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Employee Cross-Training: How to Ensure a Future-Ready Workforce

Prepare your people for future challenges and opportunities with a cross-training program...

Alicia Castro
Senior Manager, Content & Communications at Personal Capital
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There’s a surefire way to help your organization to navigate workforce shortages, support spikes in demand for your product, and lead to higher employee morale: employee cross-training.

Employee cross-training is the process of helping workers develop new skills and knowledge outside their immediate role. What’s more, research indicates that cross-training is the most effective method for improving both individual and organizational performance. Yet only 45 percent of companies offer cross-training programs.

Be among those preparing their organizations for the future by providing opportunities for continued learning. By offering education, you are giving your employees the tools to take on future challenges as well as opportunities. And they are likely to return the investment; one survey concluded that employees with professional development opportunities have 34 percent higher retention.

Getting buy-in, key benefits of cross-training employees

While human resources will likely take the lead on talent sharing and cross-training employees, members of your organization may be resistant to the change. Before launching a new program, it’s important to get buy-in from business leaders. This is essential because they will eventually be the ambassadors charged with communicating your cross-training program to the broader employee population. Be sure to convey the following business benefits.

Cut hiring costs

The average cost-per-hire lands above $4,100. While you certainly need specialists, you can save the expense of recruiting and onboarding new employees by looking to your current workforce — particularly for short-term projects or temporary skills gaps.  With cross-training, workers move beyond their individual roles and become part of the overarching company goals. This leads to increased employee engagement, which helps reduce absenteeism and improve retention.

Inspire internal mobility

Cross-training can play a valuable role in your succession planning strategy. With appropriate training, employees are better equipped to move up the ladder or transition laterally. For instance, you may have hired someone for a technology role only to find that person also has a penchant for technical writing. Training cross-disciplinarily has the potential to unlock these hidden talents and widen workers' career paths within your organization.

Internal mobility is good for business, too. Research shows that internal workers offer better performance and reduced costs. That’s because they are already up to speed -- they know your industry and your company, and they have a better idea of how they’d fit into their new team.

Bizlibrary software highlight internal hires

LMS software like BizLibrary, above, can highlight the learners within your organization.

Strengthen collaboration

As employees glimpse into how other teams work, they begin to see the bigger picture of how the entire organization functions. This exercise helps quash inter-departmental competitiveness and builds a sense of unity throughout your company.

Later, when employees collaborate on large-scale, multidisciplinary projects, they will have camaraderie with their coworkers, in addition to an improved understanding of effective workflows.

How to launch a cross-training program

Before jumping into your own initiative, you should ensure your employees understand the benefits and processes for your program. With a few simple considerations, you can secure better approval for your program’s long-term success.

1) Rein in risk

If cross-training is new to your organization, your employees may be understandably anxious about the change. Consider the following challenges.

  • Employees may assume cross-training is a tool to prepare for impending layoffs.
  • Employees — particularly senior-level professionals — may view cross-training as a diversion from their focus area.
  • Employees may worry about taking on what they perceive as additional responsibilities as they meet the demands of cross-training.

To effectively implement a new cross-skills program, it’s key to communicate two things to your employees: 1) They are valued, and 2) they have autonomy over what and how they learn.

cross training software

People want their learning to be accessible, mobile, and convenient. Online training software like TalentLMS, shown here, gives employees the tools to learn across devices on their own time.

2) Communicate the change

When presenting a new program to employees, the first step is to explain the necessity and benefits of being a cross-trained workforce. What will employees gain from the program? What would they suffer without cross-training?

Next, gather feedback with employee surveys. Through this process, you can identify employees' fears and perceptions in order to help alleviate their concerns.

Lastly, consider adjusting your program based on employees’ concerns to help get them on board with the change. Once you’ve finalized the program, you can launch an internal marketing campaign that highlights the benefits of cross-training, such as long-term employability and short-term company perks.

3) Delegate to leaders

Each department head should identify the most valuable skills to add to a cross-training program for employees. This activity forces managers to identify what’s important and how to share the knowledge.

Employee-led innovation starts with leadership. Managers have the responsibility to inspire their teams to boost their knowledge and skills. One way to accomplish this is through granting employees the freedom to apply their learning in their daily work. In this way, cross-training training feels immediately relevant and worthwhile.

Additionally, mentorship can be a valuable component of your cross-training program. A skilled employee can lead sessions for colleagues who are interested in that area of specialty. Often, employees may lack confidence in the new subject area, and a mentor can act as a guide through the learning process.

4) Offer perks

You should reward employees for their participation in learning. Instead of mandating outcomes, consider offering incentives for opting in. You may try extra time off, spot bonuses, or public recognition.

Your employees would likely appreciate certifications and credentials that are transferable even outside your organization. You can partner with educational institutions to devise a catalog of industry-relevant courses. This investment benefits the organization, too, as your employees will be able to deliver new skills to your workplace.

As an alternative, you can also grant internal credentials, such as digital badges that can be added to their portfolio upon completion of a course. Whatever reward you choose, remember that it’s worth the investment for your learning initiative.

5) Turn to tech for support

A learning management system (LMS) or employee training tracking tool can support your training initiatives. Using this technology, you can design courses specifically for skill enhancement, track how your employees are interacting with it, as well as offering information about new product features and industry trends.

Learning management system

Consider offering learning opportunities through software like Cornerstone OnDemand, shown above.

We’ve reviewed 11 different vendors that can help your employees adapt to change and step into leadership. If you’re ready to set your goals, leverage technology, and get your workforce prepped for what’s to come, check out our short list of the best learning management systems.


Seriously, a Free LMS Really Can Be an Effective Tool for Business

Alicia Castro
Senior Manager, Content & Communications at Personal Capital
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Alicia Castro was previously on the content team for Avature, one of the best applicant tracking systems per SSR's research (even long before we met Alicia!). After leaving Avature, Alicia was kind enough to share her recruiting and HR Tech insights with the SSR readership via various blogs and reviews on recruiting tools. She is currently the senior manager of content and communications at Personal Capital and has been a multimedia journalist and tech researcher for ten years.

Featured in: Personal Capital

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