Thursday, December 30, 2010

Training Access and Availability

Ann Marie Dinkel, RLATG
Most managers have either heard or said, “I’d love to train, but we can’t seem to find any time to do it. We are just too busy.” Training programs in the workplace have to compete with the work itself, and any number of distractions can interfere with scheduled programs. No matter how well intentioned, training schedules slip in response to absences, last minute work responsibilities, or emergencies.
Whether the training is presented by an in-house speaker or guest, getting staff into one place for a formal seminar is difficult, especially in these days of “going lean” and slimmed down organizations. This is also becoming evident with off-site seminars and trade shows.What can be done to remedy the situation?
Management support is critical.1 Management must not only offer training, but support it, and that support must be visible to all. The sight of a manager, department head or other high level figure at a training session sends a powerful message to staff that this training is essential to the organization.2
Treat training like any other appointment. Pick a day and a time and put it on the calendar. Have the staff and related departments put it on their calendars, too. Schedule around it as you would any other meeting on the calendar. There will be times when cancellation is unavoidable, but respecting the appointment on the calendar focuses all levels on the importance of the training event.
Set realistic training schedules. In most cases, weekly training is overkill, except for special projects. For ongoing training of an already skilled staff, monthly meetings might be enough.
Turn off cell phones for the hour. Interruptions break the learning atmosphere and show disrespect to both the speaker and the attendees. Maintain the focus on learning for the scheduled amount of time.
Provide an agenda. Knowing the subject matter in advance allows attendees to think about the subject, prepare questions, and read any suggested materials. This also demonstrates the organization’s commitment to a learning environment.
Here are some ideas to enhance training programs:
Brown bag it. Lunch and learns are a popular and relatively easy way to provide training when the staff are generally available. Provide pizza or sandwiches and watch the staff appear. The presentation should pinpoint a specific topic that can be easily covered in a 30-40 minute session. Lunch and learns can be scheduled in advance, put on the organization- wide calendar and become an event everyone plans work around. The planning itself demonstrates the commitment of management to training.
Use technology to your advantage. Try a podcast or a video message delivered via email or text message. The message can be as simple as a motivational thought of the day or as complex as reviewing a technical procedure to be performed that day. Consider providing “just-in-time” learning3 or very small learning segments that fit into 10 or 15 minute blocks and work with PDAs or smart phones.
Try an email mini-lesson. Pick one relevant topic and write a brief summary of the concept. Focus on the who, what, where, why, and how. Tailor the message to the audience. This is a great way to review for certification exams, GED, and internal proficiency assessments. Use bullet points and provide photographs or diagrams when possible to illustrate your points.
This also works for general training. The internet is a great source for “science on the go” material that is relevant to current research, new techniques, or science news. Since it is an electronic form, include the link, rather than trying to rewrite the webpage. Think of it as a mini-newsletter, where the editor collects and disseminates interesting and relevant information.
Make training very personal by assigning a “training buddy”. This experienced staff member can model behaviors and serve as a role model and sounding board for new or younger staff. In addition to modeling appropriate behavior, buddies can train new staff in techniques, and provide encouragement as they master new skills. Trainers would be able to confirm proficiency before the tasks are performed independently.
Here are some things that do not contribute to accessibility:
Location, location, location—One facility I know has a dedicated computer for on-line training. However, the computer is located in a staff meeting room and staff are only allowed to use it during breaks. Unfortunately, their break times often conflict with scheduled meetings. When setting up a central location for training, keep in mind that if no one can access it, all the development time is wasted. If your only available location limits access, or restricts availability, think about another method to deliver information that is more flexible.
Multi-hour time commitments—Filling one day a month with an all day training session will most likely do nothing but increase the absentee rate for that day.
Too much technology—Some on line training programs are not intuitive and require some time to learn. Assure that staff are comfortable with the mouse, the logic of the program, and how to access internal servers.
Think about how you present your training. Sometimes simple changes will improve staff access and also encourage learning. Be creative and share information if something you try changes the learning dynamics at your organization.
  1. Emde, E., “Building Extended Learning Systems that Deliver,” Chief Learning Officer, September 2009., p. 50.
  2. Kunkel, P. and McCool, J.D., “The Manager as Learner,” Chief Learning Officer, October 2009, p. 36.
  3. Summerfield, B. and Wickman, L., “The Future of Learning,” Chief Learning Officer, December 2008, p. 22.

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