Workplace Training that Works: 5 Tips From the Trenches, Bylined Article on TrainingIndustry.com
By Mary Shasky, Training and Standards Manager
At WCCO Belting, a decade of exponential growth pushed employee training to the bottom of the priority list. We are a global manufacturer of rubber belting products for the agricultural and light industrial industries, and until a few years ago, all available resources were directed at gaining market share. Our on-the-job learning resulted in a company rich with tribal knowledge but lacking in formal training and professional development.
In 2014, our leadership team refocused on training and development. Based in Wahpeton, North Dakota, a small town with a nearly zero percent unemployment rate, employee productivity and retention is critical to our continued success, and training plays an important role in both. In fact, in 2012 we had up to 75% employee turnover. Since implementing a training program, our turnover rates have dropped – and held steady – at less than 3%. We attribute much of this improvement to the fact that training provides a deeper understanding of how an individual’s role impacts the business as a whole, which leads to greater job satisfaction.
The impact on productivity has paid off, too. Since the launch of a formal training program, we have developed over 50 training courses, and our company now produces 20% more output with 20% fewer employees. Along the way, we’ve learned some valuable lessons about what works, what doesn’t work, and how to get – and keep – employees engaged in training.
Listen, listen, listen
Typically, people in the training department can be found standing in front of the room doing the talking, but we have found that listening is actually the most important part of our job. The employees who are performing day-to-day tasks are the people who know where gaps exist in processes and where additional training support would be best allocated. Create ways for employees to submit training ideas, and then use that input to help plan your training programs.
At WCCO Belting, for example, a supervisor asked if we could create a measuring class to teach people how to use the different measuring tools on our production floor. We gauged interest from employees and had 52 people sign up to attend this course. Prior to the supervisor suggesting it, we didn’t even know a training class would be helpful – let alone so popular.
Keep class size small
One-on-one training is important, but group activities are equally beneficial. Team learning has become a favorite part of our training program. This class style encourages collaborative learning and facilitates relationships among colleagues by encouraging participants to brainstorm and work as a team.
With more interactive courses, it’s important to keep class size small. We’ve set a minimum of three and maximum of 15 participants per class, which strikes the right balance between having enough people for meaningful interaction, while still allowing some personal attention. It’s also important to vary class sizes depending on topic. For example, we cap our blueprint training at eight people because of the content and individual support needed.
Beta test for better classes
We have found that it is important to give our training classes a test run before opening them up to the broader employee base. To help fine-tune what works best and how information is received, we do a beta test of all new classes. Implement beta classes with supervisors and specific employees, and then take as much feedback as you can get from those participants to fine-tune the content and delivery before launching the class. This helps work out the kinks and gives an opportunity for feedback from employees who attend the test course to make it even better.
Teach in a variety of ways to impact all learners
People learn in different ways, so it is important to provide learning opportunities for all types of learners. Some people learn by watching, some by listening, and some by doing. Make sure your course styles are varied and accommodate every learner. For example, watch a video that explains how to do a task, and then provide opportunities for hands-on practice immediately after. In addition to meeting the needs of different learning styles, opportunities for hands-on learning also keep people engaged.
Keep communication consistent
One lesson we learned from training both production and non-production (administrative) staff is that the vocabulary used on the manufacturing floor is often different than the vocabulary used in the front office. This difference was causing miscommunication within the teams. Once we realized different departments were using different words to mean the same thing, we created a course to get everyone speaking the same language. This helped close a communication gap that we previously didn’t even know existed, which helps everyone work together much more efficiently.
An educational, consistent, and fruitful training and development program is invaluable to a company. As we have learned first-hand, good training pays for itself. As trainers, we need to do the best job we can for our employees; our courses make people better at their jobs, which is ultimately better for us all.
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