It’s always tempting to see learning and development (or training) as an easy target for budget cuts and never more so than in recessionary times. So a poll last week of small businesses showing cost is the biggest barrier to providing employee training and that 11% of such businesses are not providing any training was no surprise to me.

According to the findings of the Forum of Private Business’s training and skills member panel survey, 61% cite costs as a barrier while 40% say the availability of training is a barrier, 28% indicate quality of courses as an issue and 22% report time needed for training is an impediment. What I find more interesting is what members of this panel include in their training budget. While two thirds include regulatory compliance and 45% prioritise replacing specific skills lost when individuals leave their businesses, some four in 10 focus on continuing personal development and professional skills and 41% budget for efficiency training to improve productivity. Nearly a third ensure workers receive skills training focused on growing their businesses and 16% provide strategic training.

These latter four are the sweet spots for businesses of any size, for learning and development is not a ‘nice-to-have’ in good times, it is essential for success. And investing in an employee’s personal career development is critical. Aid retention and you wipe out all the costs of recruiting and training a new employee.

What matters here is that the training budget is aligned to the organisational needs. So it should be focused on improving performance and developing talent. It should also be measurable so you can prove the return on investment.

According to Shaun Thomson, CEO of Sandler Training, businesses should expect to see five to 10 times ROI on sales training. “The two quantifiable factors that a business should consider are what the potential ROI is on revenue and time,” he says.

The FPB suggests time and money spent on red tape training is hindering coaching in key skills and other areas of staff development. Business will always desire less red tape, often rightly so. But it’s important not to use this as an excuse to cut training. Instead, make all work a process of continual improvement. That way you create a learning organisation and will reap the benefits.