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Though it's critical, employee training can be overwhelming and cumbersome for all the parties involved. A healthcare client of mine recently described the challenge her company faces when it comes to getting employees engaged in training: Workers are constantly asking, “When will I get my job done when I have to spend so much time in training?"

This dilemma is particularly prevalent in highly-regulated industries where many different types of trainings are required, but it's a pretty common problem at other organizations, as well. In fact, during my ten years as a Chief Learning Officer, the toughest obstacle was never designing training or even getting executive buy-in, it was getting employees to take advantage of the training we provided.

In today's busy world, it isn't enough to say, “Just do it." For training to become a priority for workers, sometimes they need a little push. Here are 5 ideas to think about when creating training incentives for employees.

1. Demonstrate the Value of Training

Sometimes the connection between training requirements and an employee's actual job is not clear. This disconnect often occurs because of compliance requirements—there are many regulations that require training to cover a host of improbable situations that seem far-removed from daily work, but a department leader can and should connect the dots for employees.

For example, in the healthcare field, non-clinical employees are sometimes required to take a course on blood borne pathogens even if they don't typically come in contact with patients. Managers should explain that sharing facilities with patients or clinical employees places them in danger, too. It's up to managers to demonstrate that they're part of a broader effort to prevent disease—that's why it's important for them to understand how to protect themselves and avoid spreading illness.

If the leader cannot find a connection or application, perhaps it's worth asking why this training is required in the first place. Sometimes training requirements are mandated for all employees rather than a segment because it makes administration and tracking easier; still, that's something leaders should clarify to their teams.

2. Create Learning Opportunities Through Training

Training shouldn't be perceived as a chore—it should be seen as a chance to learn something new. If some elements of your corporate training are voluntary, offer to enter those who complete certain courses into a drawing to attend a conference related to the training topic.

Employees will be motivated by the chance to not only travel and represent the company at an industry event, but also gain new responsibility and growth opportunities. The individual that's ultimately selected will be able to bring back new knowledge to his team and add to his skill set.

3. Embrace Some Healthy Competition

Many learning platforms offer rewards programs that create healthy competition among peers. Badges that were once the hallmark of computer games have made their way into gamified learning programs—providing rewards for different accomplishments.

When an employee completes a course or reaches a certain level, she can display a badge on her online profile to brag about her accomplishment. As others compete to best her achievement, the competition fuels training completions.

If your learning platform doesn't offer badges, you can still create the sense of healthy competition by posting completions publicly. Adding pins or stickers to employee ID badges is one way to make this a fun challenge.

4. Be Selective About Rewards and Courses to Drive ROI

Patrick Lencioni, founder of consulting firm The Table Group, once wrote, "If everything is important, nothing is." Keep this in mind as you develop a rewards system for training. Focus your rewards program on courses that will drive the most ROI for your organization. Most likely, this will include more targeted, niche courses rather than standard training that's required for compliance.

Training should improve behaviors or skills in an effort to boost business. If the training doesn't accomplish this, and it isn't mandated by regulation, then why do it?

Measure the impact of trainings, and make the ones that actually improve performance stand out. Do you have a new product launching soon that the sales team needs to better understand? That new product training should become a target for a compelling employee incentive or reward.

5. Use Incentive Bursts

Change up your approach to employee training incentives frequently, or the incentives will get stale and lose their power. Choose one topic each month, promote the training in multiple places, track the completions, measure the impact and reward participants publicly. Then move on.

Training programs, including mandatory ones, aren't going away. On the contrary, as emerging technology enters the workplace, we'll likely see the need for training to grow. Now is the time to teach your workforce that relevant training means improved performance.

Photo: Creative Commons