Train ‘em if you’ve got ‘em: 4 tips for maximizing your existing workforce

train em imageBy Darren Shimkus, VP and General Manager, Udemy for Business

There’s an old saying: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. For companies engaged in the heated battle to win talent, those are words worth heeding. Before setting out to bag that next brand-new hire, it might make more sense to re-evaluate your existing employees and build your workforce of the future in-house.

The biggest upside of maximizing your current talent will be to your bottom line. It’s been estimated that the cost of a new hire can be as much as $4,000, so it can be a real budget-saver to put that spend toward training the workers you already have instead. Moreover, you won’t need to pour time and effort into onboarding someone new to the organization, introducing them to colleagues, and leaving a 3-month window for ramp time to full productivity.

For many human resources departments, however, this approach requires a shift in mindset. Rather than viewing employees through the narrow lens of their current job titles and career paths, talent managers should think about workers in terms of their strengths and coachability, i.e., their ability (and willingness) to grow in new directions. Once you take that point of view, you can more readily identify those employees who are equipped to take on new responsibilities and stretch into areas where the business needs them most.

1.  Assess strengths, not job functions
Upskilling your existing workforce shouldn’t depend on what people do today but on what they show an aptitude for learning. Here at Udemy for Business, for example, we’ve seen marketers transition into business development roles and we’ve seen SEO specialists become email marketers. In fact, at Udemy, we’ve had our own content marketers move into developer roles after taking front-end and back-end programming courses on

Don’t restrict training only to skills that are directly relevant to an employee’s current job, but offer cross-functional development that produces the kinds of multi-faceted superstars who can contribute and up-level your organization in many ways.

2.  Set clear expectations
Transparency will help set up both the organization and the employee for success. For example, it should be clear that this is an opportunity for your employees to learn and grow professionally, not a thinly veiled attempt to overwhelm them with additional work. You should talk about how you see this training shaping their ongoing role within the company, what that process will look like, and how their input can help ensure everyone is satisfied and finds success.

3.  Make learning easy
None of this will work if the training you offer feels like a painful chore. Training has to be an engaging, even enjoyable experience, with high-quality content from dynamic expert instructors. Training shouldn’t be just about formal classroom training anymore- it should be about continuous learning. Make skills training available online and on-demand, so employees can take the courses they need, when they need them and when it’s convenient for their schedules. This is much more efficient and cost-effective than trying to corral all of your students in the same place at the same time for group training, not to mention the cross-office or global coordination required to pull this off.

4.  Build continuous learning into your culture
To get the most from the employees you already have, you need to foster an environment where people are rewarded, not reined in, for stepping outside their defined roles and comfort zones. Every employee should be encouraged to pursue continuous learning, and if your training is done right (see #3), your employees will be eager to step up to the plate.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.