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Building Up Employee Skill Sets (Part 2)

Cross-training and other methods can level up your team

CHICAGO — To maintain a positive, healthy atmosphere, many employees want to know that they can build their skills to be able to grow their value to the company. When these opportunities aren’t there, your best team members may feel stagnant, and that’s when they start looking for a company where they can expand their skills.

In Part 1 of this series, we examined ways to lay down the groundwork to make sure training has its best chance of building a team’s skills, and today we’ll continue by looking at cross-training and the benefits of both on- and off-site training efforts.

Taking Advantage of Cross-training

Once that employee is comfortable with their initial, primary role, the question of cross-training then comes into play.

“Cross-training is hugely important, and the pandemic proved it,” says Sasha Ablitt, owner of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners & Taylors in Santa Barbara, California. “When we cut back, it was like everyone was doing everything. And I feel that it builds self-confidence in the staff. They understand each other better, and they understand the bigger picture of the business.”

It’s important to not put too much pressure on new employees to cross-train, Ablitt says, but to give the process time. 

“We probably wouldn’t even look at cross-training until a new hire has been here for about six months,” she says. “Before we start switching them around, we really want them to be comfortable with the company, the processes, and the culture in general. Then, we start seeing what they’re interested in, and if they would enjoy doing something else.”

To make for an effective training process, managers know their staff and their potential before starting cross-training efforts. 

“A big piece of effectively cross-training staff starts with recognizing that not everyone is always capable of cross-training,” Ablitt says. “With some people, it just doesn’t seem to work as well. So, it starts with recognizing when people have the ability to (be cross-trained).”

Brian Johnson, director of training for the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI), agrees with the importance of assessing employees based on their skills and personality.

“Not everyone is cut out to perform multiple skills at a high level,” he says. “Management should be selective about who they cross-train. Zero in and target those who would be good candidates. Whoever are your best producers now are probably prime candidates to teach new skills — they will probably be more willing, and will be able to do them well.”

The employees who are able to effectively cross-train should be given a clear picture of why it can benefit them and the company. 

“I recently heard a speaker at a conference talk about what employees want to see, and he said something that stuck with me,” Johnson says. “They want to see a future that is better than their past. So, what happens next after the upscaling process? Is it a pay increase? Is there an opportunity to move into management? Does having two skills mean I have to do twice the work? Leaders need to communicate about how continuing development benefits the employee. That’s what they want to see.”

Once completed, cross-training is rewarding for all involved, Ablitt believes.

“We usually find that there are some people who end up knowing how to do several things,” she says. “They can use every single press station, and then they can work in sheets and households, and sometimes they then will go into mark-in. It’s wonderful to see — you can really identify those strong performers.”

Off-site and On-site Training

In addition to standard training done by in-house employees, bringing people in from the outside to teach new skills or provide new ideas for the business can often be beneficial.

“We most often bring people in to train us,” Ablitt says. “We bring them in for one- or two-week stints throughout the year. As far as off-site training, that’s more for managers. We find that it’s a bit of a perk, because they get to go out for dinner at night, do different things, plus meet all sorts of people in the industry.”

When it comes to training, Ablitt wants to ensure it will provide a benefit, both to the employee and to the company.

“In general, you want to make sure that (the employee) has proven they have not only the ability but the desire and drive to improve,” she says. “That would be the first thing I would consider before sending anyone to training. And then, how much are they actually going to get out of that event? They have to be able to bring it back. I would expect them to be able to present it to the staff, or to myself and then to the staff.”

As far as training on-site, Ablitt urges cleaners to allow ample time for it to take place and make the most of the opportunity.

“I’ve heard some nightmare scenarios where the folks come in for the training, and then there’s no one to train because everybody’s too busy and can’t be taken off their job to actually attend the training,” she says. “Make the time, have a schedule before that person gets there, and make sure everybody knows this person is coming. After the person leaves, have follow-ups and see what’s changed. If you prioritize it, so will the employees. Otherwise, nothing will change. You will have spent all sorts of money on training, and nothing happens.”

Come back Thursday for the conclusion of this series, where examine possible barriers to advancement and some final thoughts about the benefits of building up your staff. For Part 1 of this series, click HERE.


Building Up Employee Skill Sets

(Photo: © Funtap/Depositphotos)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].