Professional Development on a Budget

02/24/2005 |

Invest in affordable training and continuing education

It’s all too familiar of a scenario. The edict comes down from above: Slash the budget.

What’s the first line item to go? More often than not, training and continuing education.

At a glance, this vital area of personal and staff development appears to be the most expendable part of a budget. After all, just look at mounting costs of airfare, lodging, and conference registrations. You can do without ongoing training. Your employees can do without training. The budget says so.

Right? Not hardly.

“It’s not an option to stop training or professional development,” says Kurt Padavano, chief operating officer at Advance Realty Management Inc., Bedminster, NJ, where each of the company’s 110 employees is required to take at least $500 worth of training per year. “There’s no substitute for continuous training, professional development, networking, and interaction of your staff with the outside world. You won’t understand the new innovations, the strategies, what the competitors are doing,” he notes.

Trimming budgets and trimming training don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Modern technology and human ingenuity have created a variety of training and professional development opportunities that reach beyond the traditional face-to-face session in an exotic, expensive locale. Good, effective professional development can be achieved on a budget.

“You need to manage your education in the same way you manage your buildings,” says Larry Vanderburgh, vice president of customized and workforce programs at BOMI Institute in Arnold, MD. “Put your time and resources where they are going to do you the most good.”

What Do You Want to Learn?

Many facilities professionals make the common error of not targeting their needs when embarking upon a professional development journey. There are plenty of alluring brochures out there touting a myriad of educational opportunities with a variety of delivery methods. Choosing the right programs can be confusing.

The first step in developing a customized, budget-conscious professional development program, whether it is one for yourself or for your team, is defining your learning objectives – a roadmap, so to speak. You must be clear about why you want to learn and what you want to learn, experts say.

“If organizations are not really developing a plan to implement this, and are just wandering through the mass of opportunities for training and professional development, they need to do an internal needs assessment and plan effectively where they are going to use the few dollars they have,” Padavano says. Ask yourself this: Are you trying to solve a particular problem? Are you looking for a designation? Are you doing research?

“Why are you bothering to do this?” Vanderburgh asks. “Once you figure out the ‘why,’ you can figure out the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and determine the appropriate delivery option.”

What Works for You?

The delivery options for professional development programming range from traditional, face-to-face instruction to Internet-based self-study. Not every training delivery option works for all students. As cliché as it sounds, it’s true that there is no one-size-fits-all.

“If people are choosing training, particularly something that is more than the topical ‘I’ve got one problem to solve’ – something that is more comprehensive – then you should consider multiple delivery options,” Vanderburgh says.

Vanderburgh offers up four considerations in assessing the appropriateness of delivery options.

First, what is your learning style?

“Think carefully about how you learn and what approach is good for you,” Vanderburgh says. “If you learn by taking notes, don’t choose a study method where the note-taking is done for you. If you came up through the trades, and you’re the kind of person who learns with your hands, you will want to find a course where you can get your hands on systems and tear them apart and put them back together.”

If you’re considering online study, remember: You need discipline, as the programs are self-paced. If you’re easily distracted or need to learn in a group setting, online learning might not be for you.

The next step in choosing a delivery method comes down to how well you know the subject. Ask yourself: Do you just vaguely know what it is or have you practiced it inside and out? If you have had years of HVAC experience, for example, you might just need to get a book and study up on the topic. You could also take an online refresher course.

If you are learning something from scratch, then you’ll need a more sophisticated delivery method, Vanderburgh points out. “The shakier you are on a subject, the higher up on the delivery scale you’ll need to go to learn,” he says.

Your budget also plays a key role in choosing a delivery method. Vanderburgh advises saving your money for the intense delivery method of the subject you or your team knows the least.

“If you’ve been an admin type for years, and you’re being asked to learn HVAC, you probably need a live-instructed course. The more human [interaction] you need, the more it is going to cost,” he says. “But, the riskiest approach you can take for your weakest subjects is self-study online. Use self-study, correspondence in e-mail groups, online courses – the cheapest methods of education – for the content you know best.”

Finally, it comes down to time, of which there are two aspects. First, what is the total amount of time you can put into a training program? How deep do you want to get into it? Second, what size are the time blocks that you have available to learn? If training is administered in “doses,” what size of dose are you willing to accept?

Certain kinds of content lend themselves better to large blocks of time, while other types can be disseminated in little bits.

“If all you’re trying to do is find out some facts, we can slice and dice training pretty thin,” Vanderburgh says. “If you’re going for full-depth understanding, and you must apply what you’ve learned and analyze it, take it apart, synthesize it, and put it back together; that takes time. That’s a much higher level of education.”

Officials at BOMI Institute, the Intl. Facility Management Association (IFMA), and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Intl. understand the time and budget pressures of the facilities profession, and have expanded their educational delivery methods to reach beyond traditional face-to-face instruction – and in many cases, can reach an entire group without the need for travel.

“Companies can’t always calculate a return on investment on the training dollar,” says Lorie Damon, director of education for BOMA Intl. in Washington, D.C. “We’ve looked into technologies that make training more readily available and more cost-effective.”

Audio Training

Audio seminars easily fill this niche. These courses are delivered via a telephone connection to a registered site. Most organizations offering audio seminars define a telephone connection as a site. Thus, a single registration fee allows unlimited listeners on the connection via speaker phone, making the sessions ideal for inclusion in brown-bag lunches and other in-house training initiatives.

Houston-based IFMA offers 90-minute audio seminars at least twice per month, featuring expert speakers on a variety of topics throughout the year. Each seminar offers students a toll-free, dial-in number to hear the presentation, as well as live, online access to the presentation. Participants receive session handouts and can participate during the seminar in a Q&A session by phone or Internet with the presenter.

Registration cost for an IFMA audio seminar is $99 for members, and $149 for non-members. Because unlimited numbers of staff or colleagues can participate at one location, these seminars are a good way to stretch the training budget, says Mary Reynolds, director of IFMA’s professional development.

During a recent audio seminar on pivot tables, one IFMA member had her whole team join her for the session, Reynolds says. Afterwards, the group sat down and created their own pivot tables using the information delivered during the audio seminar. “That’s one budget-minded way to take advantage of education,” Reynolds says. “Ninety-nine dollars gives you a session for multiple listeners. You can do some effective, low-budget things to enhance the transfer of learning.”

BOMA also offers audio seminars on key industry issues. A November 2004 session on emergency preparedness in post-9/11 America cost $195 per site, per seminar for members and $225 per site, per seminar for non-members. The sessions connect via a toll-free, conference-call line. Users can follow along with a PowerPoint presentation online.

“You can spend 2 hours and get the same kind of presentation you get at our annual meeting,” Damon says. “Put it on a speaker phone, hook up a Web connection, and you can train 20 to 30 people. Some of our BOMA locals make them a monthly luncheon. Some of the biggest industry companies use audio seminars for training. It’s less expensive than having someone fly somewhere. You get to ask your questions and have them answered. It’s live. It happens in real-time.”

The folks at Advance Realty make use of both IFMA and BOMA audio seminars, Padavano says. They order sandwiches, have the team come in and listen to the teleconference, and then stick around for another hour or two to discuss what was just presented.

“They’re very cost-effective,” Padavano says. “A couple hundred dollars and a sandwich platter, and you can effectively deliver a topic and get the team to interact.”

If you miss an audio seminar, never fear: Both IFMA and BOMA offer archived seminars. IFMA’s On Demand audio seminars can be accessed online through IFMAnet and cost the same as live audio seminars. BOMA’s past audio events can be purchased on CD or cassette. Cost varies depending on the seminar, ranging from $75 to $150 per CD or tape set for members, and $100 to $200 for non-members.

Online Courses

Most professional organizations now offer online education, whether you are pursuing general development or even one of the various professional designations.

“The advantage of online study is that you can do it at your own pace, on your own time,” Reynolds says. “If you can use a computer, you can take an online course. But you have to be disciplined.”

All of BOMI’s four professional designation programs have the choice of accelerated review, classroom instruction, or self-study options.

At BOMA’s online eSeminar Center, prospective students can get more information on and register for any of three module-based courses, which bring the instructor and all of the course materials to your desktop: Improving Tenant Satisfaction and Retention, Building Security and Evacuation Planning, and BOMA Floor Area Measurement Standard. Future programs in development include Molds and Their Impact on Buildings and Their Occupants, and Introduction to Commercial Real Estate. BOMA eSeminars cost $150 per user for members, and $250 per user for non-members.

IFMA’s Online Learning Center features competency course modules developed from the nine facility management competencies and performance skills. Priced as low as $99 per module, all courses are designed into modules equaling approximately 1 to 3 hours of interactive content. IFMA online self-study courses do not require you to start a course at any particular date or at any specific time or duration, and prices vary according to length of course and membership status. All IFMA self-study course modules are approved for Continuing Education Units (CEU), as well as credit toward the FMP (Facility Management Professional) credential.

Face-to-Face

Industry educators still believe nothing replaces the interaction of traditional, face-to-face instruction.

“It’s tempting – with all of these education platforms that don’t require travel to forget about the real virtue of traditional, classroom-based education,” Damon says. “When you’re there in-person, you have networking opportunities that are difficult to replicate online or in an audio seminar. It’s not quite the same thing as being there in-person, sharing experiences, and making friends. A lot of learning happens in those relationships that are difficult to replicate in other settings.”

There are ways to achieve this on a budget.

First, don’t shun annual conferences and live, in-person seminars completely. As Damon points out, the accessible peer networks at such events are invaluable. Plus, she says, much subject matter in the commercial real estate industry isn’t always appropriate for the technological venue. Consider finance or other areas that present challenging concepts to master.

“The key is to send a group of people who will be able to capture many education sessions in a short period of time,” Padavano says. “They can then bring that information back and convey it to other people in the organization, recognize where the information has application in the organization, and have influence over the rest of the training of staff in the organization.”

Generally, such travel is assigned to those with managerial or supervisory responsibility in an organization. “Companies are not spending the big travel budgets on the people who are just entering the industry,” Padavano notes.

And some companies aren’t spending travel budgets at all. If you just can’t work travel into your slim budget, you still have options. One is to mine the local trade association chapters for experts willing to come in and talk to your team during brown-bag lunches, morning meetings, and other gatherings.

Another one is to bring the training to your organization rather than sending your organization to the training. Trade associations offer group training programs, and often, so do your vendors.

“Many of your service providers and suppliers are more than happy to come in and share their experience and expertise with the workforce, whether it is related to elevators, janitorial, or customer service,” Padavano says. “They’ll subsidize your training budget. It’s an added value they bring to the relationship. It’s an excellent opportunity to get some very current training at a reasonable cost.”

No matter the approach you take, you can develop an effective professional development program even on a barebones training budget. It might take some ingenuity and due diligence, but it is achievable.

“Plan your time and money where it can do you the most good, and be very picky about your delivery options,” Vanderburgh says. “Be as discerning about buying your training as you are about buying your snowplowing or reviewing your meter readings or looking at your food-service contract. You scour those with a fine-tooth comb. Use that same level of attention for your training.”

Robin Suttell (rsuttell@cox.net), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.


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