Training: the cure for all problems?

Is training really the cure for all problems and is the mainstay of the route to competence? In the age old argument of quality over quantity, what training should always be relevant and effective?

Since childhood I have been educated to improve my knowledge. In more recent years I have worked in many different industries and the health and safety profession, where education and training has continued to be one of the key structural supports for my development and attainment of professional competence.

Some of my experiences have been truly memorable – and some have been totally unfulfilling and confined to the back of my memory!

Within organisations we often undertake training based on a comprehensive needs analysis and develop complex training plans and, if an organisation is really forward thinking, it might measure the return on investment of a training programme. We have people whose sole job it is to manage these processes – at significant cost – but why do we continue to train and re-train people?

I believe all of this links back to competence. There are many definitions of competence but when these are broken down they all relate to themes of: knowledge, skills, experience, aptitude and ability.

Some organisations take this further to define ‘SQEP’ – suitably qualified and experienced people for key, often high-risk tasks.

Absolutely critical to the development and maintenance of competence is our continual drive to develop in our chosen profession, or the activities we undertake, and to be the best that we can. After all, we can all learn more efficient and effective ways of doing things – we do this in life all the time, so why not as part of our profession?

As an example, at Turner & Townsend we develop the skills, capability and quality of our staff, through our Integrated Technical Competency Framework. This framework identifies the necessary technical capabilities and soft skills needed to fully deliver successful projects and programmes, which in turn assists us in identifying and planning our required training needs, enabling our training and development to be directed towards the areas of greatest need, risk or opportunity.

Over the last 12 months we have delivered over 4,000 hours of both training and CPD locally to achieve these objectives.”

We all need training to help develop the aforementioned knowledge and skills – with the remaining attributes of competence coming in time. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that the initial training to gather the knowledge and skills needed are paramount in any competency strategy. This brings me to two key points; the suitability of the training and the quality of the training.

Relevant and effective

The first of these points is often contentious; although we want to encourage people to learn, acquire more knowledge, and better themselves, organisations only have finite resources, and training budgets are constantly under pressure – they are often the first casualty in an ‘efficiency drive’. It is important that any training provided is both relevant and effective.

If you are someone who specifies or purchases training for your organisation, I believe one of the worst things you can do is maximise the volume of training you get for your money.

To me, the value an organisation receives from its training in delivering knowledge and skill development far outweighs the benefit of simply putting as many people as possible through training (and re-training) just to ‘hit the targets’.

Training is the foundation for effective competency development. Without it, the acquisition and development of competency will take longer, be fraught with missed opportunities and may even take people along the wrong path.

As part of any organisation’s competency framework, and subsequent training strategy, we should ask a number of questions:

  • Why is the training required?
  • What will it do to lay the foundations or improve staff competence?
  • How will the training be delivered?
  • Who will deliver the training?

Individual and organisational competence is critical for any organisation to survive and provide excellent services or products for its customers/users.”

One size doesn’t fit all

Regarding the quality of training purchased/provided, I have been on both sides here: as a risk manager defining, scoping, purchasing and evaluating the effectiveness of training, but also as a developer and deliverer of training as an environmental, health and safety training provider.

I strongly believe the content of the course (whatever the subject) is only one small element of delivery. The keys for me are the quality of the materials used as part of training: written, visual, practical, tests etc. and more importantly the techniques and skills used in the delivery.

It is well known that people learn in different ways and gain varying levels of understanding from their experiences. The concept of ‘one size fits all’ definitely doesn’t apply to training. That is one of the positive reasons we have seen an explosion in the use of concepts such as e-learning and blended learning.

Of course, there are cost savings involved, but if we are looking at our training provision, those stand-out training providers should be able to help organisations match their techniques to the customer’s requirements and the diversity of their workforce – for competency development, not just training.

We see this evolving in many forms of life, for example driving; not only do we take the traditional skills development training we need to pass the practical test, but there are now numerous opportunities for self-directed learning, on-line courses and of course the on-line testing of theory.

Organisations and delegates often still prefer face-to-face training, as it is often viewed as a richer and more effective method of transferring knowledge or skill from the trainer to the learner. It is however much more expensive. That’s why it is important for training providers to invest in the best trainers, and for trainers to be the best they can. We have all attended the courses that are ‘death by PowerPoint’, or where the trainer has simply read from the slides.

In today’s multi-media and information rich age it is vital for trainers to believe in their subject and deliver the best experience they can – in other words, they should also be competent when attempting to improve competency of participants.

This article was first published on SHP Online.

For further information, contact:

Mike Taylor
Associate Director

Safety, health and quality