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Friday, December 12, 2008

Training: A Bottleneck

Recently I've been working with a couple of organizations that have related but not exactly the same problem. At one organization, the training of a new employee takes so long that managers and supervisors are becoming frustrated at the slowness of the rate of preparation. It is almost 6-8 weeks of nothing but training.

At another organization, employees get hired but the training is not "available" because of timing issues or not enough trainers so new employees finally get into the "orientation class" six months after they are hired. By that time bad habits are formed or they know so much they could be teaching the class. Not enough classrooms, instructors or, in some cases, students to run the classes.

In both cases, training has become a bottleneck. It is not longer assisting the organizations for which it is designed to serve. In one case, training takes so long that the cost and effort is almost not worth it because the needed employees take so long to get up to speed. In the second case, by the time the training is delivered its too late.

In both cases, the solution is to disaggregate the training. The problem is that organizations view training through the narrow lens of classroom training. In both of these organizations, the view is that classroom training must occur and it must dictate the entire learning process. This view is not scalable. It is not sustainable.

Instead, if the training was brought to the learner instead of taking the learner to the training, the individual employees could be more productive sooner or get the necessary training they need sooner. In fact, I don't think we should call it training at it Learning Events.

Now, the first organization could provide a short 1/2 day orientation overview and then allow employees to go back to the job and work through a series of online modules. Some could be self-paced but some could be virtual classrooms that are instructor-based. This would allow a mixture of "formal" instruction, informal instruction by peers and self-directed instruction. The 6 week training class should be modularized and presented in small increments with exercises, assignments and mentoring interspersed. This would allow the learner to contribute to the organization in small pieces rather than trying to "train up" a person before they ever arrive on the job. Giving someone 6 weeks of "out of context instruction" doesn't work. They need to have real work assignments and tasks onto which they can ground their learning.

This would also help in the second case as well. The new employees could attend training to get an overview and then take individual learning events to supplement the on-the-job learning and they could become more productive more quickly.

The answer is to create a learning process in which some of the learning is in the classroom, some is on the job through e-learning and some is mentoring and some is escalation of assignments. We really need to get away from learning being anchored by a classroom event and expand learning throughout the enterprise to encompass many small learning events that lead to an employee who is knowledgable in his or her assignments.


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Wendy said...

The biggest challenge I have found over the past 5 years has been convincing the rest of the organization that other modalities (such as online materials) will help solve the access problem. There is still the "It was good enough for me..." attitude around what "training" actually means. And you can talk about the advantages of other approaches until you are blue in the face.

My biggest successes in breaking down this long-held assumption of what education looks like have been through guerilla marketing. Build the beast - have the more "open minded" folks play with it and have THEM tell the stubborn ones how great the new beast is.

The one thing I would really love to see in an employee orientation - and where the classroom experience can be most valuable - is the development of ongoing "new employee" cohorts. It's one of the few times you get to meet people in other departments outside of a high-stress, project-based, "I need" situation.

Anonymous said...

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