Developing Training Programs
A haphazard approach to training can leave workers confused about what they were supposed to have learned; and more importantly, they won’t be comfortable with or capable of putting training content to use on the job.
The trainer has to initiate the process of developing a formal training program, but a good program stays on track with input and help from everyone else in the organization. A successful program improves the organization’s “training culture.” Training becomes an expected part of the job that everyone supports.
Training costs money, and it’s easier to get resources and management support when there’s evidence the training program targets training to where it’s needed and the efforts result in improved job performance. Good organization and documentation is key to success.
Types of training
In general, the training audience consists of employees, supervisors and managers, and executives. Obviously, these groups have vastly different responsibilities and the types of training they need reflect these differences. However, keep in mind that even a company officer will need basic training on how to use a new software program.
Skills training is targeted to the widest audience. It’s the “how to” type of training that all employees are familiar with. The goal of skills training is to improve performance. Some examples of skills training include:
- Basic (literacy and math proficiency).
- Interpersonal (communication or diversity training).
- Technical (using technology and equipment; following procedures).
- Problem solving (quality and safety programs).
Supervisory and management training goes beyond skills training. These associates make decisions on the organization’s work flow. This type of training is process-oriented and can include training on:
- Budgeting (supplies; expenses).
- Planning (equipment and personnel needs).
- Project management (scheduling).
- Employee relations (assignments; scheduling; training).
Executive training affects only a few individuals, but trainers should not overlook it’s importance. Training for executives is strategy-oriented and can include training on:
- Trends analysis (markets; economy).
- Negotiations (contracts).
- Financial issues.
- Legal issues.
All types of training programs have common elements. These elements can be outlined as the following steps to effective training.
The first step in the training process is to determine whether training can solve a problem. Sometimes other actions (e.g., changing equipment or processes) are needed to improve productivity. Training is best used to address problems involving a lack of knowledge about procedures, unfamiliarity with equipment, or incorrect execution of a task. Training is less effective (but still can be used) for problems arising from an employee’s lack of motivation or lack of attention to the job.
To determine training needs, identify the gaps between actual performance and what the employees are expected to do. Trainers can:
- Examine productivity, quality, and safety records to identify problem areas.
- Ask employees to describe their jobs, and find out what training needs they’ve identified for themselves.
- Observe employees as they work.
- Review training programs used by other companies in the industry.
- Review applicable regulatory training requirements.
Procedures, equipment, and the facility’s physical layout undergo changes periodically. Determine if any changes would make previous training obsolete.
Other refresher training considerations can be the complexity of the job and the frequency with which employees perform a task. If the organization has introduced complicated procedures or equipment, it would be a good idea to provide employees with frequent refresher training or follow-up evaluations until they are proficient. If employees are only expected to perform a certain operation so seldom that there is a good chance they’ve forgotten the correct procedures, training can refresh their memories.
Training programs take away from production time and can be costly. To justify the training program:
- Outline the reasons for conducting the training.
- Identify the employees who need the training.
- Present a timeframe for the training program.
- Provide a cost estimate.
- Explain the training program’s objectives and expected benefits.
- Describe how training effectiveness will be tracked.
Instructional objectives map out what the trainees are expected to know and do. Starting with defined objectives enables the trainer to later evaluate whether these goals have been met.
Objectives should use action-oriented language that describes the desired knowledge, practice, or skill and its observable behavior. For example, rather than stating: “The employee will be informed about . . . ,” the objective should state: “The employee will be able to explain . . . ”
Instead of trying to include too much in one objective, several distinct objectives should focus in on particular skills or knowledge. Each objective should be linked to an observable behavior to make it easier to determine if the objective has been met.
Using a variety of training methods meets the needs of different learning styles and keeps employees interested. Trainers should combine:
- Print materials.
- Case studies.
- Question and answer periods.
- Computer-based instruction/simulations.
The trainer should confer with production managers and supervisors while preparing the content to ensure the material presented during the class matches actual practices.
Trainees who are not literate will benefit from training that does not rely heavily on written procedures, but it may still be necessary to schedule extra time to have someone read through the materials with them.
When trainees speak other languages, the trainer should have interpreters available and should use more demonstrations and visual-aids. The trainer needs to go over the material with the interpreter before the class so he or she has time to prepare the translation. When using an interpreter in class, the trainer should always speak to the trainees so they don’t feel like they’re just watching a conversation between the trainer and the interpreter.
The trainer must notify the trainees, and their supervisors, of their scheduled classes. Notification can be done by posting rosters, giving each department its own schedule, or handing out an invitation to each trainee. The notice needs to include the topic, date, time, and place; it should include a map if the training is off-site. Trainers should be prepared to make changes for employees who will not be able to attend at their scheduled time.
When employees work on second or third shifts, it may be possible to have their hours adjusted so that they are available for training during the trainer’s regular shift. However, remember that federal wage and hour rules require employees to be paid for time spent in required, job-related training — see 29 CFR Part 785.
Some training sessions may need to be held during these late shifts. The trainer may have to adjust his or her schedule or, as an alternative, someone who regularly works the shift can become the shift’s designated trainer. This person would need to receive appropriate instruction to conduct the training.
Computer-based training programs don’t care what time it is, but the trainer still needs to make provisions for someone to be able to answer trainees’ questions, and trainees may need reminders to complete the programs.
The presentation should motivate the employees to pay attention and learn the material. Trainees must be convinced of the material’s importance and relevance. Organize the training material into a clearly understood presentation:
- Explain the goals and objectives of the training.
- Provide overviews of the topic.
- Explain the material in sufficient detail.
- Relate the new information to the employees’ goals, interests, or experience.
- Point out the practical benefits of the training material.
- Summarize the program’s objectives and key points to reinforce learning.
The trainer should stay focused on the pre-determined goals of the training session. The program should take the right amount of time and effort, provide clear instructions, and help the trainees adapt the new information to their working environment.
Classrooms aren’t boring places; people only think they are. The traditional classroom setting has a lot going for it:
- It’s quiet so the trainees can hear the trainer.
- Everyone knows what to expect in a classroom.
- There’s a live person available to answer questions.
- It’s easy to use training resources such as videos, slides, and flipcharts in a classroom.
- It’s private so there are few distractions.
In the classroom, the trainer should ensure ahead of time that presentation equipment is ready and operational, arrange the furniture so employees can see presentations without having to crane their necks, and provide beverages and snacks to create a relaxed atmosphere.
The trainees should have the itinerary available at the beginning of the class. It is important for the trainer to keep to the itinerary during class. Trainers who practice their presentations find out if they really can cover a certain topic in the allotted time.
Typically, training documentation includes the training topic, the name of the instructor, the date, and the trainee’s name. The trainer can pass around a sign-in sheet at the training session or keep a separate training file for each employee. It may be best to have each trainee sign or initial his training documentation. Training documentation needs to be kept up to date and should be revised following each training session.
The trainer should share training records with supervisors and management. Training records can be used during performance reviews. Employees who are on record as being well-trained may be ready to take on more responsibilities. Supervisors should review training records before assigning workers to tasks that require specialized training.
Evaluation is an important part of education. Trainers must know if training program is meeting its objectives. If the training has not been effective, the trainer should improve and repeat it. A plan for evaluating the training program’s effectiveness should be developed along with the course objectives and content. Evaluations can be started at the end of the class, and they should be repeated a few weeks later to see if the trainees have retained what they have learned.
One model for evaluation was developed by Donald L. Kirkpatrick, as presented in his book Evaluating Training Programs. Kirkpatrick’s model focuses on four levels of evaluation:
- Reaction — Surveys of participants upon conclusion of the session to gauge their level of satisfaction.
- Learning — Tests to measure changes in the trainees’ knowledge and skill levels.
- Behavior — Observations and interviews to measure changes in job performance.
- Results — Records reviews (productivity, quality, safety, etc.) for evidence of improvement following the training program.
Some tools trainers can use to evaluate training include:
- Asking participants what they liked/disliked about the training session.
- Reviewing quizzes (pre-tests and post-tests).
- Having employees demonstrate specific skills.
- Observing employees as they work.
- Asking employees follow-up questions.
- Asking supervisors if performance has improved.
The trainees’ opinions of the class can help the trainer design more effective training. Within a day or two, the trainer can use a survey to ask the trainees to rate such items as:
- Did the class take up the right amount of time?
- Was the class environment all right (could you see and hear)?
- Did the audio-visual materials help explain the information?
- Did the information apply to the job?
- Were there enough demonstrations?
- Did trainees get enough time to practice?
- Was there enough time for questions?
- Do you have any questions now?
Using verbal or written tests upon completion of the training session gauges immediate employee comprehension. Adding a pre-test at the start of the session and comparing the results to the post-test will more clearly indicate how well employees learned during the class. Pre-tests are also useful when you conduct refresher training. The pre-test can let the trainer know how well the trainees retained the information from their previous training.
The trainer should decide ahead of time whether or not trainees will be allowed to look through their notes and handouts when they take a test. An “open-book” test has an advantage in that the trainees become accustomed to using the reference materials provided in class. A “closed-book” quiz, however, quickly reveals where the training fell short. This type of a quiz would be better for a training topic where employees need to commit something to memory.
Another consideration is the format and length of the test. Generally, quizzes should be short and simple. Even a 10 question true/false test can still ask tough questions. Verbal tests can be used when the quiz is part of a group review of the class or when employees’ poor reading and writing skills would make them uncomfortable with a written test. Lengthy exams with essay questions should be reserved for more advanced training. With any test, the trainer must make sure the correct answers were covered during the training session — they should also be in the written handouts.
Trainees get the most out of a quiz when the trainer takes the time to correct each quiz and write in comments to clarify wrong answers. This practice continues the lesson and shows the trainees that it really is important for them to learn the material. Corrected tests should be returned, but the trainer can keep photocopies as training records.
The only way to find out if employees are applying the training is to reevaluate the effectiveness of the training program after several weeks (or months) have passed. The trainer can observe the trainees as they work and should periodically ask supervisors if employee performance is staying at peak levels. Trainers should not be afraid to ask former trainees to demonstrate a skill or to answer a question.
Productivity, quality, or other records reveal trends in the organization’s progress. If applicable records show a marked improvement following a training program, it could indicate that training had an influence on the improvement. However, many factors influence business results, and trainers should be aware that a report on training effectiveness cannot rely solely on a records analysis.
If training evaluations show that the employees’ knowledge and skill levels have not improved sufficiently, retraining, with a revised training program, is in order. Upon reviewing a training program, the trainer can ask former trainees for their comments:
- What material was confusing or distracting?
- Was any of the content too elementary or repetitive?
- Was anything missing from the program?
- Was too much covered at one time?
- What did the employees learn, and what did they fail to learn?
Trainers can also take an objective look at the course by asking themselves:
- Was any critical feature of the job overlooked?
- Did the program address the gaps in employees’ knowledge and skill levels?
- Were the instructional objectives presented clearly?
- Did the objectives state the acceptable performance level?
- Were the employees motivated to learn?
- Did the program offer active employee participation?
- Did the learning activities simulate the actual job?
- Was the training material organized and presented clearly?
- Was the training program evaluated thoroughly?
There’s no need for refresher training to be the same old dreaded re-run of the initial training program. Refresher training should highlight and summarize the important parts of the topic, report on the group’s progress toward meeting the training objectives, and emphasize any changes that have occurred since the previous training was held. Refresher training also offers an opportunity to introduce the group to more advanced material.
Refresher training sessions can emphasize employee participation. All of the trainees have some experience with the topic, and the trainer can cultivate their experiences to make the training session more interesting. While initial training may focus more on “what” is done, discussions during refresher training can explore “why” something is done.
The training program presentation depends, of course, on the topic. However, the basic ingredients in a successful training presentation include the following:
- Introduce the topic, the class itinerary, and include relevant background information.
- Cite policies, regulations, etc. that require training in the topic.
- Explain how the training requirements apply to the trainees.
- Outline the goals and objectives of the training program.
- Provide a brief overview of the procedures that the trainees will be expected to perform (and/or the knowledge the trainees will have) after the training session.
- Provide the trainees with handouts, workbooks, charts, procedures, and other written materials to which they can refer during the training session. If a computer-based training program is available, let the trainees know how they can access it to reinforce what they learn in class.
- Define important terms relating to the topic. Display the terms using a flip chart or whiteboard.
- Show a video on the topic. Videos taken in the workplace may not be the same quality as commercially available videos, but they are very effective in showing the trainees workplace-specific equipment and procedures.
- Provide detailed, step-by-step instruction on the procedures or concepts that the trainees will need to perform and/or understand. Use overheads, slides, etc. to illustrate the explanations.
- Identify key contact people involved with the procedures.
- Familiarize the trainees with any materials or equipment they will need to use.
- Demonstrate how the procedures are to be followed, including demonstrations of the proper use of materials or equipment.
- Ask the trainees to share any experience they may have regarding the topic.
- Conduct table-top exercises or use case studies to help the trainees apply what they have learned.
- Give examples of how successful completion of the training session will benefit the trainees’ job performance.
- Review the training program’s goals and objectives, and summarize the training program’s content. Encourage the trainees to ask questions.
- Allow the trainees to practice the procedures and use materials or equipment under direct supervision. Additional practice may need to be scheduled.
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