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In this section of the guide we will consider the pros and cons of different approaches to training and development and consider what are the most appropriate methods for small businesses.

What are the key types of training?

When we think of training we may just think about staff learning new skills for their role.  However effectively developing your team is about more than this.

In addition to task related skills, you may also want to consider training in areas such as:

  • Leadership skills – developing your senior staff to motivate and inspire their teams
  • Management training – giving your staff the skills to direct and manage your company’s resources.  This will include financial and people resources
  • Team building – developing the skills to improve collaborative working and improve the effectiveness of your teams
  • Emotional intelligence skills – giving your teams the right people skills to interact and work effectively with others.
  • Professional development training – supporting your staff to achieve professional accreditations.  This is both valuable to the individual and to the company as a mark of quality.
  • Apprenticeships – taking on new talent to grow and develop on the job (remember that an apprentice doesn’t have to be a young person as apprenticeships are open to all ages).  Companies with a total wage bill below £3m are eligible for funding from the Government for 90% of the cost of an apprentice, with the company only paying the remaining 10%.  In addition, there are no employers’ NI contributions to pay for apprentices under 25.  Apprenticeships can be an effective way to build succession planning into your business strategy.


Which staff will benefit from training?

The answer is that all staff will benefit from the right training.  However, you need to consider who the training is aimed at when deciding on the best approach.

Are you focusing on:

  • New staff
  • Existing and experienced staff
  • Those new to management
  • Experienced Managers
  • Executives / Directors
  • Teams


What are the most effective training methods?

Training can be delivered in a variety of ways, each of which have their pros and cons:


Instructor led training

This tends to be the traditional style of class room based training.


  • A skilled and knowledgeable trainer can really bring the subject matter alive.
  • Sessions can include a range of training techniques to keep people’s attention. A good trainer will avoid “death by PowerPoint” and will mix in interactive sessions such as case studies and role play.  DVDs and demonstrations can also be used to add variety to the delivery.
  • You can reach a number of employees at once and deliver a consistent message.
  • It’s possible to have instructor led on-line group training which avoids the logistical issues and costs associated with classroom based training.


  • It can be impractical in a small workforce to have a number of staff out training at once.
  • The quality of the training is really dependant on the trainer’s abilities.
  • Some staff can find group training settings intimidating and therefore not learn as well in this environment.  This can particularly be the case if some people dominate the session. 
  • Class room based training can be less cost effective for small groups on a cost per head basis as a trainer will often charge by the hour / day regardless of numbers present.
  • Depending on the subject being trained, you may be able to book your staff on a public course with other organisations.  However, this will mean that the training will be generic and not tailored to your company.


On-line / digital self-directed training (also known as E-Learning)

This type of training involves individuals undertaking training, usually at their own pace, using on-line or pre-prepared digital materials.


  • This can offer a relatively low cost training option.
  • Training can be done at a time to suit the employee and the business e.g. out of core business hours.
  • DVDs and many on-line options can be paused and gone back to at a later time, allowing staff to undertake the learning at their own pace.
  • Multi media / interactive options are more engaging for staff and can make the whole learning experience more fun.
  • This method works well for refresher training on key topics.
  • Tests can be built in to check the employee’s understanding to see if the learning has been effective.


  • Generic on-line training will not be tailored to your organisation so is only really useful for general topics.
  • Bespoke materials designed for your own company can be very expensive.
  • Staff without basic IT skills may find on-line training more difficult and therefore less effective.
  • Staff will need to have access to a computer to participate.
  • DVDs can go out of date very quickly and need to be updated and replaced.
  • This is not an effective method for training soft skills e.g. sales technique.
  • On-line products rely on good broadband to work well.


Self-directed training using printed material

This involves the use of workbooks and written material to support the employee’s learning.


  • Staff can read the material at their own pace.
  • This style of training works well for communicating things like policies and procedures.
  • Written material provides a lasting record and reference tool for staff.
  • They provide a consistent way of passing on information to staff, for example for standardised work practices.


  • 65% of the population are visual learners so written material alone will not be an effective training method for the majority of staff.
  • Written materials can become out of date very quickly and can be expensive to update and replace.
  • You don’t know if the employee has actually absorbed the information unless some form of test is undertaken, something that many staff may find stressful.


Hands on Training

This involves staff learning through observation – usually by observing a colleague


  • Those who prefer visual learning will learn better from actually seeing the job done.
  • This method works well for practical tasks and allows for practice to take place in a safe environment.
  • Staff may feel more confident in tackling the role once they have seen it in practice.


  • It will be important to choose the right person to demonstrate as they will need to be able to clearly explain a process and be patient with the person learning.
  • This method depends on the abilities of the colleague who is demonstrating – if they have areas of poor practice or bad habits they are likely to pass these on through the training.


Coaching / Mentoring

This involves an individual (the Coach or Mentor) supporting a member of staff to achieve specific professional or personal goals. Both coaching and mentoring use similar skills, but coaching tends to be over a shorter period of time whilst a mentor may support an individual over a number of years.


  • Coaching and mentoring are best suited to senior roles or to individuals who you wish to invest in and develop for the future.
  • Working on a one-to-one basis can lead to a deeper level of learning.  The individual will usually gain personal insights as well as support to deal with practical problems.  This can help make them a more effective employee as they become more aware of how they impact on others.
  • This level of investment in an individual should increase their engagement and effective contribution to the company.
  • By using a coach or mentor from outside of your organisation, they can bring further value by sharing different viewpoints and approaches.


  • Professional coaches and mentors can be expensive, usually charging by the hour
  • It can be trial and error to find the right coach / mentor as the relationship with the individual will be key to a successful outcome.
  • An internal coach / mentor will be cheaper but are less likely to be seen as being as impartial as an external coach / mentor


Train the trainer

This method involves a small number of staff undertaking training, who then return to the workplace to train their colleagues.


  • This can be a cost effective way to spread learning across your staff group.
  • It will be logistically easier than sending large numbers of staff off site for training.


  • You will be reliant on those who attended the original training to have taken all the information on board correctly themselves.
  • The quality of the training to the wider staff team will be dependent on the training abilities of those delivering it.


Blended Learning

This simply means using a range of approaches to deliver the training.


  • Studies have shown that this approach tends to be more engaging and delivers the best results. 
  • Learning tends to be quicker when staff receive the information through a variety of methods.
  • This approach means that everyone will benefit regardless of their preferred learning style.


  • It takes more organising and can be more expensive to provide training that involves a blend of different approaches.


Whatever the size of your business, effective training for your staff is key to your long term success.  By considering the points set out above you can ensure that you approach this in the most appropriate and cost effect way for your company.



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