The Trouble With Training

Evaluating training programs to improve performance & productivity

According to a Training Industry report published in 2016, the cost and time to train an employee varied considerably depending on the industry. Calculating the value of training can be difficult. Problems range from having employees out of the field to lack of implementation upon their return.

Employees return after training ready to apply new ideas only to find the culture of the business is not conducive to change, or they face skepticism from senior employees. The training is not applied and everything reverts to the way things have always been.

Add to this Ebbinghaus’ formula—the theory of knowledge and retention over time—and it is alarming how fast people forget things. In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered an exponential nature of forgetting, with a rapid rate of memory decline minutes after instruction.

The training and development community has conducted exhaustive studies on memory retention and training. We retain approximately 10% of what we see; 30% to 40% of what we see and hear; and 90% of what we see, hear and do. We all have the capability to learn via all three styles, but we are usually dominant in one. Those numbers quickly can decrease after we receive training if the knowledge is not immediately applied.

Companies send employees to training for a multitude of reasons—generally to learn about new products or processes, or to gain credits or “seat time.” Whatever the reason, maximizing learning should be a priority. Let’s start with the category of training. Everything seems to fall under this category, from demonstrations to lectures, but there are differences. Let’s break down the three basic categories and how they are delivered.

Training Breakdown

The first category is education, which includes classroom and online learning. The topics can be wide-ranging and are designed to add knowledge via presentation, reading and testing. In many cases, this can be for introduction of new concepts or for greater understanding of a particular topic. Several learning management systems allow for self-paced training on a multitude of topics. The Water Quality Assn., for instance, has a wealth of knowledge within its educational curriculum and certification programs. Students can meet measurable goals to gain certifications and advancements. A greater amount of the information will be retained for a longer period of time because student involvement is encouraged.

The lecture category is consistent with most presentations. A subject matter expert gives a presentation on a specific subject in person or via webinar. Audience interaction is minimal. This can be a good platform for a single topic, but it becomes less effective by adding more topics because participants retain a limited amount of the information presented.

The third basic category is workshop. A subject matter expert, visual aids and hands-on learning, such as role playing and application of knowledge, commonly are used. This could include tearing things apart or building, designing or applying knowledge gained from the session. This has the greatest chance of retention for a longer time, but it also will cease being relevant if the knowledge is not quickly applied.

These categories are important to understand to determine the effectiveness for employees. You must decide what value they will bring to your company. What knowledge do you want applied to the business and how will you incorporate it into your culture and processes?

A Suitable Student

Next you should look at who should attend the event. What skill sets will this address? Who can advance with this knowledge and share it with others? What are the burdened labor costs and how will this time away affect productivity? Will training improve productivity or capabilities?

These questions should be answered before the employee is notified of the training. Then you should work with the employee to bring the knowledge gained back to the company and share it with others who will benefit. This is the most effective way to ensure that new skills will be incorporated. If your employee can show or demonstrate their new skills or knowledge, they will retain it and quickly apply it to their work. Within five days after the training, have the employee explain what he or she learned. The benefits will be seen quickly, and you also may gain some knowledge.

Finding Value

I certainly do not want you to believe that training is bad or not worth your time—quite the contrary. A well-educated staff is necessary to compete in today’s economy. The millennial generation is focused on education and training as a reason to stay with a company. To retain employees, you must have a thoughtful training progression.

Most companies send employees to training events because they know it is the best way to grow their businesses. I also believe decisions on who to send and when to send them often are done with little planning. I have experienced companies sending employees to a training event with little or no relevance to their job duties. I have seen service technicians at management meetings and bookkeepers at sales training. While this is not always bad—and I certainly would not hold anyone back from learning more—it can hinder the progress of the training. Most of the information is lost because the individual cannot apply or value what they are being shown.

The next time you receive notice of a training event or class offered by your supplier, manufacturer or industry association, remind yourself to evaluate the format, presenter and type of training. Determine the value it will bring to the company. If it is right for your company, create a plan to incorporate the knowledge gained from the session into your culture and processes. 

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About the author

Michael Thompson is president of Applied Management Group Inc. Thompson can be reached at [email protected].