“Mandatory training.” How many times is that phrase used in conjunction with one of your training programs? Even more importantly, what is the response from your workforce when that term is used? The term usually has a negative connotation. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The individual being required to take the class feels that he or she is already competent in performing the task(s) involved and has no need of further training on the subject.
- The training is usually painstakingly similar to past “mandatory training”sessions. Simply put, the training offers no new information to the student.
- Mandatory training is usually inconvenient for the student, requiring them to arrive early, stay late, or worst of all – come to work on a scheduled day off.
- The training topic is perceived as irrelevant to the job being performed, and is only mandatory because of a rule, regulation or policy written by someone who has never performed the actual job.
- The training staff cannot adequately bridge between the training mandate and job(s) being performed.
Before digging in to address these issues, let’s quickly brush up on some of the reasons a training program might become mandatory:
- The workforce fails to demonstrate the expected level of competency when observed on the job.
- There is complacency in the performance of tasks.
- A task carries an above-average risk of damage to property, serious injury, or death.
- An important task is technically complex and must be done correctly, yet is done infrequently.
- Federal, state, or local laws and regulations require it.
Acknowledge the Problem
First, you have to be willing to accept the fact that most mandatory training really is…. awful. Out of the five reasons given, how many of them are actually within the student’s control? Four of the five reasons stated are actually in the control of the training organization, not the student. Statistics say that anywhere from 25 to 61 percent of all training delivered is “mandatory”. Mandatory programs might be delivered by popping a DVD in or using a “canned” program. If your training organization doesn’t put any effort into producing the curriculum, how much can you really expect your personnel to become engaged by it?
One common mistake trainers and managers alike make is the “up-front apology”. How many times have you heard an instructor say “well, I know you all do an excellent job out there so today’s training might be a bit (insert your favorite negative adjective here).” Don’t get up in front of a class and apologize! Doing so ruins your credibility and validates all the negative thinking.
Begin the process by recognizing programs that are mandatory, doing an honest evaluation of the current curricula and delivery method, and taking ownership of these topics. Ultimately, you are responsible for the way training is delivered within the organization.
Fix the Training
This sounds far easier than it actually is. One problem with many mandatory programs is that they often leave little latitude for the training organization or instructor. This often conflicts with the overarching purpose of training: to provide someone with new or updated knowledge, skills or abilities. As mentioned above, this starts with taking ownership of the topic. The instructional design process is detailed and takes quite a bit of time, so don’t try to fix all your programs at once.
There are three ideas you can use to help bridge the gaps as your instructional design team moves to “fix” your training.
- Shift from a linear presentation to a case study model using personnel and situation from your company. Take pictures and video of relevant tasks being performed and discuss them in the context of the training mandate.
- Lose the PowerPoint presentations completely for “refresher” training, in favor of walkarounds and guided activity such as equipment inspections that promote discussion in keeping with the training mandate.
- Turn some activities into competitions. Avoid kitschy classroom knowledge games in favor of activities that build skill and ability on technical equipment. If aerial lifts or forklifts are part of the workplace, conduct a “lift rodeo” focused on safe operation.
Mandatory training doesn’t have to correlate with boring. Be creative, while remaining focused on the fact training time is valuable and should yield tangible results.
Engage Supervisors and Managers
Given the problems outlined above, it’s no wonder that many managers and supervisors view mandatory training sessions as a waste of productive time. These individuals are a critical link in a worker’s ability to put information from training into practice on the job, and convincing them that mandatory training has value is a major priority. You have three tools to help overcome this viewpoint and build a stronger relationship between training programs and the work environment.
- Get managers and supervisors to participate in the program development process and instruction.
- Involve managers and supervisors in monitoring employee performance and providing feedback.
- Visit work areas; shadow managers and supervisors to understand their work environment and challenges.
Training managers benefit from having managers and supervisors engaged as part of the training center. They become a primary source of feedback for the training center, and can be training’s strongest advocate. They often can provide new insights and approaches to covering mandatory topics.
Shift from Training to Competency
There are a number of areas where it can be really, really difficult to provide students with new information. With certain topical areas, consider moving from the traditional “mandatory every X years” model to a competency-based model. This involves both training staff and the previously-mentioned managers moving from the classroom to work sites and actually providing coaching and feedback to personnel.
For a quick case study, take a look at one of OSHA’s “Focus Four” topics – falls. Falls are leading cause of injury and death among both general industry and construction. Ladder safety is a frequently taught safety topic, yet two things can be said: falls continue to occur, and most training programs are both mandatory and boring. Training has been done in the classroom, as “toolbox talks” hitting just the critical points as workers begin a job, and online. Contrary to popular belief, OSHA does not “mandate” refresher training; instead saying “Employers must retrain each employee as necessary to maintain their understanding and knowledge on the safe use and construction of ladders and stairs.”
In the case of ladders, nothing precludes you from visiting employees in their work area, informally discussing ladder use, and documenting competency and feedback given. Yes, doing so may be more resource intensive, but compared to a purchased DVD shown in a classroom – which is of more benefit to the worker and the overall organization? This is still training! Just be sure to document the process. Shifting to a competency model completely eliminates one of the big reasons employees hate training, because training and feedback is done during an employee’s scheduled work time.
It’s All Training
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that mandatory training is still training. Just because an outside entity makes the topic required doesn’ t remove our obligation to provide a quality, valuable experience for students.
If you like this blog articles, take a look at Training You: Managing the Corporate Training Function. Training You is an essential guide for both new and experienced training managers. Structured around five critical areas a corporate training department must get right, Training You gives practical advice and steps to dramatically increasing training effectiveness and return on investment.