Making the training meaningful

Training used to focus mostly on teaching technical skills, such as training assemblers to solder wires or teachers to write lesson plans. Today, such technical training is no longer sufficient. As one trainer puts it they don’t just concentrate on the traditional training objectives anymore but sit down with management and help them identify strategic goals and objectives and the skills and knowledge needed to achieve them. Then they work together to identify whether staff has the skills and knowledge, and when they don’t that’s when training needs are discussed. In other words, the training has to make sense in terms of the company’s strategic goals. A strategy to improve customer service implies the need for customer service training.

Training today also plays a key role in the performance management process. This is the integrated process employers use to make sure employees are working toward organizational goals. It means taking an integrated, goal oriented approach to assigning, training, assessing, and rewarding employees’ performance. Taking a performance management approach to training means that the training effort must make sense in terms of what the company wants each employee to contribute to achieving the company’s goals.

Trends like these help explain why training is booming. Companies spent about $826 per employees for training in 2002 and offered each about 28 hours of training. Training has a fairly impressive record of influencing organizational effectiveness, scoring higher than appraisal and feedback, and just below goal setting in its effect on productivity.

The 9/11 attacks on the World trade Center and the Pentagon triggered changes in both the content of employers’ training programs and in how employers deliver their training. Immediately after 9/11, employers began to shift more resources to Web-based and distance learning-based training, and significantly reduced travel time for both trainers and trainees. At the same time, employers shifted more resources to diversity training, for instance, Ford Motor Company instituted several cross-cultural diversity training programs for its Muslim and non-Muslim employees and instituted new programs on security and stress management.

Training is futile if the trainee lacks the ability or motivation to benefit from it. In terms of ability, the trainee needs among other things the required reading, writing, and mathematics skills, and the required educational level, intelligence, and knowledge base. Effective employee selection is obviously useful here. In addition some employers use “miniature job” training to screen out low-potential trainees. It basically involves using sample tasks from the firm’s training program to help decide who will and will not move on to training.

The employer can take several steps to increase the trainee’s motivation to learn. Providing opportunities for active practice, and letting the trainee make errors and explore alternate solutions improves motivation and learning. Feedback including periodic performance assessments and more frequent verbal critiques is also important. The employer should also make the material meaningful. For example, provide an overview of the material, and ensure that the program uses familiar examples and concepts to illustrate key points. We can summarize these motivational points as follows:

Make the Learning meaningful: It is easier for trainees to understand and remember material that is meaningful. Therefore:

1. At the start of training provide a bird’s eye view of the material to be presented. Knowing the overall picture facilitates learning.
2. Use a variety of familiar examples.
3. Organize the information so you can present it logically, and in meaningful units.
4. Use terms and concepts that are already familiar to trainees.
5. Use as many visual aids as possible.

Make Skills Transfer Easy: Make it easy to transfer new skills and behaviors from the training site to the job site:

1. Maximize the similarity between the training situation ad the work situation.
2. Provide adequate practice.
3. Label or identify each feature of the machine and/or step in the process.
4. Direct the trainees’ attention to important aspects of the job. For example, if you’re training customer service representatives in how to handle incoming calls, first explain the different types of calls they will encounter and how to recognize such calls.
5. Provide “heads-up” preparatory information. For example, trainees learning to become first-line supervisors often face stressful conditions, high workload and difficult subordinates back on the job. Studies suggest you can reduce the negative impact of such events by letting trainees know they might happen.

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