Gauging Return on Investment in Preparedness: Training

This is my fourth article in a series examining how organizations can gauge their return on investment for various emergency management and homeland security preparedness projects.  These were inspired by an original article I wrote called Measuring Return on Investment in Emergency Management and Homeland Security: Improving State Preparedness Reports.  The POETE model (Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, Exercising) helps us to identify all activities related to preparedness.  Thus far, we have covered:

Planning

Organizing

Equipping

If you haven’t already reviewed these articles, check them out for additional context and information.  Within each, I outline the general activities within the preparedness element, and identify the potential costs and benefits of these activities to the organization.  While some costs and benefits are direct (meaning we can readily identify them in terms of currency), most are not, and require some measure of analysis.

We put a lot of money (and faith) into training as a central preparedness activity.  And why shouldn’t we?  Training, by definition, is a transfer of learning.  We have a lot of information to communicate to our staff and other stakeholders, with the goal of that information collectively becoming a body of knowledge, and a vision of these people applying what they have learned to future circumstances.

In emergency management and homeland security we train quite a bit, with some training being required by organizational, local, state, national, international, or federal standards; while other training will help develop and advance staff.  We include HR-required training; soft skills like communication, leadership, decision making, and the like; as well as technical skills such as emergency planning, exercise design, and incident management.  Emergency management and homeland security are broad fields of practice, which intersect public safety, public health, and other essential government and social functions.  Most emergency management and homeland security practitioners have roots in one or more of these fields and typically continue receiving training relative to those as well.

Training comes from a variety of sources including our home organizations, local and county governments, state government, private and not for profit entities, and the federal government.  Particularly for training that is sponsored by a government entity, most training is ‘free’.  In the US, federal training entities, such as FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, also reimburse travel expenses and provide lodging for all levels of government employees.  On the surface, the cost of most emergency management and homeland security training is fairly low.

Of course depending on perspective, the cost of training can vary.  As a former state training officer who managed all emergency management related training delivered across my state, I could identify our agency’s cost of training.  This would include our staff admin time for course prep and record keeping, the cost of duplicating participant manuals, any costs associated with the hosting facility (although we usually utilized no cost facilities), the cost of paying our instructors for their time and travel, and, if applicable, any lodging and/or meal costs for participants who may have traveled a distance.  These costs, however, are only part of the picture.

What about the cost to the organization that is sending people to be trained?  Directly, this is salary time in which little to no work is actually being accomplished for the organization.  The organization may also be footing the bill for travel costs for their participants.  Depending on who is sponsoring the training, there may be a fee for the course.  Indirectly, what is the cost of that employee being away?  Who is doing their work?  This often depends on the organization and the position the individual holds in that organization.  Firefighters, police officers, health care professionals, and others may be covering shifts that will still need to be filled, especially if policies or union contracts require certain staffing levels.  Sometimes this backfilling isn’t as simple as changing schedules, as most employees are already scheduled at full time status.  Therefore, someone may need to be paid overtime to fill this position for the duration of the training.  Perhaps the learner themselves is being paid overtime to tend to priority tasks outside of training hours.  Maybe others can simply absorb some extra tasks while this person is gone, or the learner will be swamped for some period of time once they return from training.  Each of these mechanisms, all dealing with productivity, has a cost associated to it.

Training can get expensive, which is why it’s often one of the first activities cut when an organization’s budget gets tight.  We try to minimize the cost of training through a variety of practices such as shorter training days, online training, and local training.  These, however, have various impacts on the organization’s ability to obtain the training as well as the overall effectiveness of the training.  Sometimes we simply defer the training, but the organization may have little choice, particularly with mandated training.

So what benefits can training provide?  As mentioned, I have quite a bit of background as a trainer and training manager.  I’d love to tell you that training has the greatest of all benefits, but that would be a complete lie. Just like any other preparedness activity, it has to be properly applied.  Training won’t fix everything.  I’ve written a lot of pieces on training in my blog… just search for ‘training’ and you will find plenty of articles about how training should/shouldn’t be applied.  With that caveat, training can have great benefit.  Not only can it make people more effective and efficient in their jobs and related tasks, it can also help defer liability from the organization.  Training also has benefits which more directly apply to the learner vs the organization, such as providing background for advancement and/or promotion (which can be internal or external to the organization).  There are many practices in emergency management and homeland security for which training aids in health and safety, not only of the staff member who took the training, but also of others.  In training, the impacts can go pretty far… you just have to follow the bouncing ball.  As an example: Jane gets trained in how to write emergency plans.  The emergency plans she writes will help the organization respond more effectively in the event of a disaster.  When the organization responds more effectively, lives and property are protected.  While this is a great ideal outcome, it makes for some difficulty in determining the benefits in terms of currency.

Often, the most direct benefits from training are rooted in compliance and proficiency.  Organizations have a variety of compliance matters they have to meet.  These obligations may be HR driven, required by an executive, a higher level of government, an accreditation body, or a funding source.  Safety matters are also usually linked with a compliance matter.  I often try to associate training activities to these requirements.  Sometimes we can directly link a financial benefit to these compliance matters, while other times compliance is simply factually stated.  Second is proficiency.  People need to stay current in essential skills.  This might require regularly recurring training for staff, well as training for new staff.  Staff need to be proficient in new procedures, software, and equipment operation.  Certain staff may need to be trained to more advanced levels.  Gauging the benefit in financial terms for proficiency is generally more difficult, although the need for the training is apparent.  The benefit simply needs to be extrapolated.  For instance, if the training is in a new process, what is the time and/or quality difference between the old process and the new?

As mentioned earlier, it is often times not easy to determine the financial return on investment for many of our activities.  We need to dig deep and identify quantifiable metrics which can be examined before and after we apply our preparedness activity.  We must assign reasonable currency figures to those metrics to help us and other decision makers better understand our investment and the benefits it will potentially bring.

Soon I’ll be wrapping up this series with the last key preparedness activity – exercises.  As always I’m happy to hear your thoughts on how we can better identify the returns on our investments in preparedness activities.  As a resource, I’d encourage you to search Training Magazine (trainingmag.com), which often has articles on analyzing the return on investment in training.

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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