These days, just about everything is sold in the name of ergonomics. You have heard about ergonomic seats, ergonomic keyboards, ergonomic car controls and ergonomic pillows; what about ergonomic training?
Ergonomic training? Why should training be ergonomic? To answer your question, I have to answer another question first: what is ergonomics? In everyday language, ergonomics means getting a good match between objects, equipment, jobs, environments, experiences and systems, and the people that use them. Ergonomics ensures this match by using information about human beings, and their abilities and limitations to design objects and systems etc.
So ergonomics should apply to everything from the door handle you turned to get out of the house in the morning, to the controls in the car you drove to work, the road signs on the way to work, health and safety at work and certainly the design of the training course you attended all day at work. Are you beginning to see the relevance of ergonomic training?
Most successful organisations spend a good percentage of their staff development budget on training. But why do some workers still commonly see training as an ineffective distraction from the main business of the company and a waste of time and precious company funds? Some say, the training simply does not help you to do the job better! That is another way of saying the training does not transfer into practice. If you are a company director, or you are in any way involved in making decisions on training, you would want to know why your staff are not excited about training. The bottom line is that if your staff see training as a waste of time, chances are that there is a mismatch between them and the training provided. This is where ergonomics comes in.
I have had the benefit of designing and proving a variety of training courses, to a variety of workers in different sectors of the economy in the last twelve years. I have trained nurses, warehouse operatives, carpenters, secretaries, physiotherapists, receptionists, engineers, benefit officers and the list goes on. On top of these, I have a postgraduate degree in ergonomics. Let me share a few tips that I have learnt over the years about getting a good match between the training event and the trainee.
Training Must Be Relevant & Seen As Relevant
For your staff to see the training as important, the training must be relevant to the job, company bottom line, and your customers. It is amazing how many training events have no bearing on any of these important factors. Your training will struggle on popularity rating, if workers can not see the connection between the event and the normal work day. You try teaching a room full of carpenters how to lift photocopy boxes. You are not going to be very successful because these men are used to lifting heavy doors, and wooden boards, sometimes up the stairs! The training is not relevant. It will not go far.
Sometimes it is not the relevance to the task that is the problem, but the relevance to the customer.
Training Must Be Interactive
Children and adults learn in a different way. Children begin the learning process by being told what to do. But as they grow older and develop their own knowledge base, they start to learn by listening, doing and thinking about the outcome. By the time they become adults, most people have mastered the art of learning by doing. Your training event must allow staff plenty of time to put things into practice. This is more important in fields where the job is hands on.
What are the benefits of learning by doing? First, it puts less pressure on the trainer to perform. Secondly, the training is likely to be more interesting for those attending. Thirdly, the training is more likely to be effective. You tend to remember something you have done before, rather than something that you were just told. So, an ergonomic training event is designed to make a good match between the expectations and training needs of the worker and the delivery style of the event.
You can ensure this match by putting as many exercises as possible on the course. Each exercise needs to be carefully designed to emphasis a certain aspect of learning.
Training must be Realistic
One of the major reasons why training is a ‘turn-off’ for staff is that it is seen as unrealistic. Realistic training is training that is based on conditions that are different to those encountered by your staff at work. Common examples are basing the training on equipment that is different from those on the job; training staff to use a device which requires more persons than are realistically available during a usual shift; or basing training on work conditions which do not exist.
When the equipment on training is more high tech than those on the job, the message to staff is that the company is not keeping up with the times. You can understand if staff feel that the company priorities are misplaced. You don’t only need cutting edge equipment in the training room, more than anywhere else you need modern equipment on the ‘shop floor’.
Your training will be equally ineffective if staff are forced to attend so called ‘mandatory training’ which does not apply to their job roles. Some healthcare employers force all clinical staff to attend training in safe manual handling of adult patients. This is a sensible decision for most clinical staff, but not for staff who do not move patients on the job, for example health visitors. Does this mean such staff should not have manual handling training? No. What it means is that they should be provided training in moving babies and inanimate loads, as this is more realistic. Anything short of this is not ergonomic and will be ineffective.
Training must not be in Isolation
The final reason why training fails is that it is done in isolation. This means that the training is designed as a stand-alone event which does not relate to anything else in the organisation.
Training should not exist in a vacuum. It should relate to and be targeted at meeting a particular need in staff development. The training event should make this connection obvious. Training is sometimes deficient on this count because the event is designed the wrong way round. What does that mean? The right sequence for designing a training event is to do a Training Requirement Analysis (TRA). A TRA does not start by assuming that training is needed. In other words, it does not say ‘we need training, we just need to figure out what type’. Instead a TRA asks, ‘do we need training, and if so, what type?
Taking the second approach is more likely to produce the kind of event that is connected to real staff development needs and is therefore more effective. The outcome is a training event that produces a good match between the worker’s need and the course design.
If your organisation would learn to design training that matches the needs, abilities and limitations of your workforce by making sure that training is:
Staff perception of training will improve and every penny spent on training will be more productive.
Part 2 of this blog will be published soon. Watch this space!!