Tuesday, 01 April 2008 08:29

How to Bulletproof Your Training

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Utilities, like other industries, are facing a new training challenge. Businesses that require a hands-on approach to training their employees are soon to feel the effects of an anticipated “knowledge transfer” due to the pending retirement of large numbers of baby boomers.

This demographic shift means that a step-by-step, building-block approach for providing instructors with proven, methodical processes is increasingly essential. To ensure that high-quality training and education skill sets are offered to employees, businesses must simplify the learning process without sacrificing the quality of the instruction. Organizations where the workforce is involved in craft type work, such as in utility line work, especially need to provide instructors with a set of teaching tools, much as they require other tools and equipment to perform their jobs.

There are different levels of training and education in different craft trades. Apprenticeships for these careers typically have initial written exams and a skill test prior to employment. Then, the business will have a preliminary skills training “boot camp” to provide new employees with fundamental skills before they are sent into the workforce.

Initial training is critical for both the organization and the new employee. However the training is delivered, its quality and the instructor’s abilities are a direct reflection of how the business treats its employees and customers.

Imagine being a journeyman in your trade and being asked, because of your knowledge and experience, to assist in the training of new people. That can be a compliment and a testament to your work ethic and abilities. You have always been good with apprentices, and it is your belief that your dedication has enabled you to perform at a high level.

You accept the challenge of training new workers as they begin their careers. You arrive at the training facility to find that you and another instructor are tasked with providing pole climbing training to 20 inexperienced trainees. You have no curriculum, schedule or even a handbook to provide guidance to train these individuals. Additionally, management expects you to have these trainees prepared to meet the minimum standards for pole climbing and some additional training in two weeks.

It’s a lot easier to train someone in a one-to-one relationship like that of a journeyman and an apprentice working in a crew environment than it is to deliver high-quality and effective training to a group of individuals. Besides that, you are in a crew environment, so there is the synergistic effect of having other crew members, including the foreman, assist in the training and development of the individual apprentice.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always best to start at the beginning. Confused? That’s correct; start at the end and work your way backward. The key question is, “What should the trainee be able to do when they have successfully completed training?” Identifying the completed project allows you to dissect it and see what primary skill sets are needed.

While the end result will typically be the best driver for the development of training, there are also other tools for training that instructors will need to determine and have at their disposal:
• company policies and procedures
• goals and objectives
• safety policies and procedures
• regulatory standards (OSHA, etc.)
• training schedules, curriculum and methodology
• training equipment, safety equipment and PPE
• evaluation and assessment forms and guidelines
• testing criteria
• detailed training schedule, including long-term and short-term objectives
• class size and instructor-to-student ratio
• instructor handbooks
If an organization takes time to develop these training components, it will have the groundwork established to ensure success and quality in its training programs. Instructors and trainees alike will benefit from a structured and well-developed program that can be followed and reviewed at every step of the way.
Another requirement for effective training is scheduling that ensures instructors deliver training objectives in a timely manner (see page 12 for a sample).

There are additional items that will add to the quality and development of a first class training program as well, such as a train-the-trainer education component. A key issue that must also be addressed is “Does my training program and documentation protect the organization against litigation?” Unfortunately, lawsuits are not uncommon today. A comprehensive training and documentation process can help protect your organization and your people from costly litigation.

Overall, bulletproofing your training is a matter of paying careful attention to detail, a practice that is essential for success, safety and productivity in any business. iP

Max Fuentes, Process Supervisor in Distribution Services for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, oversees resource allocation of crew personnel. In his 24-year T&D utility career, Fuentes has held the roles of lineman,
journeyman and line foreman, and Process Supervisor for Work Performance Safety and Training and Resource Center. He has also worked as head instructor for field training at Northwest Lineman College and as president of Trade Tech, a lineman training facility.

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