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Workers who train workers.

Workers Who Train Workers

In the early 1980's, the Ford Motor Company was running out of gas. The automaker suffered losses of more than $1 billion annually in the first 3 years of the decade; the company seemed to be traveling the same road as its Edsel. But as we start down the 1990's, Ford's cruising in the fast lane powered by a line of new models that are earning record profits.

A company commitment to training and education designed to improve the skills of all its workers helped fuel the turnaround. A 1989 study by the U.S. Department of Labor and the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) documents how important workplace training has been to our national productivity as well. The Learning Enterprise, a book based upon the study, notes that "Learning on the job contributed more than half . . . of all improvements in the Nation's productive capacity" between 1929 and 1982. Furthermore, it states, "the economic importance of learning on the job is increasing. Human resources now account for more than 80 percent of the Nation's total economic output. The acquired skills and abilities of the population have become the pivotal resource."

The pressures of economic, social, and technological change highlight the value of this resource and heighten the importance of training. Deregulation has increased competition in a marketplace which now spans the globe while the transformation into a service-based economy places a premium on employees' interpersonal skills.

Changing attitudes towards work have also increased emphasis on workplace training and education. For decades, the philosophy of scientific management--the from-the-top-down notion of management--characterized the workplace. "But today, that model of scientific management is going and is not coming back," says Mary Alice Valvoda, Manager of Training for BP America, Inc. She continues, "It's still done in some companies, but values and attitudes are changing. People are looking for job satisfaction and job challenge, and we have to be attentive to that." Both workers and managers share responsibility to achieve these goals. The teamwork this sharing implies requires new skills of both groups.

The force and pace of technological advances have altered dramatically not only the way we work but our working relationships, from the factory floor to the sales desk to the executive suite. New skills are needed to match each generation of electronic wizardry.

These changes challenge all of us. How do we adapt to them? What new skills, new knowledge, even new attitudes do we need to meet these demands, and how do we acquire them? While these questions pose problems for some, they also present opportunities for others--training professionals--who possess the education and experience that can lead to solutions. Many employers are turning to training professionals for help in keeping their workers up to date.

Training for Change

Training is a broad term used to describe a variety of activities, making it difficult to present a definition on which all agree. The term is frequently used interchangeably with human resource development (HRD). ASTD's Reference Guide to Professional Training Roles and Competencies defines HRD as "organized learning experiences sponsored by an employer and designed and/or conducted for the purpose of improving work performance."

"I think the ultimate objective of the trainer is to be a change agent," says Alan Weiss, of the Summit Consulting Group, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, "to help others develop the skills necessary to operate in a changing world."

Yet the training profession itself is changing. "Corporations are investing heavily in improving performance because they've found it to be the best way to improve productivity," says Rob Foshay, Director of Instructional Technology for Applied Learning, one of the country's largest training companies. Training is coming to be seen as a strategic tool. Applicability has become a watchword, as employers call for training that will not only address current needs but prepare workers to face future challenges. This means training professionals must become more attuned to the specific business problems that a company faces and devise training solutions to them. Additionally, new technologies, such as computer-based training and interactive video, must be integrated into training programs. These changes and the increasing interest and investment in employee education are, says Foshay, "fundamentally changing the role of training."

The study by the Department of Labor and ASTD determined that employers spent about $30 billion on training in 1987. Training Magazine, in its most recent survey of employer-sponsored training, estimated significantly higher expenditures, $39.6 billion in 1988.

The survey examined the kinds of training offered by employers and classified them into 15 categories, including such groupings as personal growth, computer skills training, and executive development. For the purposes of this article, several general categories will be used. The category "technical skills training" includes those courses designed to help workers with specific skills needed to perform their jobs or with specific applications of new technologies or equipment. Another category of training mentioned with increasing frequency is "soft-skills training," which aims at developing the interpersonal skills, such as relations with coworkers and communications, that are important to an effective working environment. While training professionals may specialize in particular categories, they must possess a base of skills applicable to all training.

The Roles of Trainers

"Many people associate training with the 'standup trainer,' the person who delivers or presents a training session, and that is the role that they most readily identify," says William Ouweneel, a program manager for corporate education with IBM and author of many articles on the profession. "But many people and many varieties of expertise are involved in training, and the standup trainer is only one. There are curriculum or program designers, instructional writers, and audiovisual specialists, to name just a few."

ASTD identifies 31 competencies, representing a set of generic skills, and 15 key roles that training personnel may fill. (See accompanying boxes.) These competencies and roles do not describe jobs. Individual circumstances determine the skills that come into play.

The first competency on the list is understanding adult learning. "You need a general understanding of adult education theory and methodologies. Adults learn differently than children," says Frank Hart, Manager of Educational Services for the GE Information Services Company in Rockville, Maryland. Malcolm Knowles, of North Carolina State University, describes some of the differences. Knowles asserts that: (1) Adult learning is self-directed. People have a need to function with greater autonomy as they age. (2) Learning is influenced by individual experience. Adults have a need to participate actively in learning rather than function as passive sponges of information. (3) Learning is influenced by the timing of experiences. Adults are most willing to learn when faced with specific life problems to which they seek answers. (4) Learning is problem oriented.

Training professionals combine their knowledge of how adults learn with the skills to help them learn. These are perhaps best described when you view training as a process, composed of a series of steps, each requiring particular knowledge and abilities. Suppose, for example, that a manufacturer decides to introduce industrial robots to the factory floor. The new tools mean that some jobs will be eliminated; the workers who remain will find their jobs significantly changed. Under the old routine, they worked alone and performed one specific task; now, they'll work in teams.

The employer hires a training company to develop a program to address the changes. The trainer's first step is to determine exactly what the employees need to meet their new responsibilities.

"The needs assessment is probably the foundation of any training program," says Barry Wells, the Director of Curriculum and Staff Development for the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Service Institute. "The assessment enables you to determine what the problems or issues are and whether specific training is the remedy best suited to address them," says Wells. The training professional acts essentially as a consultant, whose job is to identify what the focus of training should be. At this stage, and at all others in the process, a trainer must be an adept interviewer, a skillful questioner, and a careful listener. He must be comfortable working with a variety of people, from senior executives to factory workers, for their perspectives are equally valuable. "You must be empathetic," says Alan Weiss. "The job requires that you try to get into another person's shoes."

The assessment of the factory points to a program that combines skills training in the applications of the new equipment with soft-skills training that will help the workers adapt to the new demands that the "team" concept will create. Manufacturing training frequently requires this two-fold approach of "job skills and interaction skills," says Richard Wellins, a senior vice president with Pittsburgh-based Development Dimensions International, another of the country's largest training and development companies. "The first priority is job skill. But interaction skills--the skills to deal with other people--are becoming more critical." Training programs in manufacturing and other industries frequently include another component, too. At Development Dimensions International, says Wellins, "Every manufacturing training project we undertake has a management component." The changes on the factory floor mean that management, from floor supervisors to top executives, will have to adapt to new realities, too. "Managers need skills in encouraging initiative, continual improvement, and participation. They are becoming coaches, not bosses," says Wellins.

When the assessment is complete, the training team presents their findings and recommendations to the company. "You have to educate management to the strategies that you might use," says Suzanne Schmidt, manager for organization and staffing at the Westinghouse Material Company of Ohio. "This is first an education process and then a sales job. You do have to sell your solution to the company."

Once the company accepts a trainer's proposals, the training team devises the program design, determining specific learning objectives and the particular methods to achieve them. In our example, the technical training relies heavily on hands-on experience combined with some classroom work. Line supervisors at the factory will receive training from the robot manufacturers and then return to train their co-workers.

Knowledge is one thing; sharing it is another. The training team devises a "train-the-trainer" course to help the line supervisors develop presentation skills needed to share what they have learned with their co-workers. The vendors provide technical manuals that explain the equipment's applications; but the training team finds them confusing. An instructional writer rewrites the material. Later, she writes the scripts for a series of videos which will illustrate how the new equipment works and how to do minor maintenance and troubleshooting.

In our hypothetical company, the introduction of the robots enables fewer workers to do the job than before. Additionally, the workers' duties have increased, and their work is more interdependent. This reflects a common trend in many manufacturing companies. The training group develops a soft-skills training program which includes communications workshops coupled with role plays and other exercises to help prepare the workers for challenges that the new way of work will present.

Once the design is completed, the next step is to put it into practice. Presenting training requires special skills. For many, standup training is a kind of performance. "I think that many trainers are frustrated actors," says Dana Gaines Robinson, president of Partners in Change, a Pittsburgh training company. "Training is very illustrative, very graphic. Examples help the audience relate to you."

Roy Chitwood, president of Max Sacks International, a sales training company in El Segundo, California, concurs. "Trainers need graphic examples to bring alive the lessons that they wish to impart. Adults have real world experiences that they bring to training, and it's the trainer's job to tap into these experiences to bring issues alive."

Standup trainers must be risk takers. Facing an audience is one of the greatest fears that many of us share. And many trainers say that nervousness persists no matter how many presentations they have given. "I always have butterflies," says Dana Gaines Robinson. "That's OK as long as they fly in formation." Standup training requires a healthy ego, balanced by a notion of selflessness, for it's the trainer's job to help the audience learn. Communications skills rank high because trainers must understand the dynamics of the group process and be good facilitators, encouraging all members in the process to participate. "You must train yourself to be sensate," says Suzanne Schmidt. "You have to be cognizant of and sensitive to the trainees' needs."

Technology in Training

Like the rest of us, training professionals must adapt to the challenges and opportunities that technologies offer. From design to delivery, these tools, particularly computers and video, are playing growing roles. Robert Fenn, National Director of Training for The Travelers, says, "You cannot overemphasize the role of technology in training. In all aspects of training, technology is important." In the management development courses offered at The Travelers, Fenn notes that "15 of the 27 offered are either computer based or have computer-based modules."

The use of video in training is widespread. Training Magazine's 1988 survey showed that video was the most widely used instructional method; more than 87 percent of the employers used video in their training programs. Video is versatile and can be used in almost any training setting, from technical training to management development. "There's hardly a training department today that doesn't have at least some VCR's and monitors," says Mary Alice Valvoda, of BP America. "It's like having a pencil and paper."

Training departments at some companies employ specialists to develop these computer packages and videos. Many purchase them from outside vendors. "That's basically a business decision," says Frank Hart at GE Information Services. "If a company produces many videos, it probably makes sense to maintain its own capabilities. Even if there are no in-house production facilities, a good training manager must be able to assess the value of the commercially produced video."

Economics prompts many employers to turn to technology to train their workers. "Corporations are doing some major strategic thinking about how you can get the most amount of learning for the least amount of money," says Thomas Schwen of Indiana University's Department of Instructional Design. "In terms of salaries, training costs, and transportation, standup training is the most expensive."

Though the cost of standup training may be high, "the use of technologies will not diminish the value and importance of presentation skills," contends Valvoda. "I think that presentation skills will probably be more important. You need a very skilled trainer to make the transition from the model presented in videos and other media to the workplace. You have to know how to integrate video into the training package. It must be used at the right time and the right place," says Valvoda.

In effect, say some, the increasing use of technologies transforms the trainer into "a manager of the learning environment." Rob Foshay at Applied Learning says that "most training solutions end up with a mix of the self-instructional systems, such as CBT (computer-based training) and standup." Applied Learning is developing an interactive computer video program for management development. The trainee will respond to a simulation presented by the computer. "But as an optional component, the trainer may choose other methods, such as role plays or games, to further build the same skills," says Foshay.

Changing attitudes toward training also present trainers with new challenges. Training programs are being measured on how well they contribute to a company's "bottom line." In the past, many companies offered a wide variety of what some call nice-to-know courses rather than what employees specifically needed to know to do their jobs more effectively. In a survey of its employee training programs, IBM, one of the leaders in workplace education, found that it was spending more than $900 million annually on a hodgepodge of courses. The survey prompted a reorganization of the company's education programs. Now, each of the 85 major jobs in the company has a separate curriculum.

"Over the last few years, a new attribute has assumed prominence," says Dana Gaines Robinson. "Trainers need business savvy. We're frequently guilty of thinking that we are trainers who work for a business. Actually, we are business people who have gone into training."

For Robert Fenn, this has led to a strategic view of training. "This is a change that we've seen only in the last 5 to 10 years. Until then, training was generally reactive," says Fenn. That is, training was developed to address a particular need or problem. But, he says, "we are changing from the reactive to proactive, that is training for needs of the future. The pace of business today demands it."

Who's Hiring Trainers?

According to The Learning Enterprise, employers provided 69 percent of formal training themselves in 1987; the remainder came from outside sources.

Training professionals employed in-house generally worked in the training/HRD department or personnel department. Sixty-three percent of the respondents to Training Magazine's 1988 survey worked in training/HRD; 17 percent, in personnel.

There is a lot of diversity among companies that employ their own in-house training staff. Programs in large companies, such as Ford and IBM, garner much attention. But many companies are expanding their training efforts, not simply the large ones. Dr. R. Wayne Pace coordinates the Human Resource/Organization Development program at Brigham Young University. He says, "I find that small and intermediate sized companies, as well as large ones, have rapidly accelerated their efforts in the area."

Others interviewed for this article agree and believe that some of the best job prospects may lie with these smaller companies because they offer broader challenges than might be available in larger companies. Larger companies may employ specialists in the various fields of training. Richard Wellins believes that "in working with a smaller company, you may have the chance to do it all."

What sort of work might a newcomer do? Frank Hart says that a young person must first learn the basics of the trade. "You have to know how to deliver a training presentation (prepackaged) or teach people how to use a particular software package. Then you might get into program/curriculum design and consulting."

"I think the best place for young people to gain experience is in corporations," says Dr. Joanne Sujansky, the head of JGS Management Consultants and former president of ASTD. "You don't start in this field by being external (with a training company/consultant) but internal (with companies). You need to experience the day-to-day frustrations of the workplace," she says, "and see the emotional, organizational, and political resistance to change."

Thesecomments reflect what has traditionally been a reality in the training profession--that many have come to training as a second career. "Few people step directly into training," says Robert Fenn of The Travelers. "Experience in the workplace provides the credibility a trainer needs," he says.

Sales training, for example, demands sales experience, asserts Roy Chitwood, who directed the sales force for a major insurance company before forming his own sales training company. "Sales personnel will eat an unqualified trainer alive," he says. "And a sales trainer can't be far removed from the sales experience. If you move out of selling for a long time, you lose touch with the real world."

In its 1985 survey of the industry, Training Magazine asked respondents what positions they held prior to moving into training. These respondents, at least, supported the notion that many in the profession work elsewhere before becoming trainers. More than a third had served as line or staff managers, supervisors, or technical specialists; over 25 percent had been teachers at the elementary, secondary, or college level; 11 percent had worked as personnel specialists; and the others had beenin a variety of other positions.

While acknowledging that "experience is important to trainer credibility, I would hate for young people to think that a field is closed to them due to lack of particular experience," says Suzanne Schmidt, of Westinghouse Material Company." I think that standup training, in some of the softer skills, such as communications training, does not necessarily need a trainer who has had business experience."

Some in the field believe that promising prospects for employment exist with organizations that produce an increasing variety of packaged training programs. The growing recognition of the value of training and the expanding role of technologies have led to the emergence of "a whole industry of educational development,c says Bill Ouweneel at IBM. Training Magazine's 1988 survey determined that training departments had budgeted more than $9 billion for "outside expenditures,"which included audiovisual equipment, seminars, computers, and videos. Professor Pace at Bringham Young University sees a "range of opportunities in ancillary fields" for persons skilled in any of these areas. "Good marketing skills are very important," says Pace.

Opportunities exist with the large number of training companies around the country, but these positions generally are open only to those with experience in the field. These firms range from those that offer a narrow range of training to those that present an array of services reflective of the broad field of human resource development. Development Dimensions, Inc., for example is a "full-service, vertically integrated training company," says Richard Wellins. The company employs consultants, instructional designers, writers, editors, and video producers--all the specialties needed to do the job. Most staffers, according to Wellins, come to the company with experience. The company does have its own "built-in internship program," says Wellins, employing new college graduates as research associates or junior consultants and training them on the job.

How does work with a training company differ from a job within a corporation? The objectives are the same, says Wellins, but working "externally" presents a few different problems. "External trainers constantly work with different groups and companies, which means that it might be difficult to get a handle on the organizational dynamics," he says. The variety of clients points to another fact of life for the external trainer--travel, and a lot of it. A third important difference boils down to business. Training companies must market themselves to survive. "At Development Dimensions, Inc., it's always a tough decision whether we hire a new HRD type or an account executive," says Wellins. The company employs a marketing staff of 25.

The broad nature of training and HRD means that sometimes "the lines within the profession are not clearly drawn," says Dr. Joanne Sujansky. "There's frequently a mix of roles, between trainer and consultant, between OD (organizational development) and HRD."

Some practitioners contend that, within the training profession, there are similar though unstated divisions, too. "There is a sort of hierarchy of training in the eyes of some," sayd Dana Gaines Robinson. "Management development has a certain aura about it." Other professionals agree with Robinson. "Regrettably, I think that's true," says Robert Fenn. "Management and organizational development sometimes rank higher than technical training, but there is no real reason why that should be true."

Training To Work in Training

In its 1985 survey of the industry, Training Magazine asked its readers what academic preparation they had received. All had attended college. About 18 percent of the respondents had earned their bachelor's degree in education; 16 percent studied business; the social sciences accounted for nearly 15 percent; and about 11 percent majored in psychology. Nearly equal numbers, around 5 percent, specialized in communications, engineering, and the humanities. Less than 2 percent had earned degrees in training and development/HRD. The respondents' graduate education reflected similar diversity and proportions, with a few exceptions. Thirty-one percent had graduate degrees in education, while the percentage of persons who had earned degrees in training and development/HRD had increased to about 6 percent. Says Alan Weiss, "I honestly don't believe that there is a particular discipline that best prepares you for a career as a trainer. I believe people are drawn to training by their own innate skills or interests. I've known people who've studied chemistry, engineering, history, and other subjects who have become excellent trainers."

The broad applications of training assure that the profession will continue to draw practitioners from an array of backgrounds. Nevertheless, says Robert Fenn, there is a "growing importance of specific credentials. Training is becoming more specialized."

In 1983, ASTD published its Directory of Academic Programs in Training and Development (available from ASTD for $18). The gide lists about 240 colleges that offered programs in training/HRD. Sources at the society estimate that that number has since risen to over 300. The focus of these programs varies. Some offer a broad-based HRD education; others concentrate in specific areas such as organizational development or instructional design.

Brigham Young University offers a bachelor's degree in HRD. "We try to introduce students to a group of roles, similar to the ASTD models," says R. Wayne Pace, who founded the program. This general preparation fits the needs of the companies which regularly recruit from the Bringham Young program. "Students critically need good analytical skills. They must be prepared in program design and in how to use instructional media,"says Pace. "But when companies are hiring," he adds, "standup skills make the difference."

Instructional design is the focus at Indiana University. Students learn to develop a complete training program, from analysis to design to delivery. The program requires that students develop an "ensemble" of their work, effectively a portfolio, demonstrating their competence in instructional media and methods combined with a mastery of adult learning theory. Each student must also complete an internship. Competition for graduates of the program is keen. "We could probably place 10 times the number of graduates," says Tom Schwen.

Many concur that the demand far exceeds supply. "I see a sharply increased demand for degreed people," says Rob Foshay at Applied Learning. "Corporations are investing heavily in improving human performance because they have found it to be the best way to improve productivity." This investment takes a variety of forms. Many companies, for example, offer a variety of "train-the-trainer" programs, designed to help people develop basic training skills. "People can have good informational skills and be good on their feet, but they still need practice in the basics of the training trade," says Valvoda of BP America.

Many corporations regularly rotate promising employees through a variety of departments to acquaint them with different aspects of a company's business. This will continue. IBM, for example, long a leader in employee training, has a strong tradition of building from within.

Yet some in the profession see changes even here. Robert Fenn believes that, while this option will remain open, "the notion of many coming to training as a second career will be less true thanin the past." Unless a person has a strong background in adult learning theory and an understanding of instructional methods, "the options will be fewer," says Fenn.

What Keeps Training Pros Training??

Every job has its pluses and minuses. Perhaps it's the nature of their work to analyze a situation critically and communicate with candor that prompts training professionals to respond so openly to what these rewards and difficulties are. Ask what they like and dislike about their job, and you'll likely get a long litany in response.

The constant challenge of learning, at both the personal and professional levels, ranks at the top of the list. "I have yet to do a training program where I haven't learned something,c says Barry Wells, of the Department of State, "whether it's about the material I'm presenting, the methods I use, the participants, or abot myself."

The chance to effect real and positive change in people and organizations rates high, too. More than one person interviewed for this article cited the "light bulb" effect. "When you look into a person's face and see the light bulb switch on, it makes the effort worthwhile," says Valvoda.

Suppose you flick the switch and nothing happens? "That happens too, and you know right away," says Valvoda. But this feedback is important." "In many jobs, you don't have a sense of how you're doing. In standup training, in particular, assessment is immediate," she says.

The scope of training affords both variety and visibility. Training touches nearly every aspect of an organization, from manufacturing to marketing, and trainers work with a range of employees, from clerical staff to corporate executives.

While the opportunity for recognition exists, you have to remember that training is basically a staff job. "When you're in a training position, you're in a service role," says Fenn. "You have to be responsive to the needs of your clients."

Not every organization places the same value on training/HRD. Some companies may tend to evaluate training by the numbers, counting how many employees participated, for how many hours. In others, you can see a "preoccupation with the short term," says Richard Poth, president of Corporate Dynamics, a consulting firm that specializes in organizational development. "These companies expect you to identify a problem, devise a solution, and implement a strategy in a short time. Sometimes, this makes you question their commitment to real change," says Poth. Without a company commitment to training, little hope for change exists. And when budgets shrink, training is frequently the first to feel the pinch.

These days, employer commitment appears strong. The evidence is that training improves performance and, therefore, productivity. And there's a range of new challenges on the horizon. "I see a host of new issues creating new opportunities," says Suzanne Schmidt at Westinghouse Material Company. "Changing demographics in the workplace, cultural diversity, remedial education in the workplace. There should be plenty of work to do."
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Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1989
Previous Article:Occupational tenure, employer tenure, and occupational mobility.
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