Choosing between bespoke and off-the-shelf training

When it comes to business systems, most organisations will ask themselves the question of whether to choose between a standard ‘vanilla’ system or a custom build – and software vendors can readily describe the pros and cons of each.

But what about training? 

Does the same choice exist, and how and when do you know what’s right for your business?

What's right for your business? Bespoke - courses developed for your business, or off the shelf - courses ready to go. Article by First Friday

Bespoke vs off-the-shelf training: what’s the difference?

Let’s begin by describing each format and the main differences between the two:

  • Bespoke training (also referred to as “custom training”) describes a solution which is tailored entirely to the specific needs of the organisation in question
  • Off-the-shelf training (sometimes referred to as “ready-to-go training”) refers to a solution which blends best practice and common principles from across the sector 

A quick comparison of Bespoke vs Off-the-Shelf Training

Bespoke training - On-brand look and feel,Company-specific examples, Contains internal views, jargon, systems and processes, Cost effective at scale, Best for expert audiences and supporting business change. Off the shelf -Third-party look and feel, Generic (industry) examples, Covers best-in-class, industry standards and jargon, Cheap and quick to deploy,Good for building standardised knowledge base on common topics.

Bespoke training

With bespoke training, materials are developed using corporate branding and refer throughout to their own industry sector, using examples, jargon, processes and even names of key people from the business (if relevant) to help bring the course to life. 

Bespoke training materials provide clarity and consistency on specific topics and may be shaped using senior management views and perspectives.  

Depending on the level of customisation required, it often takes weeks, if not months to create each individual piece of bespoke training content.

Common uses include:

  • Onboarding & Induction
  • Process & Systems Training 
  • Product Training

Off-the-Shelf training

Off-the-shelf training, on the other hand, is typically developed with the training provider’s branding and includes references from across an industry to convey the recommended processes, tools, RACI, and industry-standard ways of working. 

These types of material helps develop a consistent knowledge base and provide a platform on which to build more specific knowledge and skills.

Unlike bespoke courses, off-the-shelf training is purchased “ready-to-go” from a content library, and is immediately accessible to delegates. 

Common uses include:

  • Compliance training
  • Generic soft skills training
  • Entry-level/topical knowledge basics

So, how do you choose what’s right for you?

Choosing between bespoke and off-the-shelf training

Given those basic criteria and definitions, you may think it’s fairly clear-cut which approach to take for your training materials. But there are some other factors that need to be considered when it comes to choosing what’s right for your organisation.

Regardless of the approach to course creation you take, great training has to meet the needs of the delegates and must be engaging and memorable to sufficiently convey the learning objectives and achieve sustainable results. 

However, the decision of whether to go with bespoke or library content needs to be weighed up against 3 further critical factors:

  1. Whether you have established practices in place already
  2. The experience level of your intended audience
  3. Why you need to train them

1 – Processes and ways of working

The first question to ask is whether your business has established ways of working and processes which are well-known (even if they are not documented), and whether there is clear ownership of decisions for each task. 

If the answer is yes, then often bespoke training is preferred to land them effectively and according to specific requirements, rather than a general industry or sector approach.

If, however, there are few or possibly even no established or common ways of working, then off-the-shelf training can be beneficial in setting a shared approach and language before layering specifics on top.

2 – Skills and experience levels 

Secondly, its critical to understand the team who requires training. 

If teams are new, inexperienced or have not had a great deal of formal training,  off-the-shelf workshops are an excellent way of establishing a common platform of knowledge and standards.

On the other hand, if your teams are established and competent, off-the-shelf workshops can sometimes feel too basic and introductory, and bespoke solutions may be more appropriate.

3 – Training content and purpose

The third area to consider is the type of training required and its purpose. 

Some job skills training has to be bespoke because every business has a different approach which forms a critical part of their competitive advantage. Good examples in the retail sector are ‘customer and market awareness’, ‘sourcing strategy’, or training for a new system.

However, many training topics are common across all businesses, and high levels of tailoring are not important to achieve learning goals.  Good examples are ‘negotiation skills’ or ‘presentation skills’.

Achieving the right blend for your business

As you may have guessed by now, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. And in fact, the best solution for your organisation is most likely a mix of both bespoke and off-the-shelf training.

In cases where you already have established ways of working, the intended audience are established and competent, and the knowledge/skill being taught are unique to a specific job role/team – you’re almost certainly going to be better off with bespoke training. 

For anything else, off-the-shelf is likely to be a more efficient – and cost-effective – approach.

Ultimately it’s about choosing what is right for your business and your team – the pros and cons will differ according to your needs, your timescales, your internal resources, and your budget. 

How First Friday can help

Historically, here at First Friday, we were primarily engaged by clients to develop bespoke training solutions, but more recently there has been a trend towards off-the-shelf – and particularly since we launched our own Training Academy.

The instant availability of off-the-shelf, digital courses can quickly deliver the essential elements of a training programme, supplemented by bespoke training for the topics that require it. 

This best practice learning can be further supported with follow-up sessions that explore how it can be applied to your unique business or individual role(s).  In these sessions, relevant examples and practice sessions can help to translate the learning to delegates’ actual jobs. 

Blending training in this way delivers a quality solution which can offer a career path personalised by job role and individual needs, as well as landing core business goals for the future.

If you’re about to embark on a training programme for your business and are weighing up these decisions – we’re here to help. 

Find out more about our training services or get in touch to speak with one of our learning experts.

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Clare Edwards

About the author: Clare Edwards

A Principal Consultant and Head of the First Friday Training Academy, Clare has over 30 years of retail experience which she uses to support clients to develop their commercial knowledge, technical capability and soft skills.

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