Mission critical: Training in tight budgets

Despite sequestration and looming budget cuts, training and professional development are critical to success, so don't skimp.

Sequestration or not, budgets in the defense world are soon going to get even tighter, while current requirements will most likely remain. It will certainly generate a great deal of churn as units attempt to address standing and future requirements. One thing that will stay the same however is the mantra for active duty, reserve and civilian contractors to “do more with less.”

The impending debates will wrestle on where to make the needed cuts. Often times training takes a hit. The rationale, while understandable, is actually counterproductive. In fact, stringent operational budgets should call for an increased emphasis in expanding the skill sets of the personnel that stay on staff, because they will be needed to do many more things than before, and do them all well.

Picture this. Budget cut mandates come down from on high and practically overnight, 20 percent of your staff is gone. In the defense technology arena, that means your network security shop has fewer individuals to manage and maintain a myriad of new and legacy systems at a high level of readiness. Before, it may have been possible to deploy two specialists on a particular project, each with their own specialty. One, for instance, could be an expert in information assurance audits while another may be adept at system integration. Now, you can only afford to send one person to do both jobs.

With staff reductions come a greater need to ensure that the remaining people can be given a wide array of assignments. Your people must become more dynamic, flexible and multi-faceted. The individuals need to be able to dive into detailed tasks and operational requirements but also need to be able to see the bigger picture. They must keep up on the latest tasks and be certified on a wide range of technology programs, and must do that within a technology industry that changes faster than anyone could have imagined 20 years ago.

To maintain a high degree of readiness when money is tight, the best investment defense agencies and contractors can make is in giving their folks the skills they need to do multiple jobs at very high levels of proficiency. 

In response, training programs themselves must also change with the times, and can no longer be viewed simply as a way to reward good performers by providing them a paid respite of sorts from their daily grind.

While opportunities to develop increased professional skills should still be given to high achievers, the training programs themselves have to be rigorous.  The best ones must be able to deliver tangible skills that individuals enjoy learning about, that they retain a great deal of information from, and that they can use to modify their behaviors on the job in such a way that it provides tangible benefits to their parent company.

This is especially true for courses on technology platforms and “train the trainer” certification courses. Choose ones that have a history of providing specific skills and do not avoid those that might have significant attrition rates.  Your people and your company will not benefit very much from a program that grants a certificate for simply showing up to class.

The best courses challenge individuals in the classroom. In doing so, they almost guarantee not only that the training time will be of value, but the retention rate and proficiency of the individuals who successfully complete them will be far greater than if they had taken a course that simply provides a proverbial check in the box.

Professional development is crucial for any operation regardless of the economic climate. In lean times, it’s even more important. I’ll admit a bias here, but what’s not disputable is the notion that doing more with less is only possible if those that remain on staff are fully trained, highly motivated, and supremely capable.