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The Ins and Outs of Technical Training

Engineering firms that are experiencing growth can be counted among the lucky ones. Growth does come at a price, however: one that translates into an investment in equipment, software and personnel. That investment must offer a return, something tangible and measurable.

Leveraging that investment means that the staff (both old and new) must be able to use new technologies correctly and efficiently to maximize productivity, to create a tangible return on investment (ROI). The secret to generating ROI can be found by effectively training the staff.

On the other hand, training requires resources — such as hiring instructors and purchasing materials. It needs to be executed properly and leveraged to the fullest. That has led many organizations to outsource instructional services. Finding the proper mix of experience, resources and applicability, however, proves to be a challenge.

Hiring the proper trainer takes time and research, as well as a goal. After all, the productivity comes from quickly training individuals how to do a task in the most efficient and expeditious way. That same concept should be applied to selecting a trainer who can accomplish those goals.

Do Your Homework

One of the first decisions is which technologies and processes require professional training to deliver maximum productivity. In the world of engineering, that may come down to CAD/CAM software, simulation applications and workflows, or other types of applications that employees must master.

DE Contributing Editor David Cohn, who is also a technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, agrees. 4D Technologies provides Autodesk training tools. “Self-paced training paired with self-assessment has proven to be one of the most effective ways to train employees,” he says. “By using a combination of self-paced training, seminar presentation and traditional classroom style techniques, students retain more usable knowledge and learn exactly what they need to know.”

Those classroom stye sessions often use contracted trainers who create programs specific to the needs of the firm. Yet, due diligence is in order before selecting just any trainer, including:

· Know what you are looking to achieve. Are you sure that training is required? If so, will a generic course accomplish the goal, or does it require education for a niche or specific element? Are you able to precisely define what the employees are currently doing, and what they need to do? How will you measure that the training has been successful? What is expected of the employee? What help, support and feedback will they get from the training when they return to work?

· Train the right people. Training is only effective when the students will use the knowledge or skills right away. Delays in applying the knowledge gained usually results in lowered productivity.

· Make the training relevant. Training should reflect the situation and context that the learners will be experiencing — not some esoteric or generic example that is difficult to apply to the situation at hand.

· Follow up with a support strategy. True learning does not happen only in the classroom. Your training needs to be appropriately backed by on-the-job support and coaching. Who will do this? Has this been agreed upon before training takes place?

With the answers to those questions determined, vetting a training organization becomes a little easier. With well-defined goals in hand, managers can then intelligently measure what a training organization has to offer. That said, there are still some basic guidelines that should make the vetting process a little easier:

· Instructor’s curriculum vitae (CV): Make sure you know who will be providing your training. Asking for a biographical sketch of the instructor’s background and qualifications provides you with an opportunity to see whether your instructor has experience in your field.

· References: It’s a good idea to contact other companies who have used the training provider’s services. Ask what the company liked and didn’t like about the service it received. This line of questioning often uncovers details that help you make a well-informed decision.

· Guaranteed delivery: There are a lot of one- and two-man training companies out there. So what happens if your assigned instructor becomes ill, or other priorities cause you to change your scheduled training? Any planning can easily become wasted time, and delays affect having your personnel qualified for their jobs.

· Years in service: You need assurance that your provider has the depth and experience to handle your training for a successful outcome. That experience level should not only just include the amount of time in front of students, but also how familiar the trainer is with the application or process selected.

· Course material: What resources will be used during your training? Will the company develop a customized training program? Some companies simply print PowerPoint presentations and call them training manuals. Others rely on bullet points that lack detail for future reference. Training material that is professionally developed — and includes fully illustrated manuals and electronic resources — can serve as a valuable future reference source.

· Course building: How does the training provider manage training materials so that all relevant materials are provided for their instructors? How does it ensure that instructors never get caught having to make copies at your facility? Does it just reprint a list of materials that are used for every course it provides? If so, how will it handle your unique applications and equipment?

· Test development: Do you want testing as part of the training experience? Tests can be a valuable methodology to determine how effective training is. If choosing testing, find out who creates the tests that are used to qualify your personnel. Find out how the company evaluates its test questions, so the questions fairly evaluate student knowledge.

· Item analysis: Ask how the training company evaluates its tests over time to ensure that any underperforming questions are removed or modified. Unless a company uses testing analysis software, it may be impossible to spot under-performing questions — or to guarantee you the highest quality evaluation available. While it may be easy to visually see that a number of students miss a specific question, how difficult is it to see that they each selected the same incorrect response? What knowledge can be gained by reviewing incorrect responses selected by candidates who score in the high percentile range? Do even those who score marginally always answer certain questions correctly? The information obtained from every test allows organizations to quickly spot underperforming test questions and trends.

Training and testing has taken on a hybrid approach, according to Cohn.

“It is interesting that we are now seeing many of the companies that had previously provided traditional, instructor-led, classroom training beginning to incorporate self-paced video-based training as part of a blended approach,” Cohn said. “That way, instead of sitting passively and listening to an instructor deliver a lecture and then going off to do some hands-on task, the student first watches a number of self-paced videos to gain an understanding of a topic and then comes to a lab where he/she can complete specific tasks based on what he/she has learned, with an instructor there to answer questions.”

Like many other business processes, the value of training can only be surmised by looking at the effort put into it, and then measuring the results. Simply put, the real value can be measured by looking at productivity improvements and efficiency enhancements.

Frank Ohlhorst is chief analyst and freelance writer at Ohlhorst.net. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

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About Frank J. Ohlhorst

Frank Ohlhorst is chief analyst and freelance writer at Ohlhorst.net. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.