Training is hard!
Steve received a degree in Electrical Engineering and then served in the US Navy. He started with Komatsu America 1978. For the next twelve years Steve worked through various equipment sales positions before becoming the Vice President of Parts, Vice President of Service. During this period Steve sat on the board of a major distributor in the North east US as well as Hensley Industries. After twenty-five years Steve moved from the OEM side of the business to the Distribution side by joining Tractor and Equipment Company in 2003 as Vice President of Product Support. Steve is continuing his guest blogging in series for us today with a post on the reality that training is hard.
Throughout his career Steve has learned the Industry from the ground up. This allowed him to have a very clear view of what was needed to support customers, employees and owners in their pursuit of excellence. Working at high levels in both the Manufacturing and the Distribution side of the business gave Steve some great learning opportunities and chances to develop insights. Steve retired in January of 2020. After spending 40 plus years in an industry we are very pleased to be able to share some of Steve’s insights with you and honored to consider Steve a friend.
The guy that ultimately became my successor drove “Needs Based Training “in our organization. He assessed the skill sets of each of our technicians and set up a training plan for each one of them. The training plan is discussed with each employee during their annual review. Every employee deserves to know how we think they are doing and how we intend to grow their skills. This is hard stuff. The training for us was divided into three basic slots
- Basic and remedial training.
- Intermediate training and skill enhancement and
- Manufacturer specific training.
Basic and remedial training includes managing scholarship employees at trade schools and online fundamentals training. Trainers have to be special people. They need to have a deep understanding of their topics and they have to know how to teach. We all think we know how to teach because we all went to school. That is a ridiculous presumption. Teaching is a real skill and a special talent. People have different learning styles and a trainer needs to be able to “read the room” to figure out how to best present concepts to each style of learner. Technicians tend to be “hands on” people but they are not exclusively so. Today’s young technician is probably much more diverse in their learning style. We need to be able to assess the appropriate skills each employee needs for their job through testing and the assessments need to continue throughout the employees’ career. I also think pre-employment assessments are important.
I once had an employee with thousands of hours of training who could only function in the shop with considerable supervision. The training was wasted on that individual. Why did he get so much training? He was the easiest person for the Service Manager to do without. Had we done appropriate assessments we would have found that person something else to do. Skills assessments are one of the best ways to determine who to invest in and perhaps to see who might need to get off the bus. The annual training plan for each employee is quite a task but well worth it. Employees are excited to have a plan they understand. If compensation is also tied into training it really drives the perception that the company values competence. Your Trainers and Training Manager should probably be the individual deciding who should attend each class.
Of course, they should work in conjunction with the Service Manager but in the end, the Training department should make the call. That probably won’t be popular but it is a needed discipline. To make it easier to swallow, the training plan for each employee should be a joint effort of the training department and the employee’s direct supervisor. Having an annual plan means you can have a training budget by branch and by employee if you want one. This is hard and tedious but worth it. I once sat on the Tennessee Governor’s “School to Work” initiative. The board was made up of 12 regions of the state and each region had a business person and an educator representing it. We had a mediator who was a VP with AT&T who had both an education and a business background. He told us he would act as a translator because business people tended to focus on results while educators tended to focus on process. We really ended up needing lots of translation. I think one of the reasons Training is so hard for us is because “process” really is critical to success in training. As a businessman, I have to tell you that if you aren’t willing to sweat this out, don’t waste your money.