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Leave no stone unturned

December 4, 2009

The general purpose of training is to achieve the best results in the least amount of time. This can mean leveraging the student’s strengths and previous experience to maximise the rate of development. This ‘leveraging’ can include classifying some of their previous successes as a foundation for the new skills that they will need to acquire. So does’ that mean that we can simply ‘sign off’ the skills and knowledge that they may have utilised some time in their past?

It’s not that I’m completely against the concept of recognising current competencies (RCC) or previous learning (RPL). Rather, that as a trainer, you must be aware of the limitations and the implications of using previous skills when assessing overall competency in the new role or task.

Here are some of the complications that we can face when using a student’s previous experience in lieu of training.

  • We forget: Over time we lose expertise in those areas that we haven’t recently practiced. Not only that, we tend to blur practices together and can end up with an alternative or blended view of what we should be doing in any given circumstance.
  • We lack practice / familiarity: Even if we retain the knowledge, our skills will degrade if not exercised  with regular use. We may not be able to achieve the same level of result or perform at the same rate that we had previously. The effect of this will vary given the complexity of the skill, the time since it had been used and how well practiced it was.
  • Testing can be inaccurate / representative: When we look at the actual competency itself, we may even be able to see flaws on how the student was initially designated competent. Was the skill used in isolation? In a sterile environment? On a limited sub-set of problems? Was it a single demonstration, not representative of the overall level of accuracy/precision over time? Examinations themselves only look at a student during a relatively short period.
  • Conditions vary: The actual conditions that the student worked under have changed, so the skills that they may have used with relative ease can call on completely different areas of expertise when coupled with the challenges of this new role. The environment itself is also a factor. Are the lighting conditions different? Is it now an outdoor role that was previously conducted indoors? Is there significant PPE or equipment variations? What about the level of autonomy the student has in the role? Some people can’t work with a supervisor/trainer breathing down the back of their neck, whilst others prefer a little guidance every now and then.
  • Ramifications can change: Unsurprisingly, the impact of the results on our environment can affect the effort and attention that we place on the tasks that we do. At the very least, moving into a safety or time critical environment can change the student’s perspective on the competency if not completely alter how they usually apply their efforts. This could also be the case when moving into a team environment or one with public outcomes.
  • Standards may change: It is not unusual in any field to find than an accepted practice, implemented successfully for years, is suddenly classified as ‘risky’ and altered. When a student changes their industry altogether, they may be questioning whether their existing skills actually fit in with the new position that they are undertaking. This can even occur within the same organisation, just by changing locations (interpretations of the same document can vary significantly between the assessors and trainers, especially in isolated locations or positions).
  • Techniques can evolve: Over time, we tend to find the best and most efficient means to complete our work tasks (this is what experience is all about of course). This is of referred to simply as ‘technique’ and although not necessarily laid down as a specific work method or standard, it is the best practice that has been honed to near perfection over trial and error. Thus a student who has a break, even a small one or is moving into a different area, may find the tried and true methods that they had applied earlier, not so welcome in this particual neck of the woods.

Now don’t ignore the student’s precious background  and by all means used their experience as a foundation for the new skill being taught, What I am suggesting is that care is taken when conducting a ‘needs assessment’ and that every competency is realistically considered, not just taken for granted. Trust me, the cost of going over something twice (I call that practice) is often far less than the consequence of overlooking it all together.


Download my free e-book THE WORKPLACE TRAINERS TOOL KIT Eight models for effective on the job training.

New e-book coming soon: “IMPROVE YOUR TRAINING FROM WITHIN” Using the ‘hot wash’ to refine your training program.

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