Training the trainers

Don Sayers has been in the training game for longer than he’d care to admit. And he’s learned a thing or two along the way about what makes training effective.  

Sayers, the principal force behind Don Sayers & Associates, presented a three-hour workshop on effective safety training at the CSSE event in Victoria, B.C.

Wandering effortlessly across the stage, Sayers is clearly comfortable when he’s teaching and training — even training trainers. Get him talking about safety training and adult learning, and you’d better be ready for a far-reaching discussion.

    Sayers talked about the benefits of “effective” workplace training, including:

• boosts employee retention;
• enhances skills and knowledge;
• optimizes versatility;
• enables synergy, teams and collaboration.

Canada needs training

Why do we need to boost our training? Because we aren’t doing so well. Canada’s per capita safety performance ranks 22nd out of 24 economically mature nations, globally, he says, and the United States is 20 per cent better than we are at workplace safety. Our productivity is also dropping steadily.

Meanwhile, there are some major shifts to the world of occupational health and safety that are affecting all practitioners and require them to keep boosting their skills and be more accountable for their safety efforts. These shifts include:

• shift from staff to line “ownership” of safety systems;
• shift from blame to systems failure (i.e. risk) causation models;
• shift to integrate quality and environmental elements; and
• shift to leadership from management paradigms.

Staff support services must be seen as adding value to the organization that directly contribute to organizational goals. Safety is traditionally seen as a cost, not benefit.

Americans are already spending about twice the amount on training as Canadians, and it’s coming under increased financial scrutiny. The reporting relationships for safety personnel are increasingly shifting to chief financial officers and these are money people, he says, and training is seldom seen as a strategic investment within an organization.

He says safety professionals should be prepared to answer questions such as: Does safety training contribute to corporate goals? How and by how much? Show me how the training investment pays?

Sayers says effective training provides skills and knowledge so that employees can be fully-contributing partners with the goals of their employer.

Sayers then took delegates through things like overcoming the barriers to effective training, the difference between training and instructing,  the importance of measuring the effectiveness of training, the need to apply it right away, and for training to closely resemble an actual working environment.

Sayers advised delegates to be cautious in buying off-the-shelf safety programs and transplanting them into their organizations. It’s hard to sustain the changes over time, unless the programs are a fit with the company’s DNA. “It’s a different DNA,” says Sayers. It’s like a kidney transplant, he says, hard to pull off and it requires a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs.

He also said e-learning is playing an increasingly important role. “There is a lot of suspicion, fear, and angst around e-learning,” says Sayers. But he says well-designed e-learning results in more measurable learning transfer than face to face learning. “With well designed e-learning, the learner sets the pace,” says Sayers.

Sayers says 74 per cent of companies in North America already use some form of e-learning, according to a recent survey. “There’s a lot of fear and loathing around e-learning and online training. Get over it. It’s here to stay and growing rapidly,” says Sayers.