leaders believe the concept can work in many organizations.
The concept of "train the trainer" is not new, but during the pandemic, Kaplan discovered that new opportunities emerged to fill the need to replicate in-person experiences virtually.
Kaplan's idea is to create opportunities for employees to share their expertise with colleagues. Leaders did this through a virtual conference produced and hosted entirely in-house: the Develop U Virtual Conference (DUVC). They sent a survey to all employees inviting them to suggest a skill area for a session they could lead—an opportunity to gain exposure within the company while also contributing to their professional and personal development.
Other employees were recruited as "producers" for the sessions—supporting the presenters and managing chats, breakout rooms and Q&As.
The DUVC's first year was a success, and the firm is incorporating lessons learned as it continues the program. During the DUVC's second year, more than 800 employees enrolled and their average rating of their experience was 4.72 out of 5.
U.S. Rubber Recycling, a sustainable fitness flooring manufacturer in California, is another company that has successfully leveraged the value of peer-to-peer training.
"Because what we do is unique and the equipment in our shop is modified to our needs, the most efficient way to bring everyone up to speed is for senior team members to train junior employees," said Leslie Morales, the firm's head of operations.
Trainees—and future trainers—include workers with criminal histories, whom the company has hired through its BounceBack! second-chance program.
Advantages for Employers
Training employees to train others, said Jamie Irwin, director and search marketing expert at Straight Up Search, an SEO agency based in the U.K., "provides a way for employees to develop new skills and fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for the company's training program."
In addition, he said, "by involving employees in the training process, employers can ensure that the program is tailored to the needs of the company and its workforce."
It also helps organizations increase their bench strength, said Linda Shaffer, chief people operations officer with Checkr, an HR background check solution based in San Francisco. When employees are trained as trainers, she said, "they can take ownership of the entire learning process. This means that not only are they more engaged in the material, but their knowledge and expertise become a valuable resource for the company."
Benefits for Employees
Providing employees with opportunities to conduct training "gives them a chance to be more creative," Irwin said. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment.
Morales agrees. At U.S. Rubber, only the company's top performers conduct training, she said, and thus "the trainer role is perceived as an honor that the senior employees have earned." In addition, it "allows our employees to develop marketable skills, increasing their value to the company and boosting their resume for internal promotions and external opportunities."
This type of training, Irwin said, helps employees develop new networks and new skills that can be transferable into the future.
Attorneys at David Aylor Law Offices in South Carolina "see becoming a trainer as a way to share their knowledge on a topic they love and make an enduring impact on our organization," said David Aylor, the firm's founder and CEO. "Our in-house program for trainers develops their leadership skills, communication abilities, listening skills and emotional intelligence."
There are important best practices to consider when offering train-the-trainer programs.
First, not all employees will be interested in these opportunities, Irwin cautions. Some, he said, "hesitate about the time commitment and the amount of time it takes away from their other responsibilities."
That's OK. He noted that these types of programs should be optional—offered to employees, but not required of them.
In addition, Irwin continued, it's important to ensure that employees training others have both the interest and the skills to do so effectively. Not all may have those skills, even if they have the interest. "For us, it is crucial to ensure that employees have the necessary skills and expertise to deliver effective training," he said.
Irwin's company provides opportunities for employees to use these skills by allowing them to lead training sessions and give presentations, he said. "We monitor and evaluate the performance of employees training to lead others."
According to Shaffer, it's important to provide employee trainers "with resources such as handouts, slides or other materials to help guide their training sessions." Ongoing support, she said, is also "essential in order for them to be successful in their new roles."
It's also important to ensure employees recognize the personal value they can gain from participating in these efforts—building their own speaking and training skills, becoming more confident, and creating competencies that can serve them well in other roles.
Don't just leave it to chance that employees will understand the value of the training development opportunities you offer them, Shaffer explained. Share with them the value that training offers—now and into the future.
Aylor said his law firm originally started training employees to train others "to save the cost of hiring external trainers." But, he added, "the success and popularity of our program has led us to advertise it as an employee benefit."
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SHRM-SCP, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.
Related SHRM Article:
No Time for Training? Consider Role-Specific Learning, Reassessing Workload
, SHRM Online
, October 2022