Ensure a Return on Your Training Investment

A speaker at the ASSE conference explains how companies\r\ncan increase the odds that the training they implement will provide\r\nthe greatest value.

When was the last time your workers were excited about a safety training session and not only remembered what was taught but took that knowledge and used it on their jobs?

Too often, according to Michael S. Melnik, M.S., OTR, training often falls short because workers attending the classes do not want to be there or have other things on their minds. Worse, the training may be just plain boring, said Melnik, president of Prevention Plus in Minneapolis, on Monday during the American Society of Safety Engineers Professional Development Conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Because workers may not be excited about attending another safety training session, their attention will be short and their retention of what was taught may last no longer than the time it takes to walk back to their workstation. "Training and education are never more expensive than when they do not achieve the desired results," Melnik said.

One of the best ways to ensure the greatest return on investment from your training is to evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts, making changes where necessary, Melnik said. Without a process, it remains difficult for companies to effectively identify whether their training dollars are being well spent.

Training programs are one of the most visible opportunities for a company to demonstrate a commitment to the health and wellness of their employees or to demonstrate that these programs are a necessary evil that take a back seat to productivity and quality. Putting together quality training programs and putting these programs into the context of an ongoing process that invites safe behaviors, Melnik said, is the only sure way to get the greatest return on investment.

It has become quite clear to Melnik, a consultant to numerous organizations over 15 years, that there are a series of variables that impact the success of an education and training session. As a company is putting its program together, simply acknowledging the role of these variables, and attending to them when possible, will have a dramatic impact on the success of a training class.

Inclusion. Involve the employees in the development of the education sessions. Allow them to contribute to the content based on their perceived needs.

Respect. Schedule training in a way that is respectful of the employee population. Schedule classes when the employees are fresh and awake, not when the shift is over and everyone is tired. Does the length of the class or scheduled breaks take into account the attention span that most people have for this kind of training?

Communication. Choose the method of presentation (and presenter) based on the needs of the audience. Determine how the workers will learn best, what information is most essential and most practical, and how the information will be communicated on an ongoing basis.

Consistency. Information presented in the sessions should be compatible with what is taking place in the work environment.

Flexibility. If it is found that a particular training class is not being received well, if possible, determine what the problems are and remedy the situation before training continues. This demonstrates that the training is more than just something that the company wants to complete.

Commitment. If information is presented to the employees at one point in time, the company needs to be committed to helping the employees remember and use this information on a regular basis. "The value of training is directly affected by the opportunity to use this information once the class is over," Melnik said.

Creativity. There is a tremendous amount of room for creativity in a training session. Incorporating hands-on activities, going out into the work area to do problem solving or mixing up the mediums you use to convey the information can go a long way toward increasing the value of a training session. "To be effective," Melnik said, "a training program needs to focus as much on method of presentation as it does on content."

Fun. Many people and organizations have forgotten that fun is an option when it comes to training programs. Humor and fun are extremely powerful teaching tools, and audiences are often more likely to remember something that was fun or funny, rather than something that was dry and boring.

Accountability. Make sure there are clear expectations about what is supposed to happen now that the training is complete. Clearly communicate to the workers what the company expects them to do differently now that they have been trained.

Recognition. Recognition simply means acknowledging employees'' efforts as a part of a training program. This can mean calling attention to the efforts of individuals or work groups that have demonstrated safe work practices as well as catching people "doing things better" following the training. For years, safety and injury prevention was about catching people "doing things wrong," which made it feel like a negative-consequence program. Recognizing peoples'' efforts to do things better invites people to "get caught" and receive positive feedback for doing things right.

Organizations spend an incredible amount of time, energy and money implementing training programs for their employees. Once training programs are considered "the normal course of business" and handled the same aspects of their business, the more likely they are to receive the greatest return on their investment.

by Todd Nighswonger

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