Young crazy student with loupe  between books searching somethingA recent study from Manpower highlighted the continuing U.S. skills gap, indicating that anything from 25-50 percent of employers are having difficulty finding candidates with the right skills to fill key positions. This news, bleak as it may seem, should serve as a call to arms for the Learning and Development (L&D) function, as it represents a great opportunity for the L&D function to earn its stripes by developing internal employees and at the same time better equipping their employer to win the talent war. In fact, the evidence suggests that the corporate training function is doing just this with one report showing that U.S. training expenditure reached near double digit growth ($67 Billion) in 2011.

This all points to an exciting year for the L&D function as they work with their CEOs and department heads to design in-house training programs that lower the required entry skill level of new recruits—making it easier to find suitably skilled staff—and help to build strong pipelines of talent to support the succession planning and growth aspirations of the business.

As the upsurge in training procurement activity is likely to continue this year, we thought it would be an appropriate time to provide some tips on choosing a training provider, and I have outlined these below.

1. Develop a short list of providers

Remember, selecting a training provider is a formal procurement process just like any other, which means you should follow corporate buying best practice: research and compare the market and get quotes from a selection of providers, typically two to four.  A good starting point for this activity may be, which provides a list of the top 20 training providers within each of six industry categories, including IT, Sales and Leadership.

2. Develop a detailed request for proposal

Clearly specify your training needs, e.g. how many trainees, what type of skills, location, preferred style of delivery, and also establish your training outcomes. You can then prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for each of your shortlisted providers. This will mean that the training provider’s proposal and quote will be much easier to evaluate and compare.

3. Make a checklist of questions to ask when evaluating your proposals

Having received your proposals for training services you can now evaluate them to see how well each one meets your requirements. Below, I have provided a checklist of questions you can ask of each proposal to help you assess its suitability:

  • How well has each training provider addressed your requirements and learning objectives? Have they covered all the required learning areas in appropriate depth or do they lack emphasis in key areas?
  • Have they addressed your desired learning outcomes? How do they assess the effectiveness of the training, or put differently, how do they actually quantify what learning has actually taken place?
  • Does your providers have sector specific training experience? Are they able to advise on and execute a style of delivery that is optimized to your workforce? The best way to ascertain this is to look at their existing clients to see if your company has affinity with their customer base.
  • Do they offer a training environment that is suited to your workforce?
  • Does the training provider have have an approach and style which is suited to your culture and workforce? Will they be able to gain the trust and respect of key stakeholders and trainees?
  • Have they provided detailed profiles of each of the trainers so you can properly assess the trainers suitability to your workforce?
  • Do they have a post-training, follow-up program with students? This helps to reinforce the learning so it is deeply embedded into their new behaviors and not simply forgotten.
  • Do they have good quality client testimonials, or better still, will they allow you to contact satisfied clients?
  • Do their trainers have the appropriate certifications?
  • Have they won any awards or are they industry recognized?
  • Does the training agency have a transparent complaints process or are they members of a professional or regulatory body? This ensures that you have a means of redress if they don’t come up to standard.
  • Last but not least; does the course offer good value for money? Are more expensive quotes justified, e.g. better qualified trainers, better services, and/or more flexibility.

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