Learning on the job was once only for new hires, who got their feet wet in entry-level positions and attended company orientation seminars.
Today, internal training, down-the-hall internships and crossfunctional assignments - with a good measure of mentoring and coaching from the boss - are increasingly directed at staff already in management or on their way there.
"We're growing leaders from within," says Jayne Jackson, manager of human resources and corporate communications for the Carswell division of Thomson Reuters Canada Ltd., a publisher of specialized information for lawyers and other professionals. The Toronto company has developed an in-house leadership intern program among the many training offerings for its 850 staff.
"It creates excitement, there's passion and energy and people are more engaged," Ms. Jackson says of the internal training at the company, which is ranked among Canada's top 100 employers. Indeed, an impressive 80 per cent of those in the two-year internship are promoted upon its completion.
Other Carswell training ranges from courses that teach new recruits about the business and their role in it, to 90-minute sessions that help staff navigate the myriad resources available, especially online.
For Heather Cant-Woodward, 35, who joined Carswell 12 years ago as an editor, attending the leadership intern program from 2004 to 2006 with a group of 10 or so other employees meant learning all sides of the business, while becoming more visible to senior staff. "You get a lot of exposure," she says. Today she is a product development manager in charge of five employees. She feels that such internal training programs are "a mechanism for realizing goals."
Ted Emond, a senior consultant in the Toronto offices of Aon Hewitt Consulting, a human resources firm, says companies have an increasing number of such in-house training and development options available. For example, many large firms send potential leaders to other branches or offices, even overseas, to learn about the company and its products or services. Some transfer staff to entirely new areas of the business. Others put potential leaders on special projects and assignments. The practices broaden the experience of employees, while at the same time bringing new and innovative thinking to the organization, Mr. Emond says.
Craig Balfour, 39, Molson Coors Canada's newly minted vice-president of logistics for Canada, until now has worked only on the company's sales and marketing side. Now he's managing a team of 110 logistics staff at Molson, which has also been named one of Canada's top 100 employers.
"I now have to lead through my people, I don't have all the answers," Mr. Balfour says. "That's how you evolve as a manager … you have to have the ability and knowledge and skills to be a great leader."
Mr. Balfour is also part of Molson's global leadership development program, joining about 20 staff from four countries learning about different aspects of the business. The program is delivered in four weekly segments in the company's offices in different parts of the world, says Mike Adams, director of people development and learning for Molson Coors Canada.
There are a number of other internal programs directed at Molson Coors' 3,000 Canadian staff, Mr. Adams says. Some have apropos names for a brewer, like the Marketing 6-Pack, directed at the marketing team, and the Molson Beer Academy - or MBA - a one-day overview of beer and the beer industry open to all staff.
"Any learning that you do, you want to engage the fun side of people, rather than just sticking them into the classroom," Mr. Adams explains, adding that people learn 75 per cent of what they know on the job.
One obstacle to all types of training is the additional workload it can mean for employees and managers, Mr. Emond says. Companies need to be realistic about making the required time and economics available, he adds, and to put the issue of training and its importance up front.
"Every organization needs to communicate that growing one's skills is absolutely essential for the success of the business," he says. "It's a culture of people management."
Carswell's management committee had to be convinced of the value of the leadership intern program when it started a decade ago, Jayne Jackson says. "Now it's seen as a viable, vibrant, useful program that helps us develop leaders."
Heather Cant-Woodward says that for employees, juggling workloads and carving out time is critical to training and development. "You get stale if you sit in your office too long."