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Making Onsite Training More Effective

contributed by Safety Management Group

For most of today’s workplaces, training is an ongoing activity that is increasingly important. Whether training focuses on sharing safe work practices, learning about new processes, or simply getting a refresher for familiar skills or tasks, employers place a high value on these activities.Unfortunately, employees don’t always share the belief that training is extremely important, and a key reason is that training is often seen as dull or repetitive. Individuals who have been assigned to provide training sometimes lack the skills to make the knowledge they share interesting. At other times, there may be a gap between the complexity of the material and the knowledge level of workers. And in some cases, workers regard training as something they just have to endure for a while before they can get back to work.

The staff members who are responsible for providing safety and other onsite training can improve its effectiveness and worker interest through a number of simple strategies. We’ll detail several of the most effective and easy-to-implement methods in this article.

Review before presenting
Too often, trainers simply walk into the training area, open their materials, and start talking. A better approach is to review the training materials well before the actual session. That gives the trainer the opportunity to become familiar (or reacquainted) with the material, so delivery will sound more natural. It also allows the trainer to consider the goals for the session, what the workers need to understand, and whether the materials provide the right information at the right level. If not, changes should be made before the session. That way, the trainer won’t begin a part of the lesson, only to stop and say, “That’s okay. You don’t need to know this part.”

Think small
You might be tempted to cover everything about a single topic in one training session. However, given everyone’s shorter attention spans these days, you’ll probably achieve better retention of the material if you break it up into smaller bites. Rather than have one long lesson reviewing every aspect of fall protection harnesses, for example, you could have one session on how to wear the harness, another on proper anchor points, and a third on how to adjust the length. It might take a little extra time to provide the information this way, but you’ll discover that workers will remember more of it.

Share stories
Humans are wired to enjoy stories. As children, we enjoyed listening to our parents and relatives tell us stories, and as adults, we enjoy sharing stories with one another. We listen to stories more intently than we listen to lectures, and what we hear tends to be far more meaningful. That’s why incorporating stories into your training can be a powerful tactic.

Instead of simply talking about the importance of wearing the correct personal protective equipment, you can share a story about a worker who was about to perform a brief task and chose to forego the proper PPE, and share the consequences. Then, you can turn to the group being trained and ask them to share stories of things that happened to co-workers on other sites who didn’t use PPE when they needed to.

Repeat often
Some trainers hesitate to bring up a topic that’s been discussed in a previous training session. Actually, repetition of key information is a very effective tactic. Each of us is exposed to thousands of different messages — from conversations to commercials — in a typical day, and our brains can remember only so much. By reiterating an earlier lesson, you’ll help workers remember the key facts.

Encourage interaction
Lectures tend to be the least effective kind of onsite training, and that comes as no surprise. Few of us are happy to sit back and listen to a long lecture from someone else. That’s why you can make your training more effective and hold attendees’ attention longer if you can incorporate interactive activities from the group.

One of the most simple forms of interaction is breaking the larger group into smaller groups of two or three, and asking them to discuss a particular issue and report back to the group. “Choose a partner, and then I want you to take two minutes to discuss a situation in which you saw a fellow worker who failed to use PPE correctly, what you did about it, and what you should have done.” Participants will be more eager to share their own stories and hear what their co-workers have to say, because it makes the issue real and more meaningful for them.

Another simple interaction is to include brief quizzes at different points during your talk. One particular effective technique is to have a quiz at the beginning and one at the end to see what participants already know and how much they’ve learned. When they know that they’re going to be tested at the end, they’ll pay closer attention to what you have to say.

You can also leave time open at the end of your session for questions and answers about the topic at hand. This allows the workers to clarify how the matter affects specific tasks they perform, and gives you the opportunity to reinforce the most important concepts.

Involve other presenters
You don’t always have to be the one who is doing the training. There may be workers in your group who have a solid understanding of particular topics. “Steve, I’ve noticed that your respirator is always fitted the right way. Could you please take a moment to show everyone how you do that?” When you invite them to present information about those topics, you increase their self-confidence and sense of pride. Just as important, their co-workers will probably listen more closely.

Another source of expertise on specific topics is the vendors who sell products to your company. When you’re talking about safe operation of a particular tool, the sales representative for that tool can step in and demonstrate how to use it. It gives workers someone different to listen to, and allows the rep to build a rapport with the people who use the products he sells. He may even be able to share information you don’t know about the tool.

Mix it up
It’s human nature to find a training method that is comfortable, and to keep using that same method. But the people we train come from different backgrounds, and they learn in different ways. By combining several different training approaches into a blended program, you’ll be more likely to connect with everyone. In addition, the variety in instructional methods will make the training more interesting for the participants. Do you want your audience to think “here comes another lecture” or “I wonder what we’re going to do today?”

Studies have shown dramatic increases in retention and reductions in needed training time when blended approaches are used. That may be because workers are accustomed to learning on the job in several different ways, so their brains are more receptive to variety.

You can even mix multiple styles in a single training session. For example, you can talk about a particular procedure, show a video about how it is performed, conduct a brief demonstration, and then hand out information about it. Each of the people you’re training will connect with one or more of those approaches, increasing the likelihood that everyone will come away understanding the key messages.

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