Should Companies Require Employees to Attend Training?

Should companies require employees to attend training?About two years ago, I was hired by an organization to conduct two days of training on communication skills for a team of twenty. The director who hired me shared that she felt this was a serious weakness for the team, regardless of seniority or position level. Before I share the story, my question to each of you reading this is, “should companies require employees to attend training”?

Now the story. The training started at 8:30 AM. At 8:30, there were only three people in the training room, plus the manager. By 9 AM, there were a total of ten, plus the manager. Around 10 AM, another couple of people strolled in, and at noon there was a total of fifteen people. The other five never showed up, never notified me or the manager they weren’t able to attend, and we later learned they were at work but chose not to come to the training.

When we took a break at 3 PM, four people never came back. I later discovered that these four individuals rode in a carpool that left at 3:30, or were on flex time and left at 3:30. The people who came in late in the morning were also on flex time and kept their regular hours, which didn’t include coming in early for training. What I found interesting was that even though the company was investing in staff development, the staff felt no compulsion to attend, nor did the organization have a requirement for attendance.

If this was an isolated case I wouldn’t be writing this article, but it isn’t. Over the course of eight months a company hired me to conduct four training sessions on a variety of topics for their leadership team. Even though the head of training and development and the head of HR told me that what the organization lacked most was solid leadership, there was no requirement for anyone to attend the training; attendance was strictly voluntary. Not only was registration for the training on a voluntary basis, there was no requirement to attend the training once they signed up. Twenty people registered for one of the training sessions and I had five, yes FIVE, attend the class. There was never a time that everyone showed up on time, and usually I was starting 15 minutes after the published start time with a handful of attendees and stragglers coming in over the next couple of hours.

Does it make sense for companies to invest in training and then not have a requirement for employees to attend? In both cases, these organizations spent tens of thousands of dollars on training and people either didn’t attend or roamed in and out as suited their personal schedule. Maybe I am old fashioned or a hard ass, but I find myself thinking that if a company believes their staff needs development and they hire someone to conduct training and development, how can it be acceptable to not require employees to attend and attend during the hours the training is taking place? It boggles my mind.

The question I have is do these companies offer training simply to say they do, sort of a statement that says, “we care about our employees and offer training and development” and if the employees don’t attend they shrug their shoulders and say, “well, we offered it”? Or is there something else I simply don’t understand about why companies choose to let employees decide for themselves whether they need professional development and should attend training? Either the company believes in the value of training or they don’t. So, if the company sees the value of training, why isn’t attendance a requirement and if the company doesn’t see the value of training, why bother spending the money?

One of the complaints I hear from employees when I work with companies is there are limited or no opportunities for training outside the technical aspects of their job. They tell me they want to learn about how to communicate more effectively, how to manage projects and people how to create accountability within their team structures, and so many other topics; however, when offered the opportunity for development in these areas the employees don’t show up.

My sense is that employees use the lack of formal training as an excuse to have something to whine about rather than something they truly want. And, companies can demonstrate to leadership and staff alike that they hear the employees’ desire for training and have created the training opportunities, so all is right with the world. The companies don’t really are if people attend because the goal isn’t really developing people, it’s about checking a box somewhere that they offered the training, and leaders can feel good about themselves. Seems to me that if leaders were committed to training and developing employees they would require them to attend training when it was offered, be there at the starting time and not leave before it was over, regardless of carpool, flex time, or any other considerations. And, if employees were committed to developing themselves beyond their technical competencies, they would embrace training opportunities and want to attend as often as possible and take full advantage of the training time.

Should companies require employees to attend training? In my opinion, yes, without a doubt, absolutely! If they don’t the message to the employee is we don’t care enough to make sure you invest in your development, and that your development really isn’t important to us.

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