Who should pay for employee training?

When a worker needs new skills, who should pay for the classes? Here's how to find an agreeable solution for all parties

Dear Bob ...

I'm the head of IT in a nonprofit situation -- read: limited funding and getting worse.

[ Also on InfoWorld: In the modern workplace, an employer might have to consider developing a contractor's career as well. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

We recently hired a new technician, and we are paying him much less than he was earning at his prior job before he got laid off. His total compensation is also much less than the starting compensation package of the person whom he replaced. He has a fantastic work ethic, he's dependable, he comes in earlier than I expect him to come in, and he stays later than I expect him to. He is also a self-starter, and he shows initiative. He's not afraid to make decisions on his own. All of these are great traits, and he's a good employee.

Unfortunately for me he doesn't have several skills I consider essential, and I don't have the time to train him in-house. I found a one-week "boot camp" course that's being held locally that would give him a jump-start, and I do have the budget to send him to it.

My manager (the executive director) has decided to impose a condition: He has to agree to pay us back in full if he resigns within one year and 50 percent if he resigns within two years. He isn't willing to agree to that, and without that agreement, she (my manager) isn't willing to invest several thousand dollars in his training in case he turns around and resigns the next day.

His position is that he doesn't want to be on the hook for training we're asking him to attend. When we hired him, we knew he didn't have certain skills and he'd have a lot to learn. If we want him to go to this training, which we knew he'd need when we hired him, he shouldn't be responsible for reimbursing us for the cost of the training if he leaves.

I'm expected to be as productive with him as I was with his predecessor, and that's not possible until he gets up to speed on specific skills. I've taken time to work with and train him, and I'll continue to do so -- even if he goes to this training that won't bring him fully up to speed. It will, however, give him a jump-start on what I need him to know.

He was the best candidate we interviewed who was willing to accept a compensation package that's lower than what similar organizations in our area offer to their entry-level technicians. He was laid off, and he has a family to support, so he accepted the offer. Now we want to send him to training and he's happy to go, but not if he's going to be obligated to pay us back when he leaves.

What are your thoughts please?

- Stuck

Dear Stuck ...

Here are a few thoughts, for whatever they're worth:

  • As is so often the case, this is in danger of becoming a moral issue -- one that's focused on who's right and who's wrong. That's a bad direction because once it's a matter of right and wrong, someone will have to compromise on their principles in order to resolve this impasse. Do everything you can to stop that train; once it leaves the station, you'll no longer be in a position to find a constructive solution. Focus everyone -- your manager, your new employee, and yourself -- on this being a negotiation. There's no right and no wrong, just what everyone can agree to.
  • As you describe the situation, it sounds as if your manager has made a huge mistake with respect to how to conduct a negotiation, which is that she's put you in the position of starting with your final offer. That's never a good idea because your new employee is going to feel like he's the one doing all of the compromising. That's bad psychology. Even if he accepts the deal, if he's like most people he'll resent it, especially as I'm sure he's aware that by most standards he's underpaid. If at all possible, go back to your manager and make it clear you need some wiggle room so that you can give something in exchange for what you need to get.
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