Effective Workplace Training

Did you know that Canada?s per capita safety performance ranks 22nd out of the 24 most economically mature nations? Or that last year it is estimated we spent 2.5 Billion on training in this country. ?Safety training? is the 2nd or 3rd largest component (there is lots of overlap with other types of training) in North America. If you factor in the US then we spend well over 50 billion dollars on safety training in North America each year and that is big dollars. Matter of fact, it is so significant, that it is under increasing attention and companies are placing more fiscal scrutiny on their training to ensure that it is effective and meeting their needs.

I have a biased opinion when it comes to this subject as I luckily work for a company that believes very strongly in workplace training. Matter of fact I can honestly say my company has spend thousands of dollars training me, many thousands. Obviously they don?t do this just because I am charming (which I am). Rather they do this because they see the business sense in doing so. They realize that first and foremost it enhances my skills and knowledge which makes me a valuable employee to them. It definitely optimizes my versatility as I can hop between a number of different parts of our operation seamlessly. Because I am able to jump between different parts of our operation it also lets me be a more effective team member and collaborate more effectively with my co-workers. Finally, and perhaps the most compelling reason, it makes me want to stay with my company and in this job market employers can understand just how important this aspect is. Again I am lucky as I work for an employer who realizes that our people are valuable and the only part of our operation that our competition cannot duplicate.

Back to the question of effective training. What exactly is ?effective training?? One definition of effective training is ?provision of skills and/or knowledge that enables the learner to be a fully contributing partner with the goals of the employer?. I kind of like that one, especially the last part about the goals of the employer. I consider that one of the prime prerequistes of effective training, that it needs to be tied into the business goals of the company, there is no point sending me off on a safety course that will not benefit me or the company and has nothing to do with the actual business of the company.

Another aspect of effective safety training is that it needs to address the needs of those of us attending and in particular it needs to address our different learning styles. I have lost count of the number of times I have sat through a day or multi-day training session and walked out in a mind numbing daze, knowing that I did a quiz and have now gotten a certificate, but don?t ask me to repeat anything I learnt. We all learn differently, and one of the tricks of effective training is finding out how you learn and then trying to attend sessions that will address ?your? learning style. Often this is hard, especially with so many ?out of the box? type training sessions out there, but usually by reading the course description and talking with people presenting the session you can find out quickly if this is the right session for you.

Planning well in advance for your training goals helps a lot too. Our training needs are often discussed in staff meetings, management meetings and safety meetings in our organization. We discuss the business goals of the company, we discuss the best courses to take to meet those goals and finally we discuss the best people to take those courses. That is another good point as well, not all training is suitable for all employees, obviously there is some core training for all, but once you get past that you want to match people and skills with the organization goals as well. We have some people in our company who are very good organizationally and very analytical and they make good safety auditors, we have others that are very creative and good ?people? people and they make good safety program developers. Matching people to training to maximize these skills is a key component for effective safety training.

All your training should be monitored and measured. You need to know that it is doing what it is supposed to do, otherwise you are just wasting money and resources. Did the training result in some measurable behavioral change on the job? How much have your employees put their new skills and knowledge to work and were these changes kept up over time? These are all questions to ask and followup with on with your training.

Safety training has evolved a lot over the years, it has shifted from staff to line ownership of safety systems. As the safety systems evolve in companies we see them evolving from ?blame? systems to identifying ?system failures? or root causes, and we see a much greater emphasis on leadership from all levels as being a key in workplace safety. Effective safety training embraces all these shifts and helps you make sure that you and your people are on the same page and working towards the same goals.

I will leave with this final thought from the change integration team at Price Waterhouse ?Over invest in human capital. Build skills in your people at all levels. Broaden the technical, problem solving, decision making and leadership skills of those ?in the trenches?, that is the secret to competitive success?.

Stay safe and I will talk to you again next week.


Rob Mandeville is a Safety Advisor and Auditor at Action Health & Safety Services. He has his OH&S certificate from the UofA, and is currently studying for his CRSP ( Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professional) exams. If you have a question about health and safety or an idea for an article you can reach him at rob.mandeville@actionservices.ca