South Africa has now been under some form of lockdown for more than three months, says Faryn Pearson, Business Head, NEXT, the corporate division of MasterStart. If we’ve learned anything in that time, it’s that there’s no going back to the way things were. In business, as in society, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Take training and skills development. While it’s obviously important that businesses continue to upskill and train their employees, the old way of doing things (primarily through face-to-face learning) is unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming. Lockdown has eradicated the possibility of that kind of training and it’s unclear when, or even if, it will come back. Businesses should, however, view that as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

We have the opportunity to fundamentally change how we train our workforces in a way that saves businesses time and money, at a time when both are in desperately short supply. If we do it right, we may never have to go back to expensive training courses and conferences that take people out of the office for days at a time.

The trouble with face-to-face 

Every year, South African companies spend significant portions of their budgets on training and skills development. For the country’s biggest businesses that can equate to hundreds of millions of Rands.

While in-person training achieved what it needed to, it also did so at the expense of time and productivity. Those are two things that no business, no matter how well-equipped, can easily recover.

Moreover, with companies and the economy under significant pressure, the continued focus on skills development and training is putting further pressure on an already compromised bottom line…

That said – can companies really afford not to train their people?  Skills development is a critical pillar on the B-BBEE scorecard. Any company that would like to do business in corporate South Africa is required to invest in skills development. Companies risk dropping a B-BBEE level if they do not attain the minimum score in this category and potentially could lose millions in revenue.

The case for online 

Properly formulated online courses can help overcome many of these issues. Provided they come with accreditation from a registered body, there’s no reason an online course can’t provide as much, if not more, value than a face-to-face course. In fact, there’s sound research backing up the efficacy of online learning.

Additionally, employees can complete these courses without having to travel to on-site locations. Importantly, they can also complete it in their own time, reducing downtime when they should be working. And even if you choose to give your employees time to complete their coursework, you’ll still lose less time than you would if they were attending physical classes, ultimately benefiting your bottom line.

When time is your most valuable commodity — especially in an already demanding world with financial and economic pressures rising — online learning enables companies to equip employees with the tools they need to take on these new challenges while enabling them to manage their own schedules.

Online courses are also able to scale more easily than their physical counterparts, without compromising on quality. As a result, they can be delivered – effectively – at a substantially lower cost. Ultimately, what that means is companies can get the same, if not better, training and skills development outputs with much lower inputs.

The right time 

With many companies facing massive budgetary pressures, and people’s ability to travel severely curtailed, there has never been a better time to break from convention when it comes to training and skills development.

Lockdown has accelerated technological shifts and forced us to embrace digital in a way we may not even have thought possible just a few months ago.  There are too many benefits to online learning and training for it not to be part of that fundamental shift and for it not to remain so, even when lockdown is lifted.

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