Having just presented an argument for investing in project work for your new hires instead of investing in training, I’m now naturally going to argue for investing in training for your new hires. As much as I enjoy a good debate, I find myself to be a terrible opponent, so allow me to introduce a little nuance instead.
The eighth and ninth questions of our 11 Questions for a Better Developer Onboarding Program are all about Training:
Do you provide your new hires with access to technical skill training?
– and –
Do you provide your new hires with access to core competency or “soft” skill training?
When I refer to “training” in this context, I mean Training intended to teach a new skill or knowledge set – an instructor-led video course, for example. With this definition in mind, I do not equate Onboarding with Training, and I actually believe Training to be detrimental early in Onboarding.
Onboarding needs to efficiently and enjoyably integrate a new team member into your organization; the “training project” concept discussed previously does this through experiential learning rather than Training – allowing the new hire to learn by doing and observing and participating instead of being lectured. We help our new hire learn and absorb our methodology by immersing them in it within a low-risk environment, as opposed to just saying our methodology at them, or having them read about it, and expecting it to instantly sink in. The goal of this project and this stage of Onboarding is not to train new technical skill; it’s to set expectations and form the foundations of good habits for working on your team.
Proper training, on the other hand, is all about building new skills, and new skills cannot be taught, absorbed, and applied appropriately within just a few hours, days, or even weeks of being spoken at. Taking NetSuite’s developer training as an example, it is (at the time of this writing) a video course spread out over 5 days. I’ve never heard of anyone coming out of that course – or any similar skill course – knowing exactly what to do and how to apply the concepts in their work. New skills – especially those that require changes to our behaviour – need practice and repetition. We need time to analyze and incorporate the new concepts before we can start applying and adapting them in our work.
The point I’m driving at is that Training takes time to sink in and generally forces one to isolate themself in order to watch videos or consume material, and that isolation is devastating to the very early stages of Onboarding. That time can be better spent immersing the new hire in your world through experiential learning and connecting them with the people and the resources that will enhance their learning. Before we shove them into training courses, we want them comfortable and confident with their teammates, systems, and processes. By focusing on these things before providing Training, your new hires will have so much more knowledge on which they can contextualize the Training they receive. It’s also just way more enjoyable for a new hire to spend their first weeks with their team, immersing themself in the new environment, and feeling like they’re doing impactful work right out of the gate.
Additionally, Training is not something that should be limited solely to new hires. A thriving engineering culture requires continual learning and growth; everyone on your team should have the ability and the access to grow along their desired skill and career paths. Training should also not be limited to technical skills. Access to resources for learning, improving, and nurturing soft skills and core competencies are equally – if not more – important. Yes; even for developers.
Set up a training budget. If you don’t have one, fight for one! Even if it’s a small one at first, you can start with a “book budget” for everyone on your team; there is no better learning ROI than a book. If you’ve found a book or set of them that encapsulates the mindset you want your developers to have, then buy them each a copy when you hire them. As the state of the business allows, expand the budget and the offerings. There is no shortage of amazing training content in the world for expanding any type of skill set one desires.
That budget, by the way, must include people’s time. You don’t get to drive developers to be “100% utilized” and simultaneously wonder why your training budget doesn’t get spent.
If all of that sounds expensive, that’s because it is expensive! Assuming that you want to lead a world-class team and provide them with an amazing place to work, hiring people and investing in their growth is without a doubt the most expensive thing you can do. The alternative is to languish somewhere in mediocrity, pushing everyone to work tirelessly to scrape out the next billable hour in a commoditized market, fighting against the constant churn of your best employees who keep leaving you in favor of a chance to work with one of those world-class teams instead.
If you’re not continually investing in the skills and the growth of your employees, you don’t get to be surprised when they’re not learning or growing.