Sunday, January 18, 2009

Developing Staff in a Downturn

Following is the text from an article I wrote for the Boston Society of Architects ChapterLetter. The article is geared toward the design community and how important it is to maintain a firm's most important asset - its people, but the basis of the advice applies to any company.

An economic downturn can present a number of opportunities for the forward thinking firm, including developing your staff with free money from the state. The hurdle is the reduction in billable hours and what that means to a firm’s bottom line. Maintaining the right size staff is a challenge for any company in any industry. A balance needs to be achieved in billable hours and overhead and in slowdowns overhead is often first on the chopping block. Instead of reducing staff to the lowest level needed to complete the work in hand, it’s wiser to continue operating with the best staff to help a firm grow. That means keeping those employees with great promise, but minable projects in hand happily employed.

With more overhead hours available there’s more time for professional development, an often-overlooked benefit during times with heavier workloads and more demanding schedules. One way to use a downtime productively is to invest in new technology, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the training it demands. And the silver lining is that many Massachusetts employers are eligible for training grants that can pay from 50 to 100 percent of an employee’s training costs.

Massachusetts has three types of grants available through its Workforce Development Fund. Grants include Express Grants, General Grants and Hiring Incentive Training Grants (HITG). Express Grants are limited to employers with 50 or fewer employees and pay 50 percent of an employee’s training costs within a year, up to $15,000 per applicant. Training courses must be chosen from a pre-approved list of courses registered with the state. Current pre-approved courses include classes on Solidworks and AutoCad; ArchiCAD BIM courses are pending approval and should be included among the pre-approved course list within the month. The grant application is simple and the turn-around time is quick.

General Grants are available to any size company and can be used toward courses of the applicant’s choice. Grant matches can be in-kind or cash and higher levels of grant money are available to companies creating significant job growth or higher levels of job retention. While General Grants can be generous and courses aren’t limited to a pre-approved list, the application process is arduous, requires a significant amount of preparation and can have a three to four month timeframe for approvals.

HITG Grants are available to companies hiring a person who has been unemployed for one year or permanently separated from his/her previous employer. These are the richest grants available from the perspective that there is no monetary employer contribution required toward the training, with the exception of paying the attendee’s wages during the training time. Applications must be filed within 30 days of a new hire’s start date and the application has a quick three day turnaround.

To learn more about Workforce Training Funds or to apply for a grant visit

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