So you hired a trainer to come in and help shore up your employees' flagging skillset. You initiated the training because a couple of employees mentioned they were struggling with some projects they needed to complete and didn't know how to proceed.
But should you hire a trainer, or a consultant?
Of course, that depends on what a trainer or a consultant actually are. So let's start there.
A trainer educates people how to do things, usually in a general and way. They do not take on specific problems your employees are having and solve them during the training session.
A consultant solves a specific work problem or completes a project for you. They do solve your employees' actual problems, and they charge much more for it.
In other words, the consultant is going to be the one to call if you want help in completing a specific task or assignment, whereas a trainer is who to call if you need help in understanding and using software or hardware more efficiently.
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This might not seem obvious to you. After all, couldn't your whiz-bang teacher figure out your Access database problem for you?
Well, they might be able to; however, the skillsets are typically not the same. Trainers may not be good at solving problems, and consultants may have no ability to impart knowledge to people.
Also, the time-frames are different. A trainer has a few hours to deliver material, and no time to study your business problem. A consultant may have hours or days to figure out what the problem really is, and then more time to create a solution. Can you see the huge difference timing alone makes?
Expecting a teacher to figure out an issue you've struggled with for weeks, with no advanced preparation or even time to look at it, is asking a bit much of anyone.
I can't tell you how many times I've entered what should have been a training situation, only to discover the client was expecting consulting.
One time I was asked to teach an Advanced Excel class, which includes macros. The client then said they fully expected me to show them how to integrate their Excel sheets with their accounting software "by the end of the day."
Now think about this for a moment. The trainer (me) has a specific pre-determined set of topics, and content, to cover, and has never seen the accounting system before. The client wanted the trainer to figure out - on the spot no less - their accounting system, and also program Excel to interface with it - while training a group of people at the same time! Talk about crazy! No pressure.
I liken this to taking an English class, and expecting the teacher to write your novel for you, during class.
A consultant here would be the much better choice. The consultant would meet with your accounting department, spend hours defining the problem and creating a scope of work, and would then take on the job for the next several days or weeks until the job was done. Programming, like writing, takes a lot of time and focus, and simply is not the kind of thing you would ask a trainer to do for you on the spot.
But it happens, all the time. And clients get upset with me sometimes when I explain the difference.
The consultant is also going to charge by the hour, at a much higher rate than the trainer. After all, they are solving specific business problems and it's not uncommon for them to charge over $100/hour, on the low end, to several thousand dollars per day.
I have done consulting, and it's quite fun and exhilarating to help clients solve their business problems! But it's best done in a consulting, and not training, setting.
So there you have it - the difference between a trainer and a consultant. Hire a trainer to educate your people, and hire a consultant to solve their specific problems. I hope this helps you the next time you're facing the choice on who to call.
Here are some other relevant articles I've written that may help you in your journey: