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The Training Dilemma

To understand how to effectively engage stakeholders in workplace training let’s explore, “Why is workplace training needed?” This question poses an interesting issue. The answer: workplace training is needed because schools do not produce graduates that can perform all the tasks that are required of most jobs.

Generally speaking, schools provide education in broad strokes that cover abstract principles and they leave the specific training on the application of those principles to the end users, i.e., employers. Therefore, employees will always need some amount of training before they become fully proficient at their jobs. There are very few exceptions to this rule.

One example that comes close to being a true exception is medical school. We expect those who graduate as doctors from medical school to be fully qualified to practice medicine once they have their licenses. Even so, new doctors will still need training on how to fill out the forms at a particular hospital or how to operate a particular diagnostic device to which they did not have access while at school. Therefore, even these highly skilled professionals need some degree of job training when they are first starting out.

The points made in the preceding paragraphs should be obvious to most people. Unfortunately, that’s where we get in trouble. Those points appear so obvious that many of us “jump” to conclusions; making an error-of-logic and assuming that a need for training—or a lack of knowledge—is at the root of most employee performance problems. Many trainers also fall victim to this assumption. Indeed, many trainers became practitioners of the craft because of this assumption and, perhaps, a suppressed desire to work as teachers. This error-of-logic is at the heart of why training departments are the bane of many companies and perceived as a necessary evil for conducting business.

We, trainers, seem to want to throw training at everything as the solution that will fix what’s wrong with the organization where we work. What happens when training does not fix the problem? The training department gets a black eye and the training function loses credibility. We see this paradigm repeat itself whenever companies fall on hard times. What is commonly one of the first functions to be impacted by organizational restructurings – the Training Department! For this reason, trainers are traditionally among the first classification of employees to get laid-off.

With this “reputation” of failing to fix performance problems as a fact-of-life, it’s no wonder that those of us in the field of Education, Training & Development (ET&D) have a hard time garnering support and engagement from stakeholders when workplace training is needed. We have failed to show how we add value.

It is up to us to change the perception that our craft is only about conducting training. Our craft is about improving human performance in order to increase profits. This is how we can add value and become indispensable to an employer. Yes, one of the tools we use to accomplish Human Performance Improvement (HPI) is training, but it should be reserved for use as our last line of defense, not our first resort.

Training is an expensive intervention technique that requires perpetual renewal and investment. We should reserve its use for those occasions when knowledge or skill gaps have been identified and validated as being the root causes for performance problems. Even then, putting in place robust job-aids and standard operating procedures that supplement hands-on skills development can minimize training investments. But before we undertake a training intervention, we should consider if there are process, systems or engineering solutions that might negate the need for future training investments? Such alternatives to training are normally much more cost effective and sustainable in the long run. Our willingness to explore non-training alternatives actually helps us gain credibility for when training is needed.

Once we show our employers that our priority as training functions is to serve the business in a value adding partnership, we will get invited to sit at the decision making table more often. Instead of garnering stakeholder support and engagement for workplace training, we will be the ones being courted by the stakeholders to serve as consultants and advisors on human performance concerns. Then, when we offer training as the solution, it will be warmly received and valued.

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