Training with a purpose

April 12, 2010
Eight steps to cash positive education.

Training is a crucial investment, which, unfortunately, has been shelved by many because of the recent economic downturn. As a result, many employees are ill-equipped to support the facility when production levels start rising. As training budgets slowly become available again, it will be imperative to make sure you see immediate value from training investments.

According to Harold Stolovitch in “Telling Ain’t Training”, American industry spent more than $100 billion on training annually pre-downturn, but no more than 10% of that trainings actually transferred to the job. Many of the reasons are addressed in the eight steps below that, if followed, will drive maximum performance and squeeze the most benefit from every dollar of training, internship or apprenticeship budget. The eight steps to cash positive education are:

  • Complete a job task analysis (JTA)
  • Understand the current knowledge
  • Plan you training
  • Communicate with supervisors
  • Develop and deliver training
  • Coach in trainee’s environment
  • Follow up audit of training application
  • Build a process to sustain

Let’s step through each of these and see a bit more of the detail that each step holds.

Job Task Analysis (JTA)

This explains what one needs to know to perform the job. First, define each of the jobs and positions within your organization by performing a job task analysis. This is a listing of the common activities an individual is expected to perform.


There are multiple ways to obtain the information, such as purchasing a standard list that you can build from or use as is; or using previously completed business process flow maps that have responsibilities identified. Another option is to observe an employee and note tasks completed day after day, asking questions, and building a task list from these observations and conversations.

This can be an expensive way to collect the data and, thus, isn’t the preferred method. The best way I’ve found is to combine a bit of each of these approaches with the wisdom of a focus team comprised of carefully selected members. The success of JTA is based on these subject matter experts’ ability to generate the list from past experience or pick the task from a task database and determine its frequency, difficulty and effect on reliability. These types of team-driven processes help to identify the facets of the job as well as build more buy-in for the entire training process. People enjoy talking about what they do and some of the intricacies of their job might be unknown to management. As the skills for each position become more defined, we can begin to understand who needs what, according to this JTA. Then, use this as the input for the next step of the process.

Understand the current knowledge

This explains what one knows now. Assess the skills of the trainee; this can be done with job performance appraisals if detailed, direct, consistent and unbiased information is available. However, this information usually isn’t the most effective or accurate way to populate the training matrix because the performance appraisal generally doesn’t meet the quality levels you want.

Three options are the hands-on, written or computer-based tests. These can be developed in-house for your specific processes and equipment, which can provide the most accurate measure of applicable skills. In some cases, the tests can be purchased through various training and testing vendors, depending on the discipline of the trainee and the task.

Populate the training matrix with the test results (Table 1). If the trainee is in maintenance organization, store the training matrix in your enterprise asset management system to help maintenance supervisors and planners make work assignments. With this information readily available, planners and supervisors can pair a highly-skilled technician with one at a lesser skill level for cross training purposes. This will, of course, build depth in your maintenance organization.

Name Task 1 Task 2 Task 3
Task 4
Craftsman 1   Apprentice Master  
Craftsman 2 Master
Master   Apprentice
Table 1. Example of a section of a training matrix

Plan your training

This explains how and when one gets what training, what could prevent training success and what can be done to increase likelihood of success. When you develop your training plan, keep one thing in mind: don’t train everyone on everything. This is a common mistake. Over-training costs money and reduces overall training effectiveness. Unless the overlap is about 85%, don’t offer “standard training courses.” Use your JTAs to provide only the skills a person’s job requires. For example, if you were providing SAP Plant Maintenance training to maintenance planners, proper training might take days to complete. SAP training for the operations supervisors, however, might involve only a few process steps. Therefore, only a short two-hour training session is required.

Once you know what content you are going to teach, take the time to identify and mitigate training program risk. When identifying risk, think about factors that could reduce training effectiveness or overall return on investment. You might choose to use a simple tool like the proactive training plan chart (Table 2) to identify and mitigate high risks.

Training Goals tied to business results Barriers to Success Severity Probability of Occurrence Eliminating or Mitigating Step Single Point of Accountability
Table 2. Proactive training plan exercise

If you’re familiar with failure modes effect analysis from reliability-centered maintenance, you’ll notice the similarities. The chart includes:

  • Desired outcomes (training goals)
  • Barriers or problems that could get in the way of the desired outcome
  • Risk ranking based on severity and probability of occurrence to help prioritize the problems
  • Mitigating steps needed to reduce or eliminate problems
  • The single person who will be accountable for the mitigating step.

This model will help you provide a truly proactive approach to training. If you’d like a head start, see my blog at for a root-cause fault tree that lists many of the common problems and risks that training programs face.

Communicate with supervisors

This explains why and how they will be affected by training. Communicating with supervisors is a key and often forgotten step when trying to maximize the return on investment for your training dollar. The importance of the supervisor’s role in understanding and communicating the deliverable of the training shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, “What is important to my boss is important to me.” I’ve seen companies spend thousands of dollar on training for new technologies that the supervisor didn’t support or understand. As soon as time got tight and the pressure was on, the supervisor would discount the training or the tool and it would never be used again. This leads to a total loss of investment for the equipment and the training.

To help avoid this situation, use the material developed in the proactive training plan to ensure you’re addressing the needs and concerns of supervisors, other affected employees and the trainee. Make sure they understand how the training and the expected process changes will affect them and why the training initiative is important to the company and to them personally. Communication, or for that matter training, focused on an island of people doesn’t change the world, but if your plan focuses on the training and addresses the world, then you’ll be better positioned for success.

Develop and deliver the training

This explains what and how the training is to be delivered and by whom. Before you begin to develop the material, you can purchase training courses from a consultancy, have it developed and delivered in-house, or use a mix of the two. The biggest factor in selecting the right course is making sure its training is truly interactive. If you merely put an “expert” and a deck of slides in front of a group of students, results will vary wildly.

Just to demonstrate this point, I think most of us would consider ourselves expert phone users, right? So take a few minutes to teach an imaginary student the numbers and corresponding letters on a dial pad without looking at a phone. Tough isn’t it? Even simple training requires content preparation and a delivery plan.

Now that you’ve completed an interactive exercise, let’s look at a few other examples. The most successful training I’ve participated in included workbook exercises and single-point lessons (SPL), which can be referenced quickly after the formal training is over.

Also included were educational games played individually or as a group. These activities allowed trainees to practice the concepts or application of the tools. Training should appeal to different learning styles because everyone wants to learn differently. It’s the change in pace and style that keep the trainee engaged, which drives higher retention rates and, thus, return on investment. An example of another active element is the game developed for our interactive reliability training at

Coach in the trainee environment

This explains how training methods apply in your world. Once training is delivered, it’s time to take the new knowledge to the real world, which can be a challenge for many. This is where the real change begins and the first thing we hear from students is “Yeah, but we’re different” or “We can’t do it that way at our plant.” Your coach is the key to converting knowledge into new behavior. This coach is there to answer the student’s questions and reinforce concepts on-the-spot until they become part of the new way of doing business. The coach focuses on refining knowledge and ensuring the training is applied. Both are required and success is limited without either point.

If you skip the coaching step, you can loose a large portion of your training benefits. For example, a study of enterprise asset management systems (EAMs) found that 90% failed to yield the expected results at the three-year mark. Why? Think back to your last implementation and training. Did it feel coached and tailored for you, or more like a drive-by shooting? The drive-by shooting approach to EAM training or any other training doesn’t deliver the kind of results you’re looking for.

Follow up audit

This explains how well you did, based on the metrics selected and the task identified. Your proactive training plan identified business objectives or goals that you wanted the training to address. These are the areas you need to monitor and audit. Early on, identify key metrics based on the behaviors that you want to change. For points that the metrics don’t directly touch, ask the student to teach back to you the point or the element using their real-world examples. This helps them by reinforcing the point and allows you to assess comprehension and ability. This isn’t just a post-test exercise for the student, but provides proof that the business has changed and the real world has been affected.

Build a process to sustain

This explains what you’re going to do to drive learning forward and keep it going. It’s possibly the hardest action to complete for some people because it’s a fight against nature and regression, a fight to keep the organization from returning to the old way of doing business. The training has to become part of the daily schedule and management reinforces it regularly. One option for your maintenance group is to have different technicians give a five-minute talk on some maintenance topic during the morning toolbox meeting. This provides a quick lesson or reminder for the group as well as 30 minutes of learning for the presenter who researches the topic.

It doesn’t have to be a complicated task. It could be something as simple as the differences between Grade 8 and Grade 5 bolts, or how to use the bearing heater properly. This keeps our expectations in the forefront. Another option is to leave tips or topics from the Web on break room tables or loop them on lunch room televisions. It’s amazing what we’ll read or watch while eating lunch.

Another option that keeps topics fresh is to have vendors provide refresher training on topics the JTA identified. Many vendors are eager to provide this service as a part of the solution they provide. The cost is typically low or free. I’ve used this to great success many times. Based on my experiences, I’ve developed the seven rules for free vendor-provided training that’s posted on my blog at

If you have good public speakers in your group, you might have them recap their training for the group during the monthly meeting. If they don’t like to speak in front of a group, have them pass around a copy of their notes or the manual. The key is to keep the change we’re seeking in the forefront of the organization’s mind.

There are many ways to keep the change in front of students. Many can borrowed from your safety programs. The key is that you make the new practices a lifestyle and celebrate the successes you acquire through their application. This allows you to sustain the changes and maximize the return on the investment.

Tying the eight together

In the end, most things are more effective if you have a documented process that allows for refinement over time. Processes enable continuous improvement; training is no different. If you start with these eight steps, you can customize your training process while boosting effectiveness and reducing overall cost.

Remember that training isn’t a one-way street - the trainer should learn just as much, if not more, than the trainee as they move through the process. Another thing to think about is that the plan shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum. The best way to avoid that is to incorporate other people’s ideas and efforts into the plan’s development and execution. Try to keep training active and style-dynamic. Don’t forget to check for understanding. Look for application in the real world and a mechanism to keep the topics fresh in the minds of the facility. With this level of focus and your new process, even limited training dollars will allow for maximum results and training profits.

Shon E. Isenhour, CMRP, is a business consultant at ABB Reliability Services, Westerville, Ohio. Contact him at s[email protected].

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