During the early '90s, more than 50 percent of all U.S. organizations cut budgets or staff, according to a study done by Lakewood Research for Training magazine. Building owners, property management firms and corporate real estate departments are certainly no exceptions.

Today, for example, a company's young administrative assistant may be required to take on the role of a facilities manager. A junior level maintenance technician may be asked to manage building systems in the face of growing EPA regulation. A property manager must rely more than ever before on tenant retention and negotiating skills to maintain occupancy levels. Unfortunately, expanding someone's title and responsibilities does not give that person the skills necessary to do the job.

The most critical, direct way to prepare your company and staff to meet the challenges of change is through training and education.

According to Training magazine, U.S. organizations with 100 or more employees spent $48 billion for formal training in 1993. If that dollar figure does not impress you, consider the hours required -- 1.5 billion. Spending all this time and money is the equivalent of laying a solid foundation for a building: It will enable your employees to shoulder added pressure.

Making a financial commitment to your work force -- the same kind of investment made in your hard assets -- will continue to pay big dividends year after year. The following are five concrete ways you will see a return on your investment:

GREATER PRODUCTIVITY AMONG WORKERS.

Employees given additional education along with expanded job assignments more readily see a direct relationship between their personal growth and the company's success.

INCREASED INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY.

By providing education and training opportunities to employees, you show that you care for them as individuals and are concerned about their self-worth. In turn, they feel encouraged to take charge of their work responsibilities and become more self-directed and goal-oriented.

IMPROVED COMMUNICATIONS AND RESPONSE TIME.

Cross-training among employees in different departments can break down barriers and improve the flow of communication. Such cross-training increases employees' response time to complicated problems.

LOWER TURNOVER RATES.

Employees who see a continued commitment to their personal development are more likely to make a long-term investment in the company. Considering the cost to recruit, interview, hire and train new employees, staff retention is more important than ever before.

GREATER UTILIZATION OF TECHNOLOGY.

From sophisticated HVAC systems to facilities management software, technology is becoming more widespread in every facet of commercial real estate. Appropriate training can enable your staff to unleash the potential afforded by these technologies to enhance efficiencies and reduce costs.

Heading toward the year 2000, the commercial property industry will continue to embrace the concepts of downsizing and reengineering. Investment in your primary resource -- the human element -- will yield significant returns, if you make training and education a priority.