Training: How Necessary? How Evil?

by John Sciacca

  • We’ve all heard the phrase “a necessary evil.” Usually that describes something that is seen as unpleasant and unwanted but that is done anyway for the overall good of something. Like, Spock going into that radiation chamber thing in Wrath of Khan. Or undergoing some aggressive surgical procedure. Or maybe a war to root out Zombies. Or having to eat canned beets. (Seriously, they taste like copper mined from old dirt, and I really don’t care what anyone says to the contrary.)
  • Sometimes people refer to factory training as a necessary evil. But is it? Is it necessary? Or necessarily evil? In my career, I’ve been through many different trainings, some good, some essential, and some a waste of time. Recently I attended training for Lutron lighting programming and Runco projector installation, so it got me to thinking about it.
  • And not just about the training, but the other costs involved and, ultimately: Are they worth it to you and your business?

First, before attending a training session, make sure that you understand what you are going to receive from the training. Sometimes that decision is a no-brainer: If it a requisite for you to be able to sell or install a new product or line, then you’ve gotta go or determine how important that line is to you and your company.

If the training is more of an elective, continuing education sort of thing, then it is crucial that you determine what you expect to get out of it and make sure that you’ve got a good chance of meeting those goals. Are you looking to get a rough overview of something, or to have some intense hands-on to become an expert on large-environment acoustics? Contact the company offering the training directly and inquire.

If you’re already proficient in an area, make sure that the training you’ll be attending won’t be too remedial and just end up being a waste of your time. If you’ve ever sat in a classroom thinking, “Man! I could teach this stuff!” then you’ll know that you have just wasted your time and money. Conversely, if the training is going to be technical in nature, make that that it isn’t TOO technical. I once attended a 3-day Crestron workshop where I left knowing that I now know just enough to know that I didn’t know anywhere near enough.

Next is the actual cost involved. Many companies offer trainings for free – or allow you to use co-op dollars to offset the cost – but there are still the actual costs involved of travel, lodging, possibly renting a car and food. These become very real costs when you are flying somewhere to spend 3 or 4 days training on something, and unless you just like traveling for travels sake – in which case, may I recommend Sim2 factory training in Italy? – then make sure that this $1000-plus is going to be worth it.

Next is the opportunity cost; the costs of being away from selling and servicing jobs while you’re away. Unless you know something about cloning that I don’t, you can’t be there getting training and here running your business. I remember one year, the principal at our company bailed on a plane flight to CEDIA at the last minute because a potential client that we’d been wooing unexpectedly arrived in town and wanted a meeting.

But no matter how great and relevant and necessary training is, you can’t just be gallivanting all around, constantly getting trained up. Even if your company could survive your extended absence, at some point you would assume that you would actually need to be around to put that training to use. So, we arrive at the conundrum over sending staff in your place for training. In a perfect world, this seems to be all champagne and gougeres, I mean, uh, a total win all-around. You get to stay back and run your business, making new sales. Your staffers gain knowledge which makes them more valuable to you to go forth and make you more money. Huzzah! Right?

Since most employees generally expect the employer – ie: you – to foot the bill for the training, I spoke with an attorney friend (who requested that he not be named in case someone tried to take this as pro forma or pro-rata or something legally and Latin sounding and then tried to sue him because his advice didn’t work in their state. You’ve never met a worrier until you’ve met an attorney!) about the factor of employee reimbursement for training. In his “don’t quote me and you can’t pin this on me and all advice is governed and varies by local laws and customs” legalize, what I managed to extract is that you can definitely likely enforce a FAIR contract of work-for-training.

For instance, if you sent someone to become a Microsoft Certified IT Professional and it cost you $5,000 for the training, you could probably enforce a contract that said, “You will work for me for one year following your certification in exchange for payment of the certification. If you should quit prior to that one year, you will agree to reimburse me for the full cost of the training.”

According to my “he-shall-not-be-named” attorney friend:

Generally, written employment agreements are considered by the courts in a favorable light towards employees (as they are clearly in the inferior position in negotiating contracts). However, the courts also look at the overall benefit to the employee when considering any rights to reimbursement.

Therefore, if the training/education may benefit the employee in his/her future endeavors (e.g. obtaining a MBA), then the court may require reimbursement if the employee up and quits shortly thereafter (using the rationale that it was clearly obvious that the employee took the education and ran).

Other factor to consider is the "agreed-to" value of the education/training/benefit. If the stated right to reimbursement is clearly overstated "if you do not stay on with us for at least 1 year, in consideration of your MBA, you will pay us $100,000", a court will almost always invalidate that provision.

Bottom line, professional audio installing frequently requires training for a variety of reasons. And whether you decide to take that on yourself or send a staffer in your stead, make sure you’ve examined the training for all of its benefits and costs…

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.