Increasing the Effectiveness of Your Training

Making your training efforts work best for you.

Few would argue with the importance of having a skilled workforce. In some cases, new hires bring the skills needed to be “up and running” quickly. However, it is more common that a certain amount of training is required to equip employees with the necessary skills to be successful. Often, planning and scheduling this training can present a dilemma for employers. Here are some thoughts on what you can do to make your training efforts work best for you.

  1. Be sure the training is clearly defined with a specific outcome. Training that cannot be tied to a desired outcome is unlikely to have much impact. You need to define the intended outcome as simply as possible. For on-the-job skills training, a desired outcome could be to enable the trainee to load parts into a CNC lathe, start the machine cycle, unload parts and check critical part dimensions. For training on an administrative process, the outcome could be to accurately enter customer orders into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. For soft-skills training, the outcome might be to use the Five-Why technique to help solve recurring problems in the employee’s department. It is essential that the desired outcome be defined before training begins.
  2. Identify the best participants for the training. Some believe in training everyone on everything. This shotgun approach may make us feel good as it provides equal opportunity for everyone to learn new skills. Unfortunately, with limited resources, it may not be practical to train everyone on everything. Prioritizing the training needed and identifying those who will benefit most will yield the best outcome. There is always the option of training more employees at a later time, but initial training efforts need to be directed to those who will learn and apply what they have learned in the shortest time.
  3. Be comfortable with the trainer(s). In addition to a trainer knowing the subject matter, there is a great benefit to a trainer being familiar with the company and those who will be trained. This is usually easier to accomplish if an internal training resource is used. However, an experienced external resource can be effective if he or she takes the time to learn something about the company and its employees. Understanding any unique aspects of the company, or employee strengths and limitations, can help a trainer tailor a program for success. If an employee is selected to conduct on-the-job skills training, this person must have both knowledge about the subject and the ability to communicate this information effectively. The most experienced and highest-skilled employees do not automatically make good trainers. Many companies benefit from “train the trainer” training for employees identified as potential training resources.
  4. Conduct training in “small bites,” if possible. Short, frequent-training sessions often prove more effective than full-day, or even multi-day training sessions. Many manufacturing employees are not used to sitting in classrooms or being shown different tasks for long periods of time. Other employees who have achieved a higher level of education may be better suited to longer periods of training (hence the benefit of a trainer knowing something about those being trained) because they are more familiar with a classroom setting. In cases in which an external training resource must be used in full-day increments, multiple groups can be trained in portions of the day. An advantage of this short, frequent-training approach is that participants have the opportunity to apply some of what they learn between sessions.
  5. Ensure that trainees can put their newly acquired skills to use quickly. Too often, employees attend training classes but then do not have the opportunity to apply the skills they have learned. I can remember being a young manufacturing engineer and going to school to learn CNC programming for a machine that was not scheduled for delivery for three months. By the time the machine arrived, I had little recollection of the programming techniques I had “learned.” On-the-job skills should be practiced as soon as possible, perhaps even the same day. Administrative skills should also be put to use quickly to ensure retention. Even opportunities for applying soft skills, like problem solving or lean techniques, should be planned shortly after the training is completed. Without refreshing or applying the skills we learn, they are substantially diminished after 60 days.

Training is critical to a company increasing the skills of its workforce. Although time and effort must be expended, the above thoughts should help you get the results you need from your training initiatives.