How to choose and buy training from an external provider
Training is increasingly being seen as an optional spend. With more and more being managed and delivers in house, how do we make sure that any investment in training will add value to both individuals participating and the organisation as a whole.
We do not need to undertake “level 4” evaluation to know this, but we do need to ensure that training is the tool of appropriate use – not the first tool of choice.
With that in mind here are some factors to consider when arranging training:
What do you need to achieve?
Not all needs require training as a solution. Are you sure that training is required? If so is it a generic course or something niche and specific? Can you define precisely what the person is currently doing and what they need to do? How will you measure that the training has been successful? Remember for training to be successful each learner needs to know:
Why they are on the training, what is expected of them, what help, support and feedback they will get “back at work”
Train the right people
Training only works when the people being trained will use the knowledge/ skill straight away. If there is a delay then the training will simply not be effective – so don’t waste your time and money
Make the training relevant
It is all very well providing generic training for reasons of economies of scale and convenience, but if the training is not job/ role specific learners risk not seeing the relevance of examples given. Training should reflect the situation and context that the learners will be experiencing – not some esoteric example that is impossible to transfer learning too.
Human are primary learning through “trial & error” or copying. The reason for training is to avoid “trial & error” so make sure they have something to copy.
The importance of support
Learning does not happen in the classroom on a 2-8hr course – but knowledge acquisition and understanding does. Therefore to be effective any training needs to be appropriately backed up with “on the job” support and coaching. Who will do this? Has this been agreed BEFORE training takes place?
Selecting an external training provider
Once you have identified the need, now is the time to source a training vendor or provider. Ideally the provider will not just be delivering the training solution, the best ones need to be involved in the needs analysis so that they fully understand the need. Just handing a training provider some objective statements for a soft skills or management/ people effectiveness is just not good enough. You will fail to achieve any business performance goals.
Questions to ask a potential training provider
Will the course content be customised from an existing program or created for the first time? – which the answer is does not matter – it is how the provider answers that gives the key. If designing from scratch, then expect development to be 5-10 times the length of the delivery, e.g. a 1 day course should take between 5 and 10 days to write (classroom). If from existing material then a day or so per delivery day.
What is the anticipated length of the course?
If you want an effective training programme, the length of the course should be determined by the objectives required. Attempting to do 4 days of training in one day for budgetary or other reasons is just burning money – don’t do it!
What is the anticipated method of delivery?
Look for blended solutions – off the shelf classroom and e-learning elements as well as custom classroom and on the job coaching for maximum benefit. – tip – no single delivery method will meet your learning needs in an effective manner.
What are the final deliverables from the training provider?
What are you going to get for your money – both hard and soft – so materials, guides and the classroom delivery itself. A good provider will work with you to ensure that the solution you purchase meets your learning and business needs.
What is the anticipated delivery date for the programme?
Always agree a project time table. If a programme seems too good to be true in terms of preparation time – it is! Don’t use the provider! Phoning a provider on a Monday and expecting a customised course for delivery on Friday is just not possible by any reputable provider. Remember a good provider may not be able to achieve your desired delivery dates due to other customers – they do have them you know. If a provider says yes to all your dates – be afraid.. why are they not booked? Ask! They may work mostly on a 4 week lead time (many do) others may have had a project cancelled – this happens a lot – and is happening more and more regularly.
What is the budget for this project?
Be realistic. If you are buying anything outside very basic skills training (software applications, health & safety etc) realistically the trainer/ designer needs to earn a living. So if they don’t charge you for any design or customisation you should expect to pay upwards of £1000 per day (this needs to cover the design phase) If you are paying for design, then expect to pay £600+. If anyone charges less, then they are not operating a sustainable BUSINESS model. Walk away.
Ensure you are comparing apples with apples
Make sure that you give each training provider the same brief. Write out the brief, and if any provider requests clarity – send that question and answer to all providers you are talking to.
Tendering for training provision
Unless you are looking for millions of pounds worth of contract – do not tender. Invite 2 or 3 providers to submit proposals. Tendering causes provider to almost double their fees to cover tenders lost. Writing a tender is a time consuming and expensive process. You will pay for this somewhere. Ensure that proposals are no more than 5 pages per day of (unique) training required. If they cannot pitch in simple terms – how can they deliver practical and pragmatic training?
Tips for the purchasing process:
When looking for a provider take the following into account:
- Trainer/ Instructor: Know WHO will be delivering the training or facilitating the learning. Meet the individuals BEFORE agreeing the assignment. Make sure they are a cultural fit. Having the skills is one thing, but their style is another. The best trainers will recognise this and often turn work down as their style will not match their needs – even if technically they can do the delivery.
Does the trainer have the necessary experience and job competence? Many providers just train their trainers to deliver content. Great for a college to pass on knowledge – but not what you want to improve business skills and efficiency. Test the trainer – can they deliver training beyond the course? i.e. can they answer “out of scope” questions if a participant needs more information to gain understanding?
- References: Check the provider and individual out. Remember that even the best providers have off days/ periods. What you are looking for is a good performance over time – not just their last assignment or two. Ask references what you like about the provider and ask for 2 things you wish they would do differently.
- Guaranteed delivery: What arrangements are in place if the trainer is ill? Will you accept a replacement? Will you see them before – or are you prepared to change dates. The golden rule here is the bigger the provider, the less likely it is you will get any say in who leads the training YOU are purchasing!
- Years in service: Are they new to training, or have they been doing this for some time? They do not need to have been freelance for years, but have they enough experience? Is their business model sustainable. TIP – if they charge too little they will be out of business faster than you think! – cheap has its costs!
- Course Material: If the training is to generate change in the workplace you need to know what is being covered and HOW it will be covered. A set of power-point slides are not handouts. The materials need to be supportive of the learning you need people to achieve. If you are buying a technical or statutory course, make sure the provider includes underpinning knowledge material for future reference.
- Course Designer: If using a large provider ask to see how they manage development and continuous improvement in both their participant manuals and trainers notes. One major UK provider just gives the trainers the participants manuals and says “go write your own trainers notes” – this is not good or consistent training. If you are a large company and want lots of people to know the same materials, consistency in deliver is important.
- Test Development: If you are using a training provider to deliver courses that require progress tests (health & safety, statutory, financial etc), knowing who writes the questions can be important. Are they known to the trainer, so that people are trained to “pass the test” or is there some element of randomness to the test – to really teat learning? Are the tests written by people that understand test and question design – as a poor question can lead to lack of clarity/ understanding. Is the test item bank large enough? Etc..
- Item Analysis: When tests are used, check to see how the provider evaluates their tests over time to see that under-performing questions are removed or modified.
Remember – every training provider will claim that they can deliver the training you require; as well as considering the above go with your gut feeling as well as common-sense to tell you how effective they will be. If you go purely on “presentation” the big providers will win every time – but they will not be able to adapt and customise any deliver like a smaller, leaner and more innovative training provider can.