Training workers

Training workers is not always so simple as a classroom lecture and test. Executives commonly like to imagine matters this way, but we humans aren’t practically equipped to consistently absorb and apply information in such an ideal manner.

Remember your own school years? Did you readily and consistently absorb information presented in this way? NO. No one does. We lead human lives. We grow weary. We become inattentive and distracted. We daydream. At times our troubles outside the classroom haunt our performances inside. Some days we do just fine. Others, we may begin to worry over outside matters or responsibilities that plague our “on time” classroom performance. Interference abounds from all angles!

And how does the typical executive respond to these potential problems? “We’ll conduct a test at the very end of the program to learn who’s got it and who doesn’t! Those who got it may move on. As for those who don’t, we’ll give ’em another chance with another test (or lecture).”

This typical response may sound logical. It may seem apparent and common sense! But read on.

Our problem doesn’t rest so much in teaching-and-testing as it does in a blind assumption of “sufficiency” subsequent to the testing. All too often, new hires are bombarded with lots of important and relevant information in their first few days on the job, and a subsequent “test” may be administered to determine their readiness at carrying out their assigned task(s). Yes, our new hires do need these training programs, and yes we do need tests to determine their readiness for whatever tasks we intend them to do, but what we don’t need are executives assuming those tests 100% valid and sufficient!

Not even the administrators of the SAT® (the College Board’s Scholastic Achievement Test) administered to millions of U.S. high school students since its inception in the early 1900s, can make such a claim!

This is because tests are prepared for and taken, sometimes quickly and with little preparation, with the test-takers frequently forgetting some of the knowledge tested for. Over the long term, none of us remembers everything that we are tested on, even if we receive subsequent exposure to the information on the job! We humans are selective about what we remember and don’t remember. If it’s something that looks important, we try harder to keep it in mind. If it incites our emotions, it becomes easier to recollect. If it’s something that we are exposed to frequently, experience teaches us by forcing us to remember by repetition. As for everything else, it’s hit-and-miss!

This is something that we should very well keep in mind when we teach our new hires. All the information they are bombarded with on those first few days seems important to them, but certainly they can’t remember it all! You may test them, and they may pass your tests, but as time drags on recollection wanes! They do forget sex videos!

So, good trainers try to emphasize the most important points. Some excellent trainers stage out routines or stories that may elicit emotional responses so as to assist subsequent recollection! The best trainers realize that their jobs never cease, and they later remind trainees of certain important features to their job that may be of utmost importance but are rarely encountered and frequently forgotten or overlooked!

This is something that we should very well keep in mind when we teach specific safety and/or security procedures! By default, some safety and security procedures are never or rarely remembered over the long term, and only for the sole reason that employees just aren’t exposed to the specific problems these procedures address at a sufficient level of frequency so that they may readily recollect “what to do if ….” Or, conversely, employees may be exposed to some dangerous scenarios repeatedly and so often and without any apparent subsequent difficulties even without prior preparatory or preventative measures taken that they may learn to purposely overlook the potential dangers involved; that is, they trivialize what they have been taught! Classic examples where we find this sort of behavior include the following: a loose scrap of paper lying on a solid floor, a lone chair pulled away from a table or a loaded box left unattended in the hallway. These seemingly benign scenarios all represent potentially serious trip-and-fall hazards, but we commonly don’t pay much attention to them when we confront them in the workplace! We encounter them so often and without any apparent subsequent troubles that we have all learned to just walk on by as if we see nothing out of the ordinary.

But, indeed we don’t! How many households (with children especially) can you name that never present similar scenarios? None or not many for sure. We don’t perceive these situations as demanding immediate special attention, because we are all exposed to them so frequently and without dreadful consequence. They seem to us so commonplace that we grow weary over correcting them at each and every encounter.

That is, until some unlucky soul on some unfortunate day – not necessarily an employee – rushes by, hands preoccupied, and then trips and falls unconscious.

In the courtroom, then, what do we hear? “Our employees are all adequately trained and tested to recognize, prevent and rectify such situations when they encounter them in the workplace. So, that particular employee who should have known what to do upon encountering it, and who obviously did not, has been relieved of his duties. Yes, we do recognize our ultimate responsibilities for such workplace hazards, and yes we do faithfully carry out training duties in recognition thereof. The accident was unavoidable. We should not be held liable.”

Those days, my fair-minded friends, are now over! Where this argument may have successfully set your establishment free of any legal obligation, say, in the early to mid-1900s, not so today. Today, in the third millennium A.D., this argument is irrelevant! Today, we expect our executives to CARE so much about avoiding such problems that they remind and retrain.

The lesson is this: You know that humans forget. You know that we trivialize. So, what are you now doing to verify that your workers won’t? Remind them!