Does splashing out on employee development programmes really help companies boost their bottom line?
It is a question that has long been asked in the business world, although many companies are now scrutinising training schemes to a new level to ensure they get a return on their investment (ROI).
"The days of people going to training courses and not looking at ROI is over, particularly with the global financial crisis," says Paula McManus, the head of learning and development at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD).
"If I'm going to release someone from work, I want to see some kind of return on my investment. That'll be their growth, learning and career development. Also, through the performance of their teams and ultimately the organisation."
Even some training providers have acknowledged that times are changing. "In this era of shrinking budgets, ROI is crucial," says ON24, which sells virtual technology for companies that want to provide their employees with training schemes using a computer.
While the amount businesses spend on learning and development programmes is not tracked overall in the Emirates, it amounts to US$1,228 (Dh4,510) per employee for those who goes through training in the US, according to data from the American Society for Training & Development.
In 2009, corporate spending on salaries for trainers as well as workshops and outside learning events in the US topped $125 billion.
Some companies in the UAE also spend significant sums on training their employees. NBAD has a budget of more than Dh70 million for this purpose, says Ms McManus. But the bank requires an assessment following most of the programmes it offers or hosts to ensure the money is being spent wisely.
Following one seminar this year, employees from NBAD learnt about how to challenge their teams and push them to new limits. They were then asked to submit a portfolio to show which tools they had started to implement, such as asking the right kinds of questions to foster group decision-making.
At Dubai Aluminum Company (Dubal), some of its senior managers have been moving through an accelerated leadership programme for more than a year.
Hazel Jackson, an outside trainer from biz-ability, which is based in Dubai, recently came in for some sessions to help individuals find ways to continue innovating and creating new business ideas.
While the results from these sessions were not specifically monitored, the leadership programme overall is "quite goal-focused" and success is tracked, says Claire Gearon, the head of leadership development at Dubal.
"We have an evaluation process after each programme," she says. "We do ask managers to be specific in comments and try to identify exactly what they would do differently. That would link to leadership styles of what they're being measured on."
As proof that this kind of approach works, Ms Gearon says Dubal recently won top prizes in an ideas competition.
"It's not as if we feel we're in a culture where ideas aren't coming up, but obviously being so engaged in it as a process has saved us millions of dirhams off our cost," she says. "We're always looking to improve that further."
So is Agthia, the food and beverages group based in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier this year the company sent two of its senior executives to a speech delivered by Liz Wiseman, an executive leadership trainer and author of the book Multipliers. Afterwards, the executives felt other leaders in the organisation could also implement some of the new tools that were discussed to "get the most from the talent we have within the company", says Ilias Assimakopoulos, the chief executive of Agthia.
Ms Wiseman did end up delivering a one-day presentation for 30 senior managers at Agthia, although the timing of her visit was no accident: it coincided with the launch of new product categories at Agthia during the last quarter of this year.