Comprehensive on-the-job training is fundamental to the success of every business regardless of industry. In the environmental, health and safety (EHS) field, safety professionals, risk managers and environmental specialists join organizations with a high level of training specific to their role. However, once they are on board, it’s their job to build a formal process of continuing training and ensure the skills across the company are updated.
EHS directors and training managers are often faced with a skills gap when new techniques or technologies are made available, requiring expensive outside hiring or partnerships with third-party firms to fill the gaps. To proactively meet the changing demands of EHS, organizational leaders can work with human resources to establish a formalized process and tools for ongoing training and employee engagement.
There are three primary benefits organizations can receive from a formalized training program:
- close any opening skills gaps
- maintain cross-organization rules and commitments and
- sustain an engaged workforce.
An inability to manage these three objectives can result in cross-departmental breakdowns and negatively impact customer service. Therefore, employees need to receive the appropriate, updated skills to do their jobs efficiently. In EHS, this includes distributing annual updates on compliance and regulatory information to the company. Disconnects between old and new training eventually lead to situations where tenured employees practice legacy techniques which run counter to those practiced by newer hires and recent graduates.
Innovation also is essential to the organization, and it affects the service it provides to customers and its industry reputation. Companies staffed by creative, innovative and well-trained workers develop new and more successful offerings.
As the workforce grows, particularly for organizations that stretch across multiple offices or include remote workers, employees must be aware of changes in corporate policies. Commitments such as corporate responsibility, non-discrimination, environmentalism and wellness are the backbone of the organization and need to be communicated to new employees, or rolled out consistently to all. When employees can do training at any time and location, whether in the office or on a flight to see an international customer, not only are training goals met, business efficiency increases as well.
Workforce on the Move
Today’s workforce is increasingly transient, and employees are opting to stay at a single company for shorter periods of time. Previous generations typically worked in an organization or two for the duration of their careers; however, the competitive and dynamic career landscape today has employees on the lookout for new opportunities with higher frequency.
Improved benefits and salary are common reasons why many companies lose valued employees, but they often overlook the impact of proper training and meaningful engagement. It is imperative for organizations to give employees a clear understanding of the skills and experience they need to grow and move to the next level.
Mentorship and training play a critical role in their advancement. However, junior or entry-level employees are not the only ones that can use training. Executives and managers also need ongoing instruction on how to improve their leadership, customer relationship management and innovative thinking skills, among others. It’s unrealistic to expect that a single person, no matter how gifted they are in some areas, naturally has the “full package” of skills and expertise.
The training techniques should be carefully considered and implemented based on what will be successful to employees, the organization as a whole and ultimately customers. The most common and useful modes of training today include video, printed materials, e-books and audiobooks.
Learners want to access training or learning content in multiple modalities. There are many different types of learners with varying preferences for visual, audio, or other ways to best absorb lessons. By providing content in a few different ways, managers can accommodate all employee learning styles.
Also, material needs to be measurable. Organizations will understandably put many resources into developing and rolling out training and should expect (or be able to measure) a quantifiable return on investment through improved productivity or innovation. By using a learning management system (LMS) that measures each employee’s progress or through quizzes and assignments set by managers, companies can track the ROI of training.
Engaging the Workforce
Furthermore, organizations must develop content in a way that is engaging and makes employees want to learn. It is essential to demonstrate the value of the skill and then present the course in an eye-catching way. The current trend is the consumerization of enterprise technology, meaning that employees are demanding the same quality interaction with workplace technology as they experience on their iPhone or personal computer at home. Content should be made “bite-sized,” so employees can learn in between meetings or during their morning commute. Gamification techniques are also popular and break up the monotony of old school, long-form videos in “talking head” format.
Finally, in some cases, in-person knowledge based training can be inefficient or impractical. In the EHS field, it is very important that employees, no matter their location or language, receive the same consistent training. This is important for the individual employees and most important for the company. For knowledge-based training, having an instructor come to every office or teach an annual course just isn’t practical. In this digital age, organizations are encouraged to invest in technology that can help improve productivity. When a “hands-on” element of the training warrants it, managers and supervisors are often best suited for that role.
Through the development of an ongoing training and learner engagement program, departments and firms are more likely to retain their employees, promote innovation and see measurable customer success—all with the aim of ultimately increasing business profitability. By carefully understanding the skills gaps and goals of the organization, an EHS learning program can be relatively easy to deploy and demonstrate calculable achievement.
Norman Ford is vice president of operation, global compliance solutions for Skillsoft. He was previously vice president of e-learning products and services for GoTrain Corp. and was a founding member of the company. Prior to that he served as manager of technical assistance and qualification for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, where he was responsible for the development of training requirements and procedures and provided corporate subject matter expertise in EHS regulations and other compliance issues.