I’ve found during my time in the trades that most technicians have learned the basics of the trade through knowledge handed down by a mentor on the job. I fall into this category, having been blessed to be the third generation in a line of HVAC professionals. I have vivid memories of crawling around under houses at a very young age as my father passed along his knowledge of the craft. This knowledge was vital to my success in the industry, but as I began working with my fellow craftsmen, I realized we each had different mentors. This meant different training and sometimes widely different beliefs in how to approach our craft.
This is when I realized the importance of training, because training means consistency, and consistency means predictable results for you and your customers. But where to begin? A good training plan consists of three things: schedule, content, and facilitation.
1. Schedule. When it comes to scheduling, frequency trumps length. In other words, studies have shown that shorter training held more frequently provides for better retention and implementation than longer training held less frequently. I liked to use what I called the “Power of One” when designing my training plans: one topic, less than one hour, once per week.
2. Content. If you’re following the Power of One, take seriously the notion of focusing on one message in your meeting. Too many topics send the message to your technicians that everything is important, so nothing is important. Our thought processes as managers can be segmented — we see a meeting as an opportunity to touch on everything, from training to housekeeping matters. If you find you have competing topics you would like to bring up in the training meeting, find other avenues to disseminate the information. Vary your training resources, however, using a variety of videos, articles, and other tools to keep it fresh.
3. Facilitation. A lot of managers end up just lecturing during a meeting, but this will give you very little return for your time. The retention rate of information learned through lecturing is about 5 percent. Involve your employees in discussion, skill practice, or a teach-back scenario, and you will raise retention to between 50 and 90 percent, depending on the activity. A good rule of thumb is to keep your meetings to around 20 minutes. This should include a five-minute opener, a 10-minute engagement activity, and a five-minute closer or reiteration of key points.
Begin by creating a plan — I tended to schedule training eight weeks out instead of coming up with something on the fly. There’s power in having it written down: You will hold yourself accountable. Best of luck to you in your training ventures in this new year.