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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What I really should have been doing all this time

Doing a little research about all things training today, I came across the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. According to their Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition that showed up in my Google search, "There are many types of human resources, training, and labor relations managers and specialists." It goes on to detail the kinds of roles that "Training Managers" and "Training Specialists" provide an organization. I imagine, and insist that this pertains to training of any kind, even if it be by vendors or other third-party organizations.

For the rest of this post, the first half of it at least, I'm going to give you the pertinent sections of this document. Any trainers reading this, and you can be Language, Process/Technical or Soft Skills trainers, please pay attention.

Training and Development

Training and development managers and specialists conduct and supervise training and development programs for employees. Increasingly, management recognizes that training offers a way of developing skills, enhancing productivity and quality of work, and building worker loyalty to the firm, and most importantly, increasing individual and organizational performance to achieve business results. Training is widely accepted as an employee benefit and a method of improving employee morale, and enhancing employee skills has become a business imperative. Increasingly, managers and leaders realize that the key to business growth and success is through developing the skills and knowledge of its workforce. Other factors involved in determining whether training is needed include the complexity of the work environment, the rapid pace of organizational and technological change, and the growing number of jobs in fields that constantly generate new knowledge, and thus, require new skills. In addition, advances in learning theory have provided insights into how adults learn, and how training can be organized most effectively for them.

Training in India is mostly a joke, a time for people to kick back, relax, and enjoy some time off of work. That's why most people you ask do not look forward to training if they are genuinely interested in the work that they do, or if there's something important that needs to be completed. If you offer to provide them training after work hours, you're much more likely to be dealing with people who can't wait to leave for the day. Indian trainers seem to have adapted to this forced apathy by becoming entertainers, stand-up comics, almost. It's funny, and sad; the former if you're a participant, the latter if you're the manager shelling out huge sums of money. Training is considered to be an activity, but no one ever focuses on achieving a solid result. This goes for all sorts of training, from language to technical training.

Training Managers

Training managers provide worker training either in the classroom or onsite. This includes setting up teaching materials prior to the class, involving the class, and issuing completion certificates at the end of the class. They have the responsibility for the entire learning process, and its environment, to ensure that the course meets its objectives and is measured and evaluated to understand how learning impacts business results.

Been here for a while now. And have had to deal with some ridiculous attitudes and behaviours. Also, the gaping chasm of a divide between those who create the training material as opposed to those who deliver it, and the lack of consolidated feedback leaves a whole lot to be desired. Again, no real focus on the "bottom line" excpet for the usual "I did what you asked me to, and that's that" spiel from trainers.

Training Specialists

Training specialists plan, organize, and direct a wide range of training activities. Trainers respond to corporate and worker service requests. They consult with onsite supervisors regarding available performance improvement services and conduct orientation sessions and arrange on-the-job training for new employees. They help all employees maintain and improve their job skills, and possibly prepare for jobs requiring greater skill. They help supervisors improve their interpersonal skills in order to deal effectively with employees. They may set up individualized training plans to strengthen an employee’s existing skills or teach new ones. Training specialists in some companies set up leadership or executive development programs among employees in lower level positions. These programs are designed to develop leaders, or “groom” them, to replace those leaving the organization and as part of a succession plan. Trainers also lead programs to assist employees with job transitions as a result of mergers and acquisitions, as well as technological changes. In government-supported training programs, training specialists function as case managers. They first assess the training needs of clients and then guide them through the most appropriate training method. After training, clients may either be referred to employer relations representatives or receive job placement assistance.

I used to like being a trainer because I enjoyed the ability to make a difference in someone's life. I took my work very seriously, and prepared very hard. I wouldn't say that I was the most dedicated trainer around, but most people I know have always exhibited a "trainer is god" kind of attitude. Also, and this I love, the number of language trainers who can't put together two documents that look alike, even if they use a template, is simply shocking. The whole "I'm a language trainer, so why would I know anything about computers?" mentality has just got to go!

Program Planning

Planning and program development is an essential part of the training specialist’s job. In order to identify and assess training needs within the firm, trainers may confer with managers and supervisors or conduct surveys. They also evaluate training effectiveness to ensure that the training employees receive helps the organization meet its strategic business goals and achieve results.

Almost a taboo word in most places I've worked, "planning" is considered to have been done if people came to work, talked about what they did the night before, or the week before, and had a couple of snacks at this hour-long meeting. What was meant to be discussed? No idea, but whatever it was can be easily discussed at the next meeting, where there will be more snacks, hopefully. Truly deplorable. Imagine selling a training program to a client, when you don't even have the material for it? You sell them a proposal and hope that they won't ask you to get started right away...that gives you two days to put material together, mostly skimmed or copied straight off of the Internet. Copyright infringement? What's that?

Training Methodologies

Depending on the size, goals, and nature of the organization, trainers may differ considerably in their responsibilities and in the methods they use. Training methods include on-the-job training; operating schools that duplicate shop conditions for trainees prior to putting them on the shop floor; apprenticeship training; classroom training; and electronic learning, which may involve interactive Internet-based training, multimedia programs, distance learning, satellite training, other computer-aided instructional technologies, videos, simulators, conferences, and workshops.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this section because I've never heard anyone talk about these things. I was in a company full of CELTA-certified language and culture trainers, and none of them ever used any of the jargon, not even to sound like they knew anything. So, the less said the better.

After reading this, and as refreshing as it was, I have to say that this is soooo not what goes on in the training industry here in India. Being associated with English language training/teaching for most of my career thus far, I have to say that some of the nonsense that I've seen and been a party to is unpardonable. Before I get into that, please check out the Handbook for more information about ideal certifications and qualifications. Coming back to what I was saying about the kind of nonsense training that I've seen, it's really, truly foul. I mean, the kind of shite that passes for training in this country, everyone associated with this industry should be ashamed. From playing ridiculous games, to showing people email forwards that you've received that are supposedly inspirational, to playing dumb charades, I'm shocked that they haven't publicly executed trainers for such follies in the name of training!

This brings me to an article that was written a little over four years ago, titled "Indian by Day, American by Night." It's by Amitabh Pal, Managing Editor of The Progressive, and although he has a slightly different take on training -- his main focus is the perils of the Call Center Industry -- there are some interesting points worth noting when it comes to his findings about the kinds of things that pass for training. On all of these, Mr. Pal, I am totally with you. Let me give you a couple of snippets from this article, some that are related to a company that I am currently associated with, but hopefully not for much longer.

Call center training institutes are springing up all over the bigger cities in India, helping young people, for a fee, to de-Indianize themselves. Hero Mindmine, which proclaims itself the largest national chain, says that it has trained 25,000 students nationwide since it opened three years ago, with a claimed 90 percent placement rate...The American cultural offerings that Hero Mindmine uses are Full House, Frasier, and Friends, while CNN and Fox News are used to teach them the American "lifestyle," [Snehal Kulshreshtha] adds..."We try to neutralize their accent so that there is no m.t.i.--mother tongue influence," says Sunil Wadhwa of Hero Mindmine, using the buzzword of choice in the call center industry. "We teach them about U.S. culture, the U.S. accent, and U.S. vowels and consonants."...Lepcha denies that she asks people to adopt American accents but then offers lessons on how Americans pronounce things differently than Indians. "They say Beddy, we say Betty," Lepcha explains. "They say budder, we say butter."...As I am leaving her residence-cum-office, I notice several tapes of Sex and the City. I ask about them. "Oh, they are part of my husband's collection," laughs Lepcha. "But we also use them to train employees about American culture."

You'll have to read the article for the full impact. This is the kind of nonsense that companies invest millions of dollars in each and every year. Even when I was working with a training vendor earlier on in my career, the kind of stuff that passed for training and the material we were forced to put together was shocking. It doesn't seem to me that too much has changed though, unfortunately.

In conclusion of this largely pieced together post, I'd like to say that I have yet to see people conducting specific and logically motivated training needs analyses, before even launching into what program is necessary for who and why. No one speaks of methodologies, and when they do it's purely academic. And last but certainly not least in this long list of fraudulent training practices, there is no accountability for training delivered because no one does anything more than an immediate feedback sort of "smile sheet" that to them indicates training was successful, now and forever. However, companies have slowly begun to realize that not a whole lot happens during training because some of their staff have been in remedial training for a couple of years now. With the current global recession on, I think we're going to see a shift in the training industry that'll mean less bull, more substance. Here's hoping...
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