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Training for a Purpose

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Author: Ian Baynes, General Manager of Empowering Valves

Wouldn’t it be great if every time we started the journey of a new training activity we actually knew the destination, and more importantly, what we were going to do when we get there? How many times have you heard a friend, a work colleague, or maybe even yourself say “I want to go back to school for my MBA”? Have you ever taken the time to ask “why” and what their goal is at the end of that journey they are about to embark on? If you do ever take the time to ask, you may well get the same surprise I get: answers ranging from ‘ummm, well, because I need it to get promoted or change jobs’;   ‘I always wanted a post graduate degree’; or some other reason that doesn’t really seem to make too much sense. I’m sorry, but when was the last time you spoke to someone who actually said “I didn’t get the promotion or job because I don’t have an MBA”? I bet you can count them on one finger.

I also wonder how many companies who offer skills improvement training programs or tuition reimbursement to help and incent those employees who want to return to school actually check to see if they have the ability and scope to accommodate those that just spent years sweating over books on nights and weekends to gain their new qualification. In other words are they able and willing to further the person’s career once the qualification is gained? Don’t know the answer? Look around and ask how many are still in the same role today.

By the way, that was me 10 years ago. I was watching my friends embark on the post graduate degree journey and thought “man, I better get my act together and do that otherwise I’ll be left behind”. Then one day I asked myself exactly what I was going to do with it when I got it. The sad truth is that I couldn’t answer my own question – because I didn’t really have a plan! So I took a step back, spent time to create a career plan for myself, asked a few people in the roles I was interested in what skills I needed to get me there, and then plotted a different path forward, with a different set of more clearly defined training goals that had a specific purpose.

This is not just a story about those looking to get a new degree; the same is true for any skill or knowledge based training program.

Where I have always seen success, however, is when training is part of the bigger plan; where the end game is clearly defined and waiting for the person with the specific skill or knowledge to turn up. And this works best of all when training is associated with a person’s career development plan, a company succession plan, or a defined and immediate skill gap. Basically the training is performed for a specific purpose, is immediately put to use once the program is completed, and is periodically assessed for retention and effectiveness over the next 3 to 6 months.

It’s important that those looking to learn a new skill or gain additional knowledge, or those companies looking to train their workforce, MUST have a clearly defined purpose and a robust plan that specifically sets out how those skills will be applied and socialized into the individuals’ daily work routine within weeks of the course being completed. If they don’t, then the skills may well be lost and their investment wasted.

I have always seen the greatest success when a company takes the time to create training programs that are based on an individual’s career aspirations, defined company needs, and the critical skill gap they are looking to close. When this is done, the value of the training is significantly increased as is its overall impact on the individual and company as a whole.

In closing, I wanted to reference a comment I made in a prior blog relating to training best practices, specifically the part about knowledge retention. I discussed the 70/20/10 rule as it relates learning. This places the emphasis on “Hands-on” or putting it into practice (that’s the ‘70’ part); humans learn best by doing not necessarily by listening – especially me, as those that know me well will attest too.  Even here, though, its well-recognized that the person needs to be using the skills gained within 2-3 weeks after the course otherwise the skills will dissipate. This rule is seen as a best practice for skills and knowledge retention. Take note: 2 -3 weeks before the skills gained start to be lost. It’s even quicker with classroom “Death by PowerPoint” based training as the brain drain starts in a matter of hours.

So before you embark on any form of education or skills training program, ask these 3 profoundly important questions below. If you can’t give a clear answer, then you may want to reconsider or re-plan to ensure there is a defined purpose to your activity:

  1. What am I/ those involved expecting to get from this?
  2. What am I/ those involved going to do with the skills or knowledge gained?
  3. Is there a plan to use the skills gained within 2-3 weeks after the course has finished?

You are welcome to use the comments section below to share your thoughts and experiences about how you have trained for a purpose, or post your questions in the Valve Forum to ask industrial professionals in specific positions how they got where they are today.

 

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