I have been delivering courses for more than 25 years. However, the key question is: have I really been carrying out training? More importantly for the wider industry, are employers fooling themselves and their employees that they are providing “training” courses when, in reality, what they are offering is little more than information or instruction?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, training is “the action of teaching a person a particular skill or type of behaviour”. When I consider the courses I have delivered, how many have really been about information (“facts provided or learned”) where the recipient can take it or leave it, depending on their interest or retention level? How many have been instructional (“a direction or order”) where the delegate has had to follow rules or procedures, often without really understanding the “why”? How many have resulted in the person learning a particular skill (to a predetermined level of proficiency), which will actively change their behaviour and lead to improved safety or health-related outcomes?
Many employers provide training because it is a legal requirement or they want to develop employees. But do they really consider the purpose of the courses, or measure the benefit to employee and employer?
In June 2011, the Cochrane Collaboration, a global independent network of researchers, professionals, patients, carers and people interested in health (bit.ly/2ql6Vts), carried out research to determine the effectiveness of manual handling advice and training and the provision of assistive devices in preventing and treating back pain. It concluded that neither approach was effective in itself.
Sending someone on a course will not miraculously change the way people do things. They have to be supported beyond the training
The type of training provided might explain this. Many employers spend huge sums putting employees through manual handling courses each year. Most consist of e-learning, watching a video or picking up polystyrene boxes in a classroom. Few focus on the practical application of real-world manual handling.
It’s questionable whether attendees will change their behaviour on the back of a short course. Even if they do learn something new and decide to change their behaviour, first they have to overcome their own muscle memory (which prompts them to do what they’ve always done), and that can take months.
So sending someone on a course will not miraculously change the way people do things. They have to be supported beyond the training to reap the full benefits.
This leads on to another issue that I encounter with employers. Many lack a training strategy or at least one that is bound to their overall business objectives.
Employers should ask themselves some key questions before they run any course.
What is it that they want to achieve and, to reach this goal, what is it that employees need to be able to do? What standard are they looking for or going to apply? Can they deliver the programme or do they need external assistance? What is the best delivery method? How will they know whether the programme has achieved its intended outcomes? Finally, how will they measure those intended outcomes and who will undertake the measurement?