HR clinic: A formal training policy is essential

We have a lot of new staff who need training, but we have only a limited budget. How can we do this without breaking the bank?

All charity management is about deciding between conflicting priorities, and demand on the training budget is no exception. Good for you that you've got one at all, but is it really big enough? The Confederation of British Industry recommends that any organisation's training budget should work out to at least 3 per cent of the total payroll; very few charities can go that far, but it's worth aiming for.

Even then, however, you're still going to have to prioritise, and it's much easier to do that within the constraints of a formal and transparent policy. Your policy needs to cover who approves the training, to whom it is available and how staff can raise concerns if they miss out.

Most importantly, it needs to set out corporate priorities, even if those change over time. For example, you are likely to give greater weight to skills training that helps an employee to do their job than to a request to go on a course for personal development.

All work-related training should be aimed at achieving work-based outcomes.

As part of your annual development plan, which trickles down through the appraisal process, identify all individual employees' training needs and draw these together into training activities that benefit from economies of scale. At the same time, you should continue with more regular training activities such as induction courses, safety awareness and diversity training - the type of training that underpins the culture and management of the organisation.

All this can be coordinated by a training manager, if you have one, or another senior manager if you don't, and put into a training plan for the next 12 months. Always remember to leave a little spare capacity to address the unexpected.

To keep your plan within your budget, you might have to put some matters to one side until resources become available next year. But you can make great savings by offering internal training, first from your in-house experts, if you have them in the relevant subject, then by bringing in an outside expert, which is usually cheaper than buying lots of places on external courses, although those can be an effective last resort. You might even be able to share the cost with other voluntary organisations by throwing your courses open to them.

Finally, it's worth remembering that some of the old methods can be the best. Sitting Next To Nellie - placing inexperienced staff next to those who know the ropes and can pass on their knowledge - costs nothing (sorry about the sexism, but that's what it's often called). But make sure they pass on only good habits - not the bad ones as well.

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