6 Corporate Training Findings You Need to Know: AMA Research

February 19, 2015

corporate training findings

To better understand the most effective types of training, as well as the most daunting training challenges, American Management Association surveyed 215 human resources professionals during the Training 2015 Conference & Expo in Atlanta, GA. The results are in, and here is what we found.

Finding 1: Soft-skills need an in-person touch

When asked what type of training is most effective for soft-skills training in areas such as communication, management, and leadership, over 80% of respondents stated that classroom training, including corporate and open-enrollment instructor-led training, was more effective than virtual training. During our conversations, conference attendees cited a growing trend toward blended training, with classroom learning bookended by virtual instruction.

Regardless of delivery method, soft skills are critical for career advancement. Research conducted with Fortune 500 CEOs by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75% of long-term job success depends on people skills and only 25% on technical knowledge.


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Finding 2: Training professionals are split on how best to deliver technical training

When asked the most effective type of training for technical skills, such as project management, finance, sales, marketing, analytics, and HR training, the results were more evenly divided. 57% of HR professionals thought classroom training was more effective as compared to 43% virtual training.

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Finding 3: Opinion-based metrics dominate training measurement

Next, we asked training professionals to select one or more metrics they use to measure training effectiveness. Employee feedback (used by 73%) is by far the dominant mechanism, though we would have expected usage to be even higher given the ubiquity of evaluation forms.  Other forms of opinion-based metrics include Manager Evaluations (used by 40%) and 360-Degree Feedback (used by 31%).

Performance-based metrics remain the holy grail of training measurement. However, our survey revealed that measureable performance results are now used by half of training professionals.

Why do opinion-based measurements rival or outweigh performance-based results? Why is the return-on-training-investment so hard to determine? An article by Kevin Oakes of the Institute for Corporate Productivity sheds some light on this topic. He shares that most companies use only Level 1 of Kirkpatrick/Phillips model, learner satisfaction, to assess training impact.  Due to complexity and time requirements, most organizations do not trace training to bottom-line impact.

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Finding 4: Employees like training!

When asked how they think employees respond to training, nearly 80% of respondents stated that employees are receptive. While 20% stated employees are resistant or uninterested, a recent AMA article offers tips to motivate employees to pursue professional development.

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Finding 5: Time and money are the biggest barriers to training

Respondents cited budget and time constraints as the biggest barriers to participating in training. Citing research studies, the article Reviving Training’s DOA ROI reveals that high-performing organizations made training a priority, whereas low-performing organizations tended to cut training budgets.

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Finding 6: Training professionals have diverse content needs

Finally, we asked respondents an open-ended question to gain insight into their most significant unmet training topic need. We grouped their answers using AMA’s competency model used in AMA’s Talent Transformation Tool (AT3), a complimentary leadership assessment.

The most common topics stated relating to Business Acumen include (in descending order of priority): Sales, IT, Customer Service, and Project Management. The most common topics stated relating to Leadership include (in descending order of priority): Coaching and Influence/Persuasion. The most common topics stated relating to Professional Effectiveness include (in descending order of priority): Collaboration (tie), Emotional Intelligence (tie), and Verbal Communication.

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Reflecting on the results from AMA’s survey at Training 2015 Conference & Expo, we discovered a mix of intuitive and counter-intuitive findings.

The conventional wisdom is that training is best when it is delivered in-person rather than virtually.  While we could not test with our survey the actual long-term performance impact of training by modality, we did confirm that training professionals prefer a classroom setting for soft-skills training.  However, training professionals felt virtual was as effective as classroom for technical skills (i.e., business acumen) training.

We were not surprised to find that opinion-based measurements dominate performance-based measurements of training effectiveness.  The return-on-training-investment remains elusive in most organizations due to the complexity of assessing long-term impact.

Training professionals’ sense of the extent to which employees welcome training was also somewhat surprising.  Respondents felt 80% of employees are receptive to training, a percentage higher than most would expect.

Barriers to training met expectations. Time and money constraints trump other issues, including senior leadership support, employee training desire, and content availability.

Finally, we were excited to see that training professionals maintain extremely balanced wish lists spanning business acumen, leadership, and professional effectiveness.  The hottest areas, including project management, coaching, collaboration, and emotional intelligence, are perennial favorites due to the impact each has on individual and organizational productivity as well as employee engagement.

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.


  1. avatar

    […] Research Institute International and Carnegie Mellon Foundation research reports that 75% of long-term job success depends on soft skills, but is that accurate? I’d be interested to see what kind of results such a study could find by […]

  2. avatar

    […] Research Institute International and Carnegie Mellon Foundation research reports that 75% of long-term job success depends on soft skills, but is that accurate? I’d be interested to see what kind of results such a study could find by […]

  3. avatar

    […] with work history and credentials would be all that’s necessary. That’s simply not the case. A study conducted by Stanford Research Institute International and Carnegie Mellon Foundation found 75% of long-term […]

  4. avatar

    I must be too old school. The biggest hurdle to proper employee engagement and performance is…… wait for it. A LACK OF A PROPERLY WRITTEN JOB DESCRIPTION.

  5. avatar

    Very insightful info one intuitively believes, but it’s great to see well-organized validation – nice work! I attended Training 2015 and have high praise for the gentleman who manned your booth! He sought me out on the exhibit walkway to provide a document he thought I’d find valuable.

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