Take Time to Train

Why does it take us so long to train someone? I think I found the answer. Visited a print shop last week where workers weren’t trained. In talking with the owner about how to get them trained, I think I stumbled onto something profound. The reason it takes us so long to train is we don’t train; we wait for enough different jobs to come through so we can show them how to handle each one. In short, that’s not training; that’s waiting for them to gain experience. What’s the difference? Training is teaching vocational or practical skills so the trainee gains the knowledge, skill, and competence to perform. Experience is figuring stuff out in the heat of battle. Which is better? Both are necessary, but we typically don’t do both, rather we rely on the Osmosis Method of Training. You know, you stand there and watch me do this and pretty soon you will know how to do this too. Some say that experience is the best teacher, but the problem is you have to die to graduate. Okay, what if the Army trained only using experience? Here’s your M-16, son. The bad guys are coming over the hill, so I’m gonna be busy, but you be sure to ask me if you run into anything you don’t know. Hmm. How do you do it? Set aside time to train. It can be before you open in the morning or anytime you can carve out specific heads down time. Do not train during the heat of battle. Now, here are the four basic steps in On the Job Training : 1) Put the worker at ease and find out what they know. Who knows? They may know more about it than you think and you can tailor your approach to their level instead of being too basic or too advanced. 2) Show them what you are doing while you tell them what you are doing. 3) Have them show and tell you while they do it. 4) Test them by using another person, and have them signed off on the task. The most important step is the last one—testing. The other person commonly is the trainer’s boss, but since you’re the boss and the one usually doing the training, you need someone else. It can be anyone, but you’re better off with someone credible like your paper salesman. Okay, I used a paper salesman once and he did alright. Anyway, you also need a task listing. Go to your computer, open up a Word.doc or whatever and begin making a list of tasks that a person has to master to do whatever. Also assign a time to each of the tasks. Assume you wanted to teach someone the care and feeding of a desktop printing calculator—assuming there’s still one around. What do they have to know? Break the job down into individual tasks and assign a time standard to each step. Don’t worry about if you are wrong on the time or even if you leave out a step. You’re the boss. When you get into the training if you think you should change something, then do it. In my example, a trainee has to: 1) Change paper rolls, 2 minutes 2) Change ribbons, 2 minutes 3) Clean the print head, 1 minute 4) Know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. We don’t do square roots or differential equations in this business, so those four are the basics they need. But wait, have you ever shown someone how to do something and then they don’t remember the next day? That’s why you use the four step process. 1) Ask them what they know about changing paper in the calculator. 2) Show them how to do it while you change the roll. 3) Have them do it while they show you. 4) Then test them by having them show and tell your mysterious other person within the assigned time. Remember the task listing you prepared? Print one out. For each of the tasks, have the trainee as well as the rater (mysterious other person) initial and date each step. Now put the training record in their personnel file. (Okay, scan it to a PDF and file it appropriately on the hard drive if you want). Now, if and when the person is unable to accomplish the task they have been trained to do, you can go back to the training record and discuss why they can’t do what they knew and demonstrated on such and such a date. Rarely is that an issue. Most common is when you have to train someone else to do the same thing when the first guy quits, you have a task listing to go back to and jump right in. You don’t have to create a lesson plan every time you have a newbie. While my example is a little bit on the simple side, you can train a person to run a nuclear reactor in much the same way. And now you don’t have to wait a year or more for enough jobs to come in. You can just train them and get on with life. Now my printer-friend has a plan. If he uses it, he will begin digging out of his time management quagmire.