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Keeping up to date: the value of training

This month in the Office Goddess series, I’m talking about training.

I meet a lot of dynamic, switched on women doing what I do. After all, most people who attend conferences and networking events, or who get in touch with me through this blog, are people who are already aware that it takes a bit of effort to get on. Sometimes though, I meet people who forlornly say that they would be more successful/confident/financially secure/[insert any other word here] if only their company would pay for them to go on a training course.

Training courses are great – I should know, I’ve been on plenty over the years. Training courses paid for by someone else are even better. Of course, it depends on the quality of the training company and the efficacy of the trainer, but if you pick well you can get a lot out of a training course.

The problem with training courses is that they are just that – courses. You sit in a classroom, learn stuff, go back to the office and do things the way you always have. It takes a serious degree of action planning at the end of the course, follow up with your manager and personal commitment to make training course lessons really stick. So while training courses are good, they aren’t the only way you can learn things.

Frankly, that’s just as well. Companies are cutting back on courses. I can tell that because I get more marketing emails from desperate training providers now than I ever did, and not because I have asked to go on their mailing lists. Training providers are struggling and companies are investing their money on things other than sending their employees on courses. All this adds up to the fact that if you are in the ‘if only I could go on a course’ school of thought then you’re unlikely to get lucky.

However, training is not all about training courses. There are plenty of other ways of learning things if your company is cutting back but you know you have areas that you want to develop. How about:

Workshadowing: want to work in Marketing? Call someone up and ask to follow them around for the day. You might have to make a couple of calls before you find someone and a convenient time, because everyone’s busy. Frame it as if you really want to find out more about what they do – which, of course, you do. People are generally flattered that you’re interested. (As an aside, I learned this lesson during the summer holidays one year temping at a management college. One of my tasks was to help the Research department by ringing up people and asking if they wouldn’t mind speaking at a conference the college was organising. I dreaded each cold call, but every single person said yes.)

Mentoring: have you got a mentor? If not, get one. It’s free and it would be a cold manager who wouldn’t support this idea. If you already have a mentor, try mentoring someone else. It’ll help develop all kinds of skills and will introduce you to some other people.

Industry press: do you even read your industry press? And not just PM Today in paper format and PM Forum online. Put project management aside and read the press related to your company’s main focus: insurance, law, construction, whatever. If you aren’t a member of your professional body (like the Chartered Insurance Institute or the CIPD etc) then find someone who is and get them to donate you their society magazine once they are done with it. You can pick up a stack of information by reading – print or online. Many online publications have forums, and you can get training and development hints from the experts who haunt those virtual coffee rooms.

And if those ideas don’t take your fancy, try these:

  • Online courses/workshops
  • Industry webinars or virtual conferences (like PMXPO)
  • In-house run training events – talk to your HR department
  • Networking events and conferences: broaden your horizons by listening to expert speakers
  • Volunteering: want more experience in leadership? Then join a club/sports team where you can practise leading!
  • Trial and error: get a copy of the software you want to learn, and sit down with the manual and learn it
  • Colleagues: ask a more senior colleague if you can go to a meeting with them so you can see how they do things
  • Feedback: you might not be as bad at something as you think; ask people how they see you

See? You do need to keep continually develop and keep your skills up, but you don’t need an expensive residential course to do it. Anyone got any other ideas? I’d be interested to hear them.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Christina Bowen says

    25 June, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Just to expand a bit on your volunteerism recommendation – being a director on the board of a nonprofit is a remarkable training experience. Start out volunteering for an organization that you’re passionate about, then ask to sit on a committee (preferably one where you can use your expertise), don’t be shy about expressing your interest in a board seat. This is a great place to show your stuff as well as learn from like-minded individuals.

  2. The ITIL IMP says

    25 June, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Don’t forget all the source materials that are also used for training such as the good old books, podcasts, the Internet, etc. As long as you are actively reading and listening then learning can come from these.

  3. Constance Stickler says

    25 June, 2009 at 8:06 am

    I completely agree. I’m a Project manager but I’m not certified – although doing project management for almost 10 years and being the product manager of a project management software.

    All what I know now I learned from colleagues (through good and bad examples), from what I read but mostly it was learning by doing.

    The only course that really brought some value for me was a highly practice-oriented workshop about PR. But it was nothing I couldn’t have adopted if the right people would have been around.

    Knowledge is good – but without the capability to apply it ends in itself and isn’t worth the money or time invested.


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