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The importance of cross-training


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I’m sure you are wondering where this blog post is leading to and why I would think cross-training employees important. Well, the near-miss pandemic phase made me think, if I fell ill or had a major accident, would there be someone at First Reference able to replace me to do my job, as well as continue to provide the same or better standard of content and service to our subscribers?. But there are also other reasons why cross-training might be essential; for example, while there may be enough employees within a specific department to get all the work done, some of those staff might be overworked and could consequently fall behind in their tasks because they are being assigned so many duties.

What is cross-training?
Cross-training in the workplace is the practice of training a person to do someone else’s job, whether that be within the same department, other departments or at other levels of responsibility within the company.

How can cross-training help?
In my case, and I am sure the same applies at many other companies, cross-training would prevent the risks to businesses of having only one person who knows how to do a particular job, which can become a problem in the case of illness, vacation, sabbaticals, educational leaves, maternity, retirement or other circumstances that cause absences. Cross-training can also help by giving other workers a chance to learn some of those in-demand skills and taking some of the load off overworked employees’ shoulders, thereby reducing backlogs without having to hire extra staff.

According to several human resources specialist I’ve talked to, there are other reasons to cross-train, and they include:

  • Preventing people from getting so specialized in one area that they refuse to learn something new, or hoard all the work.
  • Improving communication in one’s team and deparment, other deparments or other levels of the company
  • Promoting a team atmosphere and a sense of ownership and understanding of the things that go on in other areas of one’s own department, in other departments or at other levels of the company
  • Providing opportunities for rotation, promotion and oversight, so as to identify areas of inefficiency or dishonesty
  • Boosting morale and motivation by giving employees a break from what they’re always doing and offering some variety
  • Giving employees a chance to grow and learn new skills without having to leave the company or go back to school.

What should employers consider when setting up cross-training?
When setting up cross-training programs, consider the needs of the organization, how the organization works, your customers and the employees. Consider the needs and capabilities of both the functions providing and receiving the training. Ask where the need is most acute and start there. It’s also smart to start with willing and able participants, leaving the “unwilling” for last. Sending an employee to a training course may also be more appropriate than training in-house.

Finally, a person’s natural talent in one area doesn’t guarantee a similar aptitude for everything else. Just as you hire for job fit, cross-train with the same goal in mind.

Have you thought about cross-training before? Or have you worked through an incident that would have required cross-training employees?

Yosie Saint-Cyr
Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B. Managing Editor

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 18 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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One thought on “The importance of cross-training
  • Evita Sanders says:

    I totally agree that cross training is a great strategy, expecially in a small company! I would also make a case for detailed documentation of all job functions. We have this and when somebody is (unexpectedly) not in the critical functions can be handled. At that time, if we find the document out of date, or unclear in any way it is discussed when the person returns and updated/corrected right away. It works for us!