The Demise of Effective Training

My colleagues and I have noticed a disturbing trend as we complete surveys and assessments for our clients. A significant number of employees are telling us that skills training has become woefully insufficient. Hands-on classroom training and on-the-job training have either been replaced with computer-based training (CBT), or training times have been shortened dramatically. For example, in one client, 5-day training has been reduced to 2 days, and in another, new employees are paired up with a mentor for a few days instead of a few months. While there are clearly advantages to these changes (e.g., lower cost, reduced administrative burden), in some cases training effectiveness has been seriously undermined.  

The use of CBT accelerated during the pandemic, out of necessity. Organizations grew accustomed to the lower costs and convenience, and some even reduced or eliminated training staff, leaving CBT as the only option. We all have experience with CBT, and there is general agreement about when that modality works and when it does not. Yet even when everyone agrees it isn’t working, some organizations are slow to reinstate hands-on training.

I’m all for efficiency, and no one wants to sit through unnecessary training, but we are hearing from workers that things have gone too far. They report not feeling equipped to do the jobs they are asked to do. Couple this with the mass retirement of older, experienced workers, and it can be a recipe for disaster. Poorly trained, inexperienced workers without experienced workers to turn to are bound to make mistakes. The mistake might damage equipment, result in a costly quality error, or cause an injury (or worse). Because the negative impact doesn’t happen right away, and isn’t certain to occur, companies continue to use less expensive, more convenient ways to train.

My advice to organizations that have moved away from hands-on training is to listen to your people. They see the impact of insufficient training more clearly than management. In many of our clients, the concern over inadequate training isn’t just coming from a few disgruntled people, it is coming from a majority of thoughtful, concerned people who see the potential danger. The pendulum has swung too far but perhaps the silver lining is that it will prompt organizations to rethink and redesign training to best achieve desired outcomes.

Posted by Judy Agnew, Ph.D.

As senior vice president of safety solutions, Judy spends her time helping clients create sustainable safety cultures. She also helps clients with strategy execution beyond safety, and general management and leadership improvement across cultural and generational differences.