Training Records: Going Beyond the Class Sign-In Sheet

It's hard enough to prepare and present training programs, but a trainer's job is not complete until the training is documented.

Why keep training records?

In some cases, employers may need to document training to meet a regulatory requirement, but regulatory compliance is not the only reason to keep training records. Training documentation may be needed as part of an internal management or quality system. Training records are also useful when evaluating the effectiveness of training programs.

Training records are evidence that certain people attended certain classes. Typically, training documentation includes the training topic, the name of the instructor, the date, and the trainee's name. The trainer passes around a sign-in sheet at the training session or keeps a separate safety training file for each employee. Some trainers have each trainee sign or initial the training documentation. While the format of training records varies, all training documentation needs to be kept up to date and should be revised following each training session.

Other types of documentation can be useful to safety trainers. While not exactly "records," training program contents can be used to document how employees were trained. Quizzes can be used to help gauge training effectiveness. Many trainers use surveys to get input for the training program. All of this documentation can be part of a complete training recordkeeping program.

Regulatory requirements

The first place to look for guidelines on training records is in government agency regulatory requirements. Just as each regulation may have its own requirements for conducting training, the training record requirements vary from rule to rule. Rules could have no training recordkeeping requirements even though they require training.

Trainers should note that even if training records are required, government agencies may not rely solely on training records when they assess compliance with a standard's training requirements. For example, OSHA compliance officers use employee and employer interviews and observations of work practices to determine if workers have the necessary knowledge and skills to perform their assigned duties without danger to themselves or others.

Regardless of the need to keep training records, some regulations require the employer to provide to the agency, upon request, materials relating to the employee information and training program. Government agencies can also require employers to provide employees with access to training records and written training materials. Even if employee access is not a requirement, trainers can offer this information to employees who are curious about their training progress.

When no training records are required, it is still a good practice to keep track of which employees have received training. A good training record system is more than compliant - it should be easy to maintain and easy to use.

Record format

There is no preferred format for training records. Many employers rely on paper records (especially when a signature is required to meet a regulatory requirement), but it is becoming more and more common for employers to keep training records electronically.

Electronic records cut down on the amount of paper the trainer has to store. But, some types of paper documentation can still be useful. Many employers want employees to sign a sign-in sheet when they attend a training session. Using sign-in sheets is a good way to keep track of attendance.

Sign-in sheets can also be useful evidence if there is ever a dispute as to whether or not someone received training. For example, the employer may be taking disciplinary action against an employee for not following correct procedures. The employee claims she never received training. Showing the employee that she signed the training session's sign-in sheet can cut short this argument. Of course, if the employee is not following the procedures as taught, refresher training may be in order, but at least the sign-in sheet is evidence that the employee received initial training. Another type of paper training record that would be useful in this situation would be a copy of a quiz that the employee took after the class - this would add an indication of how well the employee understood the training.

Record organization

The first step to using training records effectively is to keep them up to date. With a busy training schedule, this chore can be time consuming, but the effort is worthwhile when it results in the availability of dependable records.

Regardless of whether the records are electronic or paper, the record format should make it easy to retrieve information both on all employees who received training on a topic and all of the topics on which an employee has been trained. It might seem redundant to transfer the information from class sign-in sheets onto separate training records for each individual employee, but this method makes it much easier to retrieve information about an employee's complete training history.

Having individual files for each employee enables the trainer to easily add quizzes, observation notes, etc. to the worker's training records. Together, all of this information provides a complete picture of each employee's training history.

Records as a scheduling tool

A training record would not be very useful if it did not include the date of the training. Many employers want to revisit training in certain topics, and some regulations require retraining at periodic intervals. In any case, it would be next to impossible to meet refresher training deadlines if training records were unavailable.

Problems with employee performance often trigger refresher training, and these training sessions should, of course, be added to employees' records. By tracking repeated instances of refresher training over time, trainers can determine optimal retraining intervals for various topics. Scheduling refresher training based on previous indications of how often training was needed will help to prevent future poor job performance.

Records help gauge training effectiveness

Trainers can keep records to document training effectiveness. These records will differ from class attendance records, but they are just as useful.

Trainers should keep training evaluation in mind as they design training programs. Training program objectives should be constructed so they will be easy to evaluate through observations and interviews. Trainers can use a combination of approaches to compile records of how effective the training is. Training program evaluation records should be used to improve training programs and to identify needed refresher training.

Verbal or written tests given upon completion of the training session gauge immediate employee comprehension. When training is done to meet regulatory requirements, review the applicable standard to determine if the agency requires employers to evaluate employee performance and employees to demonstrate that they have learned the material. Tests help meet these requirements. Even if the tests are verbal, trainers should keep records of the questions asked and the employees' responses.

Adding a pre-test at the start of a session and comparing the results to a post-test will more clearly indicate how well employees learned during the class. Pre-tests are also useful during refresher training. The pre-test can let the trainer know how well the trainees retained the information from their previous training.

Trainers should decide ahead of time whether or not trainees should be able to look through their notes and handouts when they take the test. An "open-book" test has an advantage in that the trainees become accustomed to using reference materials. Open-book tests are especially useful when part of the job will require employees to use the reference materials on the job. A "closed-book" quiz, however, quickly shows the trainer 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. For example, people will not have time to look through an instruction manual when they need to use a portable fire extinguisher.

Another consideration is the format and length of the test. Generally, quizzes should be short and simple. 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. Trainers will probably want to reserve lengthy exams with essay questions for more advanced training. In designing the test, the trainer should make sure the correct answers were covered during the training session - they should also be in the written handouts.

Because a written quiz often becomes a training record, trainers should take the time to correct each quiz and write in comments to clarify questions where employees had 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 to the employees, but trainers should retain photocopies as training records. These records will enable trainers to review employees' training progress.

Another informal approach to determining training retention is to ask a few follow-up quiz questions or ask the trainees to demonstrate a skill several days or weeks after the class. Trainers can document these one-on-one sessions and add them to the employee's file.

Surveys are another good way to document the training evaluation process. Within a day or two, the trainer can ask the trainees to offer their opinions on the training session. Trainees can be asked 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?

These surveys document employee participation in the training program and the employer's efforts to evaluate and improve the program.

The trainer can use additional surveys and follow-up questions after several weeks (or months) have passed in order to measure the employees' progress and long-term retention of the material.

Keep records of mentoring programs

After a class, the trainees may work with a mentor or coach while they become more proficient at the skills they have learned. Mentors or coaches can be more experienced employees or supervisors, but they should have been trained on how to coach someone on the task. Mentors should not contradict class content. They should be supportive, not intimidating or judgmental. The trainer should periodically check in with the trainees and coaches to see if the relationship is beneficial and should record notes from these meetings.

When they are ready, the trainees will be allowed to follow the procedures and use materials or equipment under normal operating conditions. After at least a week, the trainer talk with the trainees' supervisors and record their comments about the workers' job performance.

Training records help with job performance evaluations

Trainers should share records with supervisors and managers. Training records can be used during performance reviews. Many organizations take training program participation into consideration when evaluating an employee's overall job performance. 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. On the flip-side, if a trainer sees an employee performing a certain task but does not remember seeing the worker in a qualifying training session, a quick check of training records will show if the employee should be allowed to do the job. In this case, using training records can prevent mistakes, or even an injury.

Training records interface with management issues

When employees violate rules, policies, or procedures, the trainer's initial reaction is that training was inadequate. That might be true, in part, but many other factors come into play. Employees may not follow the rules for a number of reasons:

  • Necessary equipment was not immediately available or was broken.
  • They were taking shortcuts because they were behind in their work, or it was close to the end of their shift.
  • No one was watching them, or they didn't think they could get caught.
  • They have known co-workers to break the rules without getting into trouble.

Trainers can catch and correct inadequate training before it causes someone to follow improper procedures if they regularly compile and review training evaluation records.

Part of effective management is enforcement of rules, policies, and procedures. During training programs, trainers outline and explain the rules and tell employees that they are expected to follow procedures. While retraining should be considered when rules are not being followed, more training is not always the right approach. There is a place for disciplinary action, and management should not hesitate to enforce work rules for attendance, production, quality, safety, etc. Management may ask to review training records as part of the disciplinary action process.

Trainers should be prepared to use their records to prepare reports for management review. Managers need to know if the training program is effective, and they are likely to want reports on:

  • What training has taken place.
  • Who has been trained.
  • How much time was devoted to training.
  • What training materials have been purchased or developed in-house.
  • How well training objectives have been met.
  • What training is planned for the future.

Everyone else in the workplace has an interest in the success of the training program. Supervisors and workers have a lot of involvement in the program, and they deserve progress reports. Trainers can use their records to report on training program progress through:

  • Departmental meetings.
  • Employee newsletters.
  • Posters.
  • Future training sessions.

Trainers can use other types of records

Trainers compile a variety of training records, but they should review other records, too. An effective trainer knows the employees and the work environment.

A trainer can get to know the employees by reviewing information in personnel records. Basic information such as employee anniversaries can give the trainer an indication of how much experience the person has in his or her current position. Reviewing these records helps trainers identify long-term workers to recruit as mentors for new employees. And, information on job assignments is crucial in identifying an employee's training needs.

Since trainers may provide some input for employee performance reviews, they may also want to review some of the information these records typically contain. If an employee is on record as having difficulties in certain aspects of job performance, this can indicate to the trainer that the worker may need extra attention in regards to training in that area. On the other hand, the trainer may be able to link some aspects of improved job performance to training. This type of a link would help the trainer maintain management support for the training program.

Disciplinary action records are another type of employee record that can help identify an employee's training needs. When an employee is disciplined for not following work rules, refresher training might help correct the problem.

The trainer should also regularly review incident or accident report records to identify training needs. Incident reports can be analyzed for trends, and these trends can indicate a need for refresher training. Of course, training is not always the appropriate corrective action to prevent recurrence of an incident, but the safety trainer should explore whether or not training would be helpful.

Most employees are issued equipment or tools to do their jobs. Trainers should review these records to ensure that instruction manuals are available and that employees have received training in how to properly use, inspect, and maintain the equipment.

Checking into employee-related records will only give the safety trainer part of the picture. It is just as important to review records based on conditions in the workplace. Records on the results of job performance surveys and analyses (efficiency, productivity, quality, safety, etc.) combine important information on individual employees and their work environments. Trainers should review these records to determine how training can be used to help implement measures to improve performance.

Employee suggestions and departmental or committee meeting minutes combine employee input with information on the workplace. Reviewing these records can give the trainer valuable insight on the concerns of employees and management, which can lead to ideas for training programs. By reviewing reports from meetings that discuss plans for upcoming changes in operations, trainers can ensure that these plans provide for necessary training.

General workplace or equipment-specific inspection and audit records are another valuable source of information for the trainer. Trainers need to keep track of any changes to the workplace or equipment that would make previous training obsolete.


Training records may start with class attendance, but they certainly can be a key part of a training program. While being mindful of regulatory training record requirements, trainers can explore their options for compiling and maintaining training records to help them identify training needs and schedule training courses.

Training records help the trainer work with other members of the organization. Records provide evidence of the effectiveness of the training program, provide input for employee development, and contribute to the overall management of the organization.

Trainers who develop a knack for using other types of records to glean information useful to the training program will find that their program runs more smoothly. To get the most out of training records, or any records, they should be up-to-date, organized for easy retrieval, and shared as needed.

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