Finding Greatness in Training

May 1, 2010
Noted playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness, but it is greatness.”

Too often when it comes to creating a safe environment, organizations haven't taken the time to understand and complete what must be done.

To implement a worthwhile training program, it's important that you first focus on what many consider the foundation of any successful training program. This includes four key steps:


    One of the considerations most frequently overlooked during the development of a training program is understanding how people learn. The first step in implementing a highly effective training program is realizing that you're working with human beings. More specifically, you're working with their brains.

    The brain is not wired to learn skills only by listening or watching someone else perform or describe a task. Research shows that human beings learn by doing. For example, student lift truck operators need to feel the truck move when they push the handle forward, hear the sound of the motor revving up as they go faster and feel the inertia shift as they apply the brakes. These “doing” actions send signals to the brain that fire complex neural circuits — circuits that re-fire when operators need to remember how to do it again. This is how humans learn.

    Conversely, only watching a task creates a small and weak neural circuit. Consider your own experiences: Does watching professional golf on television teach you how to golf? Probably not; it may spark an interest or help you understand the rules, but true learning doesn't happen until you get a club in your hand and start whacking the ball down the fairway.

    To improve training, people need feedback. A trusted “coach” providing feedback helps the trainee build new neural circuits more quickly and correctly. Let's go back to the student lift truck operator as an example. A safe lift truck operator not only is skilled at handling the lift truck and loads; they also must develop safe habits. Without feedback and coaching, an operator may not develop safe habits, such as looking behind them before backing a load out of a rack.

    Being coached to do the task the right way from the start creates the foundation for lasting safe habits.


    One way for you to find out if your safety training program truly is results-based is to simply attend sessions.

    Is the training geared to work the way a human brain works? What is the ratio of time the students spend listening to the instructor talk versus practicing the skill? Does the trainer observe each student performing the task and provide feedback? Are the attendees able to properly and safely perform the learned tasks?

    Results-based training relies in part on the relevance and completeness of the training and practice. Take for example the use of an emergency eye wash station. Learning to operate the fountain certainly would be relevant to learning how to use the station to rinse battery acid from your eyes. But is this complete training? What are the actual conditions under which you would use the station? With battery acid in your eyes, it's probable you're not going to be able to see and you likely won't be standing right in front of the eye wash station at the time of contamination. Complete training should include instruction to call for help and assisted eyes-closed practice when finding the station from the most likely area where acid exposure may occur.

    Results-based training should prepare the student to do the task safely, reliably and effectively in the workplace when given the opportunity to use the skill.


    Verifying training results is not complete until the skills are confirmed and observed in the workplace. This ensures the safe habits are retained.

    Let's go back to the forklift operator in the example above where he/she was trained to look behind before backing up after picking or placing a load in the rack. During training, the student was coached and observed to do the job safely and correctly. The operator looked behind before backing up every time.

    While this sounds like a good result, the real test is determining if the skill transferred to the workplace. You should monitor the freshly trained operator doing the actual job to determine if the skills and behaviors are retained in the work environment. If so, the training likely was a success. If skills consistently are not retained, your training likely is lacking.

    The next test is to confirm if the new operator retained the skills and behaviors after some time has passed. Re-evaluation a couple of months after the initial training should reveal if the environment supports or erodes safe skills and behaviors. Let's assume, for example, the new operator no longer is consistently looking behind before backing. Is this because his or her peers don't exhibit the safe habits? Is it because there is indifference on the part of the other workers and supervisors?

    As you can see, the difference between initial and later evaluations can help you decide if the lack of results you see are due to the quality of your training or other factors in your workplace.

    Another way to determine the reason your operators do not perform tasks safely or correctly is to give them an on-the-spot test. Ask the operator to explain his or her understanding of the correct way to perform the task. If correct, ask the operator to perform the task properly, safely and correctly as he or she understands it. If the operator then performs the task correctly, then it is highly doubtful that more training is the solution. There probably are other factors that need to be addressed.

    In most cases, ongoing observation and feedback is imperative to the retention of safe habits in the workplace. Compliments on the observation of safe behavior, coupled with telling an employee the company cares when an at-risk behavior is witnessed, help retain safe practices. Supervisors and workers both should be encouraged to keep safety and safe practices “top of mind” on a consistent basis.

    If you are not seeing the results you want to see from training, it's very likely that this step is missing. Ask yourself whether the personnel who give feedback and promote safe work habits understand the safe and proper procedures for each job themselves. In other words, do your workers know the rules and procedures better than your supervisors? Sometimes just as important as how you train is who you train.


    Evaluate your training with measureable results. After adequate time, check to see if your goals have been achieved. Did accidents and injuries substantially decline? Did property damage and product shrinkage decline? Did workers' compensation costs decline? Did productivity increase?

    These improvements are attainable with the right training and a supportive environment. These steps can help you refine your training program, verify its effectiveness and differentiate whether training or other issues are keeping you from attaining your goals.

Ron Brewer is the manager of Crown Equipment's operator training program. For more information, visit

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