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Training – A systematic approach to learning

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Employee's receiving trainingTraining – A systematic approach to learning. As managers, our training efforts are focused specifically on job instruction. By definition, job instruction is concerned with a systematic method of helping people to learn how to do specific kinds of work. Not to be confused with education, which is intended to develop one’s ability to reason and think critically. It is a highly specialized kind of training with respect to a particular job. Good job instruction provides the trainee with the results of the past experience of others to do the work effectively and safely. A newly assigned worker should be able to start the job in a way that will take advantage of all that has been discovered in the past. Later, as they develop skill in doing the job, they’ll contribute to improvements as well. Trainees will expect to know why things are done in a certain way. As a manager you should encourage their questions. It helps the trainee and the trainer better understand the job and increases the likelihood of their input improving training methods. Training saves time that would be needlessly wasted if the trial and error system were used by each newly assigned employee. Training should emphasize and insure that staff know and understand the use of all safety devices and applicable rules. Comprehensive training gives the worker confidence that success isn’t only possible, it’s all but guaranteed. In addition, training reduces call backs while increasing quality and production.

Each new employee must receive some kind of job instruction. This usually follows the orientation tour. Job instruction for existing employees usually follows re-assignments, product changes, new procedures and equipment. Training is used continuously in a well-run business. Every time a supervisor gets someone to do work the way he or she wants it done, training has taken place. Whenever directions are given or procedures are discussed there is training. However, specific job training should also be a continuing function of supervision. If you observe an employee that has developed an improvement over a previously standardized procedure, get the appropriate staff together and discuss the procedure with others. Such an approach encourages improvement, recognizes ability and contributes to productivity. Job training leads to lower error & injury rates, while reducing turnover and increasing moral.

Whenever practical, job training should be on the job, rather than in the classroom or simulated work area. If some training is required outside of an active work area, try to duplicate the conditions. All training should be performed by the immediate supervisor when possible. A great manager/supervisor must spend a large portion of time on training and development. It has been estimated that experienced supervisors spend about 50% of time developing and implementing training. Some supervisors develop an enviable reputation for the development of employees even when some didn’t show any potential for improvement. Employees become proud to work for such leaders, and the employees of such a supervisor are in demand because they are recognized as being well trained. Such supervisors are likely to become, by virtue of their development of others, prime candidates for higher managerial positions. There are circumstances that make it wise to develop trainers from among your work group. In every case, your relief or assistant supervisor should be a capable trained trainer so they can take over in your absence.

Note: There are few, if any, born teachers. Some people may have a disposition that assists them in learning to instruct. But all good instructors have to learn how to help others learn. For example, some of your best performers make the poorest instructors. They often lack patience and can’t understand how little the beginner knows. In any case, whoever does the job training, must be a good experienced trainer, and fully understand the job involved. Many people, including most untrained supervisors, think they know how to instruct, they don’t. Training is something of an art form, I’m only scratching the surface. Further study on the subject beyond that I’ve outlined is advised.

The performance of all employee’s is the sole responsibility the immediate supervisor, foreman or manager. Their success is measured by the accomplishment of the work group. Even when they delegate training to a qualified assistant they remain responsible for the quality and effectiveness of the training. Training has been called the process of influencing patterns of action or thought, or of influencing habits. In many cases, training has deteriorated into a hap-hazard business of an experienced worker telling a new employee to “Watch and learn”, expecting the new employee to duplicate the action when it should be done. What’s even worse is that many experienced workers have gotten into the careless habits that will be even more dangerous to the new employee. This my how the experienced worker learned their job, but it’s the slowest, most inefficient, dangerous way to learn. The old days of novices working with older experienced workers to pick up what they can are long gone. This method is in no way suited to modern conditions and rapid changes of all kinds. More often than not, such training is a handicap rather than an advantage to the new employee. Poor managers simply assign the new hire to a good employee to learn the job. Most workers, regardless of their performance, aren’t trained, or suited for the job of instructor. Many, resenting the new employee, won’t divulge the secrets for fear that it jeopardises their employment. In some cases there’s resistance because they feel the new hire should suffer and learn by trial and error as they did. Unless they’re patient, systematic, great communicators and get real satisfaction out of teaching, they’re unlikely to make a good on the job instructor.

An instructor or trainer should have some basic understanding of how people learn. As mentioned there are numerous books and blogs that cover the psychology of learning that are well worth the trainer’s time. Let’s have a look at some of the highlights. Certain factors apply equally to the group or single employee. Perhaps the first and most important is “individual differences”. No two people are alike. Many are similar or somewhat alike in many ways, or what is commonly referred to as normal, but even they vary greatly in individual physical and mental traits. We’ve all heard of the brilliant professor who forgets to put their shoes on as they venture out into the snow yet they’ve mastered the complex. Even Albert Einstein lost his way if he walked too far from his home. Psychologists have measured I.Q. of thousands of people. They found that about 58%, or the majority fall in what is called the central area, while small percentages fall on either side, slow learners on one side, geniuses on the other. These results also apply to physical results in what is often referred to as the bell curve. This should be kept in mind when planning and giving instructions. While most of the employees will be qualified to understand, about 8/100 won’t be. This means that if more than a few trainees don’t succeed in mastering a subject they should re-evaluate their approach, methods and explanations etc. It’s the trainer’s job to ensure the majority of the trainees “get it”.

Trainers should avoid giving up on the slow learner too quickly. In many cases, once they have it, they may far surpass others. It’s just as wrong to classify the others as smart, etc. They may not retain what they have learned quickly. All such classifications detract from training. The instructor should keep in mind that weaknesses in one respect do not necessarily apply to others. Emphasizing trainee’s successes helps them to overcome weaknesses and gain confidence. Psychologists tell us that although heredity has the most influence on a person’s overall or maximum capacity to learn, environment has a great influence on learning effectiveness. Furthermore, few if any people ever get close to their learning capacity. Another way of looking at this is a person with a high capacity to learn due to heredity, can have learning effectiveness greatly reduced by a poor environment or enhanced by a stimulating environment.

It is generally accepted that learning takes place as a result of responses to external stimuli such as: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling etc. It is believed that 75 to 85% of learning is the result of seeing and about 14% the result of hearing, so those senses are most important in relation to instruction. The more senses stimulated the better the chance of learning. The best instructors combine visual aids, striking demonstrations and dramatic presentations with talk, seeing and hearing. There three major laws of learning; the law of readiness, the law of effect and the law of exercise.

The law of readiness. One must want to learn. The instructor must motivate, provide the background to create interest. The importance of learning the subject must be conveyed to the employee. Site examples of others early success after receiving the training. The trainer must remain upbeat and enthusiastic, a lack of interest leads to poor results.

The law of effect. If accomplishment gives satisfaction, people tend to learn quickly to accomplish and repeat. Each section or module of instruction should be easy to master and worthwhile. Encouragement helps. Complaining, criticism and impatience hinders.

The law of exercise. We learn by doing. Each time we complete a task the method is fixed. Repetition strengthens the learning and helps retain the skill in the same way disuse weakens.

The physical or chronological age doesn’t necessarily correspond with the ability to learn new things. Some people become mentally old in their twenties, while others age chronologically but not mentally and are willing to learn all of their days. The willingness to try new things is often more important to learning than age is in years of life. Learning rarely progresses at a uniform rate. It seems to level off or plateaus at times. This requires recognition by the instructor and extra effort to encourage and assist the trainee when needed. It’s also important for instructors to recognize that learning is based on association of new ideas with known ideas. We all learn based on what we already know. The instructor must take the time to determine what is known by trainees and build upon this by association. There are a few common aids to learning. They include but aren’t necessarily limited to the following:

Immediate need – If a trainee recognizes the short range importance of learning things, they’re likely to be highly motivated to learn. Instructors should point out the importance of learning the subject now.

Friendly competition – If the training atmosphere is to competitive it can interfere with learning for many. Trainee competition within themselves is encouraged, but competition amongst the trainees isn’t. The trainee must be at ease to learn best.

Environment – The better the ventilation, light etc. the easier it is for the trainee to concentrate. In addition, the instructor’s friendly helpful attitude contributes to an environment that facilitates learning.

Instruct from simple to complex – Instruction always starts with the known and gradually leads the trainee to the more complex. Training should be conducted in a step by step format with explanations of why they’re done that way.

Accountability – Trainees should be responsible for definite achievement by successfully completing assignments and exams. Testing is required to ensure trainee understanding. The instructor puts the trainee at ease by explaining that testing is a gauge and extra help is given where and when required.

The need for training new employees and when methods or equipment have changed are obvious but there are other indicators. Generally, a need to consider training exists whenever the following conditions exist:

Quantity (deadlines aren’t met) and quality is unsatisfactory.
There is evidence of disloyalty and low morale.
Turnover and grievances are excessive.
Lateness and absenteeism are excessive.
There is bickering over jurisdiction, lines of authority, etc.
Safety measures are not being followed or the safety record is poor.
Perhaps most important, no one has been trained to take the supervisor’s place.
Telling alone isn’t enough. Showing alone isn’t enough. Some people will always misread, misunderstand or ignore written instructions. People can learn their jobs with enough showing and telling but a training plan is key. I suggest that one consider the 4P plan. It’s dependable and was developed by combining many years of management experience. It was originally known as the 4-step method. It was invented by Charles Allen for use in trade instruction in American Shipyards. It is now widely used for by many shops to offices throughout industry and government. It was designed primarily for individual instruction, but most of its principles apply to group instruction as well. At first glance, it seems complex, but it’s easy to master. It may be the most economical and effective method of job training for simple or complex tasks.

The 4P approach to instruction is easy to remember as it consists of four phases or steps:

Preparation, Presentation, Practice and Performance.

Preparation – A training plan should be developed by or with the immediate supervisor. It should outline the employee’s training needs and instruction to meet them. The success of any instructor depends their ability to formulate learning activities that produce the desired results. The best motive for learning is a strong desire for the personal advantage gained by the learning the skill. For this reason, the benefits and advantages of possessing the skill should be clearly pointed out. Indicate how others have benefited and how the skill will contribute to the individual’s own progress. Employees may be motivated by an increase in self-esteem, social recognition, monetary incentive, or advancement. In addition to these motivations, there is the satisfaction to be gained from the skillful performance of a difficult task. The motives for learning can be summarized as follows.

  • Arouse desire for the outcome of learning the new skill.
  • Establish clearly defined tasks and problems which challenge the individual to learn.

Presentation – It is a basic rule of learning that instruction should never be given in a negative form. The learner should be told what to do, not what not to do. (Unless it involves safety). Positive instruction is tailored to the results desired. Negative instruction distracts the individual, divides attention, and reduces the chance of training success. In learning a new skill, the learner uses several senses. By sight, they perceive the operation which is about to be done and watch the progress of the work. By hearing, they relate instruction to the work and identify the particular sounds that accompany some operations. Equally important to these senses in manual operations is the uses of muscle senses, (sense of feel). Many operations are difficult to perceive and equally difficult to describe, but there is a definite pattern which can be determined via touch. For this reason, many instructors use the technique of guiding the hands of the learner during certain kinds of instruction. This form of demonstration combines showing the learner what to do and how to do it. It puts them in the position of the operator or worker and permits them to make the first trial of the job without danger to themselves of the operation.

Practice – The instructor must correct errors instantly. Have them do the job again, explaining what they are doing in their own words, not yours. Have them tell you what, where, when, why and how. Continue to question them until you know they know.

Performance – Put trainees on their own and designate to whom they go for help. Check frequently and encourage questions. Taper off to normal supervision when you’re satisfied the learner has learned.

Some thoughts on new employee’s. Always make new employees feel at home, the welcoming starts at the orientation. Show them around and introduce them to those that will be in their immediate work area. Insure their understanding of all employment details. You should have covered paydays, uniforms, schedules, etc. in the orientation but new hires knowledge on the subject should be checked. Emphasize the importance of the job, industry and their special contribution to the company’s success. Detail specific duties and responsibilities with an emphasis on how their work helps others.

A training plan or schedule may apply to a single person, as in the case of a new hire, or it may apply to a group. A simple lesson plan is a valuable aid to the instructor. Lesson plans include: The name of the operation or action to be covered and the important steps or phases involved in logical sequence. Key points that each trainee should know about each step. The instructor should also list items of added importance for the trainee to remember. As well as tips that avoid error, waste, delay and accidents. The training plan should include a checklist to help the instructor avoid omissions.

Training Do’s

Be prepared, develop a training plan. Double check that the required equipment, materials, supplies and training area ready to go. Even minor interruptions distract.

Put the trainee at ease. Take a friendly, helpful approach, speak slowly. Tell the trainee that they’ll have plenty of time to learn.

Associate present instruction with the trainee’s existing knowledge. Take time to understand the trainee’s background. Discuss the trainee background and how their existing skills relate to the new job.

Motivate and secure attention. Be enthusiastic and confident while explaining the advantages of learning the job. Indicate the relationship of the job to the larger purpose of the department or company.

Show and explain the job. If practical, go through the entire job yourself. Repeat the demonstration, explaining each step. Define any jargon or trade terms. Emphasize key points and sequence. Stress safety precautions and or devices.

Go slowly. Gauge speed to trainee response or feedback.

Limit details. The average person can only remember about seven points per lesson.

Mini test. Check from time to time that you’re being fully understood.

Reinforce. Be sure to tell why things are done the way they are as it helps the employee to remember.

Turn the tables. Change places with the trainee. Let them do the job, and before each step, have them explain to you what they are doing and why.

Correct mistakes. Watch carefully and if practical correct errors before they happen. Re-instruct when necessary. Be understanding and patient.

Confirmation. Let the trainee go through it again without any interruptions a second time explaining as they go through the steps.

Develop good work habits. Re-stress key points while emphasizing the importance of correct, safe, efficient work.

Re-instruction. If necessary, do it all again. The instructor hasn’t taught if the trainee hasn’t learned.

Training Don’ts

There are more than a few training errors that should be avoided. Never…
1) Talk down to trainee’s.
2) Instruct by solely telling or showing.
3) Attempt to cover too much too fast.
4) Assume employee knowledge or back ground.
5) Fail to adapt instruction to the employee.
6) Fail to instruct in a logical sequence.
7) Fail to use examples familiar to the trainee.
8) Fail to be tactful and patient.
9) Fail to keep the trainee interested.
10) Fail to receive feedback from the employee indicating their understanding or lack thereof.

Brad Porcellato