Build More Effective Training Using Lessons Learned

As 2012 comes to a close and 2013 budgets and planning are well under way, I’d like to share with you some lessons learned regarding fleet maintenance training, and training in general. These lessons have been compiled from experiences in the field over the last two years, and have tempered with 25 years in the training business.

LESSON 1: Know Your Audience

My most successful training sessions have almost all been the result of doing diligent up-front work to assess the learners I would be training. When I have walked into a situation where assumptions were made about the learners, I often found myself having to backtrack into remediation or covering material that they had already learned.

If you are in the role of acquiring training services for your organization, beware of training companies offering off-the-shelf products that are “just what your learners need.” Even with off-the-shelf courses, good training companies will still perform some type of needs assessment prior to a training event.

LESSON 2: Document Your Expectations For ROI (Return on Instruction)

We’ve probably all said or heard after a training event that the session “did not meet my expectations.” I have found in many such cases the expectations were either unrealistic, or worse, unknown.

Before scheduling any training, be it internal or through an external supplier, it is good practice to list the expected outcomes for the training. Outcomes can be both quantifiable - minimum scores on a standard test, reduced repeated repairs for the same concern, reduced turn-around times at customer and home sites, etc. - or more general in nature, such as increased customer satisfaction.

Review your post-training expectations list with company stakeholders. If possible, include the training “experts” and discuss which of these expectations training can truly address.

In some cases, the expectations require additional changes in your business that have little or nothing to do with training.

Finally, just prior to the training event, discuss with your learners what will be expected of them during and after the training.

LESSON 3: Always Follow Up

Training is most effective if followed up by coaching, scheduled practice and other means of support. Learners may retain 70 to 90 percent of the training knowledge and skills immediately after the session, but that figure can drop to 20 to 40 percent in the weeks that follow without scheduled follow-up events.

Make sure learners get a chance to use the knowledge and skills acquired through training in an actual job setting - even if you have to simulate the setting until an actual related situation arises.

LESSON 4: Training Doesn’t Fix Everything

I’ve probably hammered on this one key point more than any other over my seven years writing this column. Too often, training is recommended as the primary solution for a business or process problem, when it is really only one of several solutions.

Training can address problems where there is truly a knowledge or skill gap. It cannot address problems that are primarily rooted in worker motivation, lack of necessary tools, poor or no access to needed information, lack of opportunity to perform acquired skills, supervisory issues or a non-supportive work environment.

I mentioned earlier that expectations of what training can fix are often unrealistic. This statement is not made in order to protect the training provider. Instead, it is to protect the operation from spending unnecessary time and money on training that cannot address the root cause of workplace performance problems.

Stephen Howe is a field trainer and technical training consultant for United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company with approximately 900 branch locations in North America. He is a past president of the Automotive Training Managers Council (ATMC), a global organization of training managers from automotive aftermarket, OEM, supplier, service tool and training companies.