There’s No Easy Recipe For Contractor Training

June 19, 2002
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We’ve all been there, 30 minutes into a training session and it becomes painfully clear that the speaker’s message is only somewhat relevant.

As you stare blankly towards the front of the room, your mind drifts to the paperwork accumulating at the office and the phone calls you could be handling. You’re on the receiving end of wasted training.

Contractors across the nation put their employees through similar experiences.

Statistics say that nine out of 10 people, having been through training, are disappointed with the results. The problem isn’t the training itself, which is probably more important than ever in today’s changing market, but whether it’s working.

No simple recipe exists for an effective training curriculum, but there are symptoms and failures that can easily be diagnosed.

Beware of the following six problems that commonly plague training and the transfer of learning.

1. Training can’t solve problems.

Sometimes, when people think training is needed, it’s not the whole solution. Underlying problems often exist that can’t be fixed with training.

If the serviceman or installer does not have a basic understanding of the principles the instructor is discussing, the training will fall short. In those cases, you must attack the inadequacies of the individual or the organization, not just throw more training at the individual.

Everyone is looking for a quick fix, and the first reaction is to provide training. In some instances the problem may be your whole organization, poor mentoring, weak communication, or leadership gaps.

2. The correct frame of mind is essential.

Trainers say that experienced service people and installers are the most demanding customers. The more training they receive, the less likely they are to accept a new theory, process, or effort that changes what they have done for years. They have seen it all and that can be a major impediment to learning.

If these trainees are not excited about what they are being taught, they will not apply it in the workplace.

3. Management support can be lacking.

If there is one problem that is most insurmountable as it relates to training, it is the lack of cooperation from management. When trainees seem reluctant to learn a new technique, it is often because they are worried it goes against the manager’s message.

An example may be a service person that has been taught a new four-step process to better troubleshoot. However, when they take the technique back to the organization, they feel they are not given the time to apply the technique.

As a result, the session becomes useless and the service person or installer goes back to the old technique that was creating the problems in the first place.

One way of supporting the message that the service people, installer, or salespeople learned is to have the management attend the same seminar. This will allow management to support the new methodology that was covered.

4. Conflicting messages are sent.

Sometimes, the message in a training seminar conflicts with the thoughts and efforts that have been developed within the organization. To overcome these discrepancies, I recommend that much of your training be focused in a particular direction or in conjunction with a particular association or wholesaler. This will allow the method to not conflict with past training experiences.

Training relevant to the organization is also a concern to contractors. The outline of the seminar content is a good place to start when finding out whether the class will be relevant. If the course is going to discuss flat-rate pricing and your organization does not believe in it, you may not have an interest in your staff hearing that message. The easiest way to overcome this concern is to contact the individual providing the training and ask for greater details on the seminar.

5. The format can be inappropriate.

Trainers often attempt to teach a comprehensive program in three hours of lecture. Chances are that such an abbreviated format of learning won’t stick. A half-day lecture to change attitudes might be successful, but not to train new skills.

Basic heating or electrical cannot be learned in a three-hour session; it should be a learning process that occurs over days or weeks. Knowledge has to be absorbed, and the trainee needs time to practice the skills in a classroom environment.

For example, if several salespeople are learning to run a heat loss so they can apply the information within a sales presentation, the trainer will need to provide them with two or three examples. They need to perform two or three exercises so that transfer of learning is applied to them and to an application.

However, if the trainee focuses on knowledge rather than skills, a classroom setting isn’t always necessary.

Self-directed studies may be more cost effective, but there are pitfalls. It’s easier for a trainee to blow-off self-directed study. They take a videotape or CD-ROM home and never use it because there is no set schedule for learning.

6. Follow-up after training is needed.

Without follow-up, it’s inevitable that this expensive learning will not be applied.

The transfer of learning does not occur just by the individual attending the class. You must support that transfer of learning and the ability to apply it to the individual’s daily applications.

Although we see plenty of waste in applying training programs, I must admit that training is more than necessary, it is critical to the success of a contractor.

Brusseau is the dealer development manager at Research Products Corp., Madison WI.

Publication date: 06/24/2002

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