Some things are harder to change than others.

A bank's culture is a hard one. At some banks the staff works as a team, with each individual trying to help the others on whatever project is involved. At others it's more like every man for himself.

It is also hard to increase employee "empowerment" - hard but worthwhile. It takes a leadership team that is willing to give up authority and let the people who actually have customer contact make the decisions.

But training is relatively easy to improve.

Banking has always been considered a profession instead of a business, because banks are largely staffed by professionals. Upgrading the skills of employees who in other industries might learn one task and do it repeatedly not only improves morale but is a necessity in this tight labor market.

Many training companies offer programs entirely on the Internet. Some of these programs even include trainers who talk to students through the computer. And online courses - they include teller training, compliance sales, business writing, interpersonal skills, and specific product training - can be taken at a student's own pace.

The problem, some human resources specialists complain, is that online training courses are too rigid. Answers must be objective. Students' questions are not always answered right away, and suggestions or ideas that differ from the designed structure of the course often are not addressed.

This is why most banks work with live trainers, either at the bank itself or at a convenient educational site.

In-house programs can provide specifically what the bank wants the student to learn, but they can be inefficient at a smaller bank, where the number of trainees may not be large enough to justify the time spent by the trainer.

The first place to look for outside training classes, naturally, should be the local American Institute of Banking chapter. Banks do not need to reinvent the wheel by developing courses on lending, bank accounting, and other topics offered by the chapters.

But the AIB is not the only resource available. Many banks fail to use the local community colleges and four-year institutions, which often are willing to let people register for just the course or courses they need.

What courses would be of value to the bank? Naturally economics, accounting, and finance come to mind. But even courses that are off the target can stretch minds and help employees develop a better understanding of the society and economy in which their banks operate.

When training is over, the bank should offer some advancement - in pay, title, or both - to show its appreciation. All too often people work their tails off to complete such programs and then find that nothing has changed in their job. Showing appreciation is a way of getting the most value from the employee's achievement.

Of course, employees may decide after completing their training - with the bank's money and often on its time - to look for a better job elsewhere. But banks that do not offer equally attractive opportunities do not deserve to keep these achievers.

And in today's tight labor market, most banks will have little difficulty giving more responsibility to skilled employees.

Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is a professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management in Newark, N.J.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.