When it comes to training your work force, either leap in with both feet or dont bother at all. A good training program should have clear objectives about what you want the employees to learn and the full support of management. Otherwise, its doomed from the start, says Judy Opalach, president of Cleveland-based Skill Builders.
Opalach helped set up manufacturer Horsburgh & Scotts employee training program a decade ago. That programs success has made it one of the regional models companies look at when theyre ready to design their own. While Horsburgh & Scott earmarks $45,000 a year for its program, start-ups can cost a bit more. Done right, they can cost as much as $60,000 or $70,000 a year.
But once youre past the sticker shock and realize that a strong program can pay for itself in a year or less, Opalach offers five key steps to getting the optimum training program off the ground.
Theres a lot of fear initially among the workers, explains Opalach, who cut her teeth with Project Learn 15 years ago. Often, theyve got a lot of questions about why the employer is starting a training program, including whether its to weed out the dummies.
To diffuse that situation, she suggests employers be up front with their employees and explain the plans for the program: Describe how it will work and why its needed. She says an all-hands meeting is a good way to broadcast the message.
After that, the person who is setting up and managing the program should meet with employees in small groupswithout other managers presentto alleviate any fears people have about participating in training programs.
Make an assessment
Opalach also uses those small, personal meetings to figure out where people stand in terms of their skill levels and training needs. But, she stresses, its not an intelligence test.
Its a basic assessment for reading, writing and math, and anything else that an employer may choose to have thats significant in the workplace, she says. That could include tasks such as basic blueprint reading or understanding a specific process on a machine. It depends on who the focus for the training is.
Conduct a job-task analysis
In conjunction with the basic assessment, the trainer needs to take an objective look at how employees will use their new skills.
Thats something many employers overlook when theyre developing a training program, warns Hal Miller, president of Solon-based Marplex, which designs training programs for manufacturers.
When an insider decides whats going to be in a training program, theyre putting things in that they think the student needs, Miller says. In order to do it effectively, though, its important for the person developing the training program to go to the students and find out what they really need in order to accomplish the companys objectives.
Opalach suggests first-hand observation. Go in and shadow somebody on the job, she says. Look at all the things that they are doing and what skills are related to each particular job.
For example, consider a task that is usually assumed to be simple and require little instruction: filling out forms. Look at the form and all the different skills it takes to complete it, she says. Reading, the ability to understand abbreviations and acronyms, the ability to write dates numerically, to write comprehensive concise sentences and spell correctly. People dont realize how much goes into every task.
Develop the curriculum
Once youve got a thorough picture of what skills the employees need to learn, the hardest part is developing a curriculum around those skills to meet stated objectives.
Miller says text and illustrations are critical to any training programs success. You have to ask yourself, Does the illustration illustrate what you want it to, and how well do the words explain what the students looking at or what the company needs him or her to learn? he says.
For example, if the goal is to teach an employee how to operate a machine, the text should be written from the employees point of viewnot that of the engineers who designed the equipment. Any diagrams need to be accurate and contain the appropriate level of detail.
What you teach has to apply to the job, adds Opalach. Adults learn best by something thats going to be relevant to them and applicable. If you can apply exactly what you learned, then theres a much greater success rate.
Evaluate the program and make adjustments
Employers generally make one of two mistakes at this point: They either fail to follow up at all, or they try to find the immediate return on investment.
Its not an overnight result, Opalach warns. Education doesnt work like that. Employers need to be aware of that if theyre going to do any kind of measurement of the programs success.
You can turn out a widget in 24 hours or less, but in education, the products going to take a little bit longer because its an intangible.
She suggests employers give any start-up training program one to two years before conducting a formal evaluation of its success. However, thats not to say theres anything wrong with gauging it by talking to supervisors and asking if theyve noticed improvements in performance and confidence among employees.
After the first group has gone through the program is a good time to make adjustments where employees needs arent being met. Says Opalach, Its an evolving process. A good program is always in a constant state of flux.
Employers checklist: Building a training program
Training is often an afterthought in business, relegated to an employees first few hours on the job. If you want to get more from your people, here are five steps to assure the success of a training regimen:
Change is difficult. Whenever you introduce new things to the workplace, expect to meet some level of resistance. If youre up front with employees about the motives behind a new training program, there wont be muffled whispers around the office or on the shop floor.
Assess skill levels.
People dont necessarily start from the same educational baseline. Reading, math and writing levels differ. Adjust your training program so nobody is discriminated againstor left behind. Offer advanced training courses for those who are ahead of the pack and basic courses for those who need an extra push.
Analyze job tasks.
If you dont know the elements of all the skills needed for each job, its difficult to figure out specific training employees need. Dont assume anything.
[Develop a curriculum around real needs.
Be sure that the curriculum chosen fits both your companys objective and the employees needs to do the job effectively. Keep an open mind. Nobody knows their job better than the employees doing it every day.
Continually improve the program.
Dont fall in love with the training programs first incarnation. If it needs changes, make them.