Training as an investment – Yeah right – Gotta be kidding

Okay – so I’ve been working on a client project that is all about assessing performance and measuring and evaluating training programs (and other non-training interventions as well). And the model that the client uses is the Phillips’ 5 Levels – with that fifth level being a measure of ROI.

First off – why oh why do some in the training biz feel so compelled to speak in terms of ROI? Training is not and has never been considered an ‘investment’ by the budget gods in corporate leadership. So, who are we trying to kid here? If training programs are not really investments, then we cannot speak about a return on something that they aren’t.

Years ago I attended a little presentation where the speaker basically said that training departments are more like the air conditioning repair staff. When the weather turns bad, hot and humid – and when the a/c is broken, then and only then is the repair person the most important person to the organization. No one thinks of the repair staff in terms of ‘investment’ though. That’s because they’re not.

Okay – so I’m working on this project … the client is pummeling me with the “fact” that ROI is an important and valid measure of training results. They’ve bought into the Phillips’ model fully.

Unfortunately the client organization is going through some tough times. They are not immune to the current economic downturn. So they are making difficult decisions – looking at ways to reduce expenses (this is an important word!). Reducing staff count and exerting tighter budget control is all part of it. 

And what might be among the first things to get slashed? Yep! Training expenditures.

In other words, training is not an investment. To them it is an expense.


About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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6 Responses to Training as an investment – Yeah right – Gotta be kidding

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  3. mikeberta says:


    I could not agree more. Having been in the business for a while, I always despised the concept of the investment. The wordsmiths have sterilized expenses to investments and sold us a bill a goods that we need to find the return on it.

    While, I agree that we need to find some improvement for the expense of learning (both direct and indirect) we are kidding ourselves to interpret those as investments. It costs money and therefore is an expense. Find the reasons why we should continue spending money, the improvements in performance, the improvements in morale, whatever.

    Funny how the client contradicts the idea of investment with help us cut costs. No one ever cuts out the investments, or our financial advisors would be out of work.


  4. Rory says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mike. A definite challenge is for us in ID and the training biz is to be able to present our work in terms of real business results – at least in a way that will appeal to those who control the organization’s strategy and ultimately the budget.

    I just don’t think that training expenses are truly considered investments by our businesses and clients. And for us to hold fast to this notion of ROI is fatally flawed. I’ve not heard of any senior leader from any organization say that she/he wants more training because they want to expand their catalog of course offerings.

    Most of the time training is considered as one way to solve some kind of problem in the organization … or as a way to ensure compliance with some required regulation. Perhaps a cost/beneft analysis might help convince some to spend on a training program; but I’d venture to say that this would be in isolation – the analysis applicable to only that one training program, and not on training as a whole.

    Bottom line for me is that if the client organization or senior leadership sees training as one of the first expenses to cut, then we are actually disingenuous to say that training is an investment.

  5. Mike Berta says:


    One term I’ve heard bantered about was ROL – Return on Learning. This notion, to me, more aptly addresses the issues of training outcomes. Rather than looking at the ‘investment’ (which we know to be an expense), the concept looks at the outcomes of the training itself.

    What did the class require?
    What were pre-training skills?
    What were post-training skills?
    What impact did the training have on worker performance?
    Was the impact on performance sustained or fleeting?

    Of course, the key to this is really getting into the problems of the organization. Sr. leadership ranks often apply training with the same cursory glance that they dismiss it. Meaning, at the first sign of trouble…put them in training.

    Doing a broader needs analysis and finding the true problem helps to identify the real need. Yes, training might figure in somewhere. Then we need to assess the impact of the training in something like ROL.


  6. Rory says:

    Hi Mike – thanks for the comments and your thoughts … ROL – I like that (and admittedly haven’t heard this until now). It seems pretty much in line with a very good analysis that seeks to focus on what currently is and what the desired “should” be… and then figure out how best to get to that ‘should.’

    And I would agree that training is not always the best way; although it does seem to be the one most advocated for by management. A key challenge however is being given the necessary time to do a really good analysis up front. (But there’s nothing from stopping us doing things concurrently – where we have continue to do an analysis in more detail as needed while beginning a design).

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