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Creating an Employee Training Program: 7 Tips for Building a Dream Team

Person writing on a notepad and drinking a cup of coffee
When preparing an employee training program for your small business, you rarely have time — or money — on your side. But bringing on a new employee or honing the skills of your established staff is critical.

New hires' first weeks on the job are formative. So it's vital to put a training program in place that recognizes the skills and talents they bring to the table while also motivating them to learn and participate in your business's success.

Here are seven tips for developing an employee training program.

1. Don't Do It All Yourself

Finding the time to supervise new hires or promote continuous learning isn't easy. You need to delegate. Look to your existing employees — especially strong leaders — and think of smaller training tasks they can take responsibility for. This is particularly important if you're onboarding new hires who need to learn a lot in a short period of time.
Set clear parameters for your trainers by considering the following questions:
  • How should they manage the process?
  • How long will their share of the training program last?
  • How often should they report progress back to you?

2. Write a List

Structure the training program around the new hire's tasks and responsibilities. Write up a list of the following:
  • What will it take for them to fulfill these duties? For example, will they need to shadow a current employee in the field for a few weeks?
  • What systems and processes will they need to learn? For instance, they'll need to know how to regularly fill out a work order template.
  • What policies and procedures do they need to adhere to — such as work hours, time sheets, work site safety, etc.?
  • What introductions need to be made to customers, partners, vendors and so on?
If you're putting together a training program to grow the skills of your existing workforce, pinpoint the skill gaps or weak areas in your business. These could be in customer service, time management or operating equipment. What needs to happen to improve performance in these areas? Is it a matter of cross-training, or will you need to pay for a professional class?

3. Set a Timeline

A to-do list makes it easier to set a timeline for training. Carve out time in your schedule — and anyone else's involved — to work through everything on your list. Build in time for self-directed training. If you're onboarding a new manager, for example, give them more autonomy to manage their own training schedule. Or, if you've made great hiring decisions and are onboarding self-starters, you might want to let them practice their skills in the field sooner than other new hires who need more on-the-job training.

4. Cross-Train Your Employees

At all levels, cross-training will ensure agility when employees inevitably fall sick, take vacations or move on to new opportunities. Cross-trained employees are your back-up bench. And exposing your team to new skills shows them that you care about their career development. Gauge where skills are in short supply and identify employees who could step into those roles. For example, if you spend too much time applying for and chasing permits, could a junior employee step up to handle the task? Have that junior employee shadow a more experienced worker as they complete a task, eventually stepping in themselves once they're competent.

5. Don't Ignore the Basics

If you're in a specialized industry like electricity, plumbing or HVAC services, don't shy away from covering the basics, especially with new hires in non-managerial or junior positions. Identify fundamentals of the trade to focus on first. Gauge your new employees' skills and readiness to learn and adjust your training plan and timeline accordingly, focusing on one skill at a time and moving on to more advanced skills only when they've mastered the basics. Adopt a positive mentoring attitude as they shadow you or another employee through the basics.

6. Accommodate the Extra Workload

Training takes time, so it's important to accept that the regular output of your trainers and mentors may decrease during the training period. Keep this in mind as you build your timeline by potentially scaling back workloads and scheduling training during otherwise slow times.

7. Set Goals and Measure

Whether you're training new hires or establishing a continuing education program, be clear about your goals. Set aside time for a quick coffee with your new hire to review progress. Did that project estimation class really pay off, for instance? Did it achieve the desired result 30, 60 or 90 days down the road?
The key to a successful employee training program is to make the most of all the resources available to you. Whatever you invest in your employees will be repaid by the future success of your business.