Internal Versus External Trainers

You have to ask the right questions to decide between hiring an external trainer or keeping an internal one.

Development and training are key topics in any HR department, and making sure they are done right is a very important responsibility. In small companies, sending people off to training or using a licensed third party is a no-brainer. But as a company grows larger, the question starts looming whether or not having an internal training facility would not be a very good investment.

What Requirements Do You Set For Training?

Training is not just about teaching people skills to be able to perform their jobs. It’s also about advancing their ability to perform better, quicker and more precisely. And don’t forget the investment required to prepare an employee for a promotion or taking on a new role. These are all different reasons to have trainings, and this matters.

Internal trainings often fare best when the material that is taught is relatively slow to change. After all, the investment you are making is substantial, and you want to gain as much mileage out of this as you can. As a result, you want to focus on “evergreen” trainings which are always in demand (communication skills, writing and languages, time management, conflict management) or which are purely internal topics (like self-developed tools, or the details of your products and how to design them, install them or maintain them) which should not be open to the public.

External trainings, in contrast, are where you can take advantage of the ever-developing market and march of technology. If you find yourself in need of more modern training methods, or modernize the content, you are a customer. This means you can shop around and look for a provider that gives you what you need. Rather than continually investing in updating your own library of trainings, you can rely on others to do so – at risk of being replaced by a more market-aware competitor.

What Requirements Do You Set For Teachers?

All teachers require a balance between updating their professional skills, their ability to impart this knowledge on others, and the methods they have available to reach their students and enhance their ability to explain and illustrate their material.

Those trainers which are internal to your company are likely more loyal than an hired hand, and can use the knowledge they already have of the company to communicate clearly and precisely with their students. Especially if their source material is company material, they can very easily update their knowledge.

This leaves primarily the requirements on performance (ability to teach and reach their students) which are basically under your control because as an employee this will be covered in job descriptions and performance check-ins.

External trainers may have a greater need to remain relevant, because they are essentially entrepreneurs, but they often lack the insight needed regarding the company itself, so don’t speak their students’ “lingo”.

Expected Returns On Investment

Training takes three major forms: certification, on-the-job training and experience/exposure. Each has its own costs and benefits to take into account.

Certification means sending your people to a formal education, usually lasting several years, which provides a full title and diploma. This is very costly, both in the cost for the training itself but also the time invested on part of the colleague. The benefit is that this adds a great amount of credibility to your employee, which is a strong benefit if you need to legitimize a growing business, or if your employee is customer-facing and needs to come across as a proper expert. More modern training departments may include virtual learning or classroom experiences, where the benefits of a full-time teacher are combined with the time and cost savings of online meetings.

Experience/Exposure means training achieved through self-study, trial-and-error and logical thought, usually combined with watching others go through the motions. Usually reserved for simpler, mechanical tasks, but can also be used to great benefit by autodidacts, who can learn many skills simply by seeing them in action. The costs here are  very low compared to certification, but it will allow most people to repeat simple tasks. This manner of learning is used best on knowledge-based professions if you have a self-learning employee, or hands-on simple tasks for any employee. A more modern form of this training is having a library of web-based training for people to access to grow their competence.

On-the-job training is the most common form of in-house training in companies, and involves being taught and mentored by an employee who has already mastered the skill. This requires the teacher to be an expert, be able to impart this knowledge to others, and time invested on both the teacher and learner’s part. Its cost is less than certification, and provides a good return on investment on company-specific or process topics. That said, it takes a lot of time, and can only be done on location. While coaching another, the more experienced employee is likely to be much less productive on their part.

So if you are looking to certify people, you have no choice but to look externally for training. Internal trainers are best reserved for teaching company-specific topics, or coaching people to improve their performance. Allowing people to train themselves, through web-based training, means making a contract with an external party as well.

Are You Big Enough?

Size of your company plays a big role in determining at which point you should consider keeping training in-house. When you are a small company, you will simply not have any opportunities to train internally other than “on the job” training.

With a smaller company and fewer people, you will need to look closely at people’s individual needs, and this precludes the advantages of scale you get from having your own training department. That said, if you have need of one particular training to be spread throughout your company, one option is to certify your most on-point employee and have that person train the others internally. While they might not be certified, they will have the knowledge required of them.

Once your company spans several countries, you will need to start looking at building up internal training capability for the simple reason that you will need a more standardized approach. Employees in different countries will need to use the same corporate “lingo”, use the same processes and base themselves on the same theoretical backgrounds. Otherwise, you are at risk of having misunderstandings and costly mistakes creeping into your business processes. It becomes more important than ever to have a “company workbook” that everyone follows, so that everyone understands and adheres to the same processes, market selection, product descriptions and corporate values. That said, with growth in different countries also come cultural nuances, so soft skills should still very much be adapted to local customs.

Are You Knowledge-Driven?

As much as companies like to claim that they are knowledge-driven, the truth of the matter is that in most cases they are actually process-driven and result-driven. Regardless of whether people are trained or certified, as long as processes are followed and results are achieved training is often down on the list of expenses to make.

When training and development are paramount in your company, and you could not achieve and keep a lead on the market without it, it is essential that you have a Learning & Development organization that measures, describes and proscribes the development needs for your company. Without it, even if you rely on smart and ambitious employees keeping themselves up to date, you are going to fall behind at some crucial point in your market strategy.

The Hybrid Strategy

Most multinational corporations follow a hybrid strategy, where there is a strong central “column” of internal training on business process, products and company values. The Learning & Development organization subsequently measures the development needs and decides to create either additional internal content, or to hire an external trainer or agency to provide the remaining content. The needs may be described broadly (we need training on customer interaction, for example) but is then implemented locally based on detected requirements (one country might need better writing skills, another presentation skills).


If you are a member of HR or L&D, you need to determine how to get the best return on investment on the training you provide. Do you need to repeat the training, or does every employee need it when they are hired? Is it about a core value of the company, or an improvement in performance or efficiency? Do I need this training here, or across multiple departments or countries? Do I have quality people who can teach others, or am I forced to rely on external candidates?

If you are a trainer, and seek to get hired by companies, focus on their needs and discover your niche. Are you specialized in a small number of trainings, but offer them world-wide? Are you a broad generalist, but you specialize in your local companies? Do you specialize in a particular market or industry, so that you couple the cold knowledge you provide with uniquely tailored insights to the customer’s business motives?

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