Employers Need Excellence; Employees Need Skills – How to Develop a Training Program to Achieve Both
Small and midsize businesses face operating challenges unparalleled in the memories of most owners. With staffing levels pared back as far as they can go, current staffing levels are at a record low. Nonetheless, competitive pressures have increased the demand for superior workforce performance as a means to keep or acquire customers. The business owner’s challenge is to bring the team’s skills up to the required levels of excellence with the least disruptive impact on business operations and cost.
While all this seems obvious, very few companies use the opportunity of ‘on-demand’ skills training to discover opportunities for process improvement.
We have developed an efficient yet simple system companies can use to find new ways to train workers. Our method of training, which we call on-demand training, breaks down the training initiatives into a series of discrete process steps. One distinct advantage that on-demand training offers is the flexibility to meet the job task requirements of any work environment. By deconstructing a job task into its smaller parts, a company can gain a complete view of all the points at which a worker might desire more help from a training perspective. With a carefully designed on-demand skills training program in hand, a company can analyze the inefficiencies within the process that workers currently use.
With the explosive recent growth of eLearning coursework now available on smartphones and tablets, managers now have the means to empower employees to take required training opportunistically, such as during an unexpected opening in their schedules due to a meeting cancellation, or before and after normal work hours. In fact, with the selection of well-crafted online courses, managers and their designated training supervisors can receive testing results and ‘satisfactory completion’ certifications as soon as the employee has successfully finished the training. This direct feedback mechanism is essential for ensuring that training objectives are being met, and employees receive validation of their increased efforts to improve their performance capabilities.
Training for enhanced work performance as a way to address process inefficiencies and productivity shortfalls is the most common reason why training programs are implemented. To be most effective, on-demand training should take place at the time that the worker’s inefficiency or shortfall occurs. During these opportune times, the training is best received as relevant by the worker, creating an effectiveness that maximizes the return on the training investment. While an immediate pain point, such as low productivity, system errors or safety violations are motivators for the adoption of on-demand training; there is an equally important reason that is less intuitive.
According to many leading business publications, the employment forecasts tell us that staffing levels will remain low for the foreseeable future. Yet, smaller teams mean that there is little or no “depth” internally to cover the proficiency deficit. Finding replacements that are already trained to skillfully work the processes that are essential to satisfy customers is difficult because so many candidates have been unemployed for so long. Too often, the dislocated worker lacks the freshness and immediacy of comparable work skills to deliver customer expected results. In current market conditions, there is a very real skills deficit among workers. Successful job integration will require a well-defined on-boarding program that includes on-demand skills training.
What kind of program makes sense?
Over the past 27 years, we have created training programs to match the demands of customer jobs in dozens of service categories that span semi-skilled and unskilled labor categories. Our work has revealed three fundamental principles about jobs training.
1. Jobs can be divided into steps.
Every job, from unloading trucks to making hospital beds, is comprised of a set of process steps that can be broken down into teachable parts. The starting point for identifying training opportunities is to involve the worker so that you will understand the steps involved in executing a particular job. Once the steps are defined, a company can create training which will add value in a number of ways – by improving the execution of specific job steps; eliminating the need for particular inputs or outputs; removing an entire step from the responsibility of the worker; addressing an overlooked step; rearranging the steps; or enabling steps to be completed at different points in the process.
2. Every job has a common structure.
This universal structure is not dependent on the worker, and has the following process steps: defining the expected job results; identifying the necessary input; preparing the physical environment; executing the job; evaluating the results; making modifications as necessary to achieve the expected results; and finishing the job. Recognizing that problems can occur at any point along the process, most jobs also require a process exception step. Some steps are more critical in execution than others, but each step is required to complete a job successfully. For example, a security guard might prepare for her shift by reading the prior shift notes. Opportunities to create on-demand skills training reside within each job step.
3. Jobs are different from the solution.
Too often companies are focused on the end result of a job, yet lose sight of the steps that are required to yield the desired outcome. When the desired outcome is the focal point, companies can back into the job to add innovation and efficiencies into the process, thus improving their current offerings. When a major utility company required parking coordination in an urban environment, as an example, we focused on training directional orienteering to the workers and workflow process management to achieve superior end results.
These fundamental principles when put together form the foundation of a company’s search for opportunities to create on-demand skills training programs.
Typically, some combination of scheduled training during the business week and opportunistic use of online coursework with feedback capability is deployed. On-demand training can either be provided by a dedicated company job mentor who is proficient in the skills being taught, or by company employees that have undergone a more formal “train the trainer” preparation at a recognized training institute. A well-crafted program, while initially implemented to address an immediate pain point, be it process or productivity based, should include a commitment to continuous training as a means to strengthen the worker’s skills as a motivation tool to ward off unexpected employee turnover, and to generally improve employee confidence and satisfaction.
Focusing on a job’s desired outcome can create opportunities for innovation and skills training. Improving job skills requires continuous training, and is best received when on-demand training opportunities are present. Engaging worker feedback to accomplish the business needs will result in increased worker motivation, enhanced skills confidence and job satisfaction. With an on-demand training program, especially one with a capable employee-mentor, skills training can be refreshed on an as-needed, on-demand basis.