Quality training is important to any business, but it is more critical in some than others. In our industry, a poorly trained technician can cost the company money through the various expenses associated with improper instillations and poor problem solving during service calls. This can cost more than just the direct expenses associated with wasted visits and material ‘ it can cost you brand value and customer loyalty. In the extreme, poor training can lead to damaged property, injury or even death.
I happen to know a little something about training. I spent seven years as a military instructor teaching armored reconnaissance skills in the U.S. Army Reserve. The skills taught ran the gamut of sophistication, from calling and adjusting artillery fire (fairly complex) to the basic operation and mechanical maintenance on a range of vehicles and weapons. The soldiers I trained were entirely comparable, in background and education, to those young men and women entering our industry. As an instructor, I had to be trained myself on how to train others. Here are a few insights I can offer, for what they are worth.
There are certain skills you can pass along on-the-job, as senior technicians impart their knowledge on how to do things efficiently, safely and correctly with those just out of a technical school or similarly less experienced. I would suggest some formal approach, when practical, to having the best instructors and instruction.
1. As obvious as this seems, it’s important to note that the best technicians might not be the best instructors. The goal is to educate, and a poor instructor can easily alienate and interfere with the education. A good instructor should be patient and able to communicate clearly and naturally. A good instructor should be familiar with a subject including both long-established tricks of the trade as well as the latest techniques and tools to make the job easier. And, a good instructor should be able to sit back and let the trainee get his or her hands dirty and learn by doing, even if it is getting close to quitting time. Nothing sets the skill deeper (and ultimately quicker) than letting the trainee do it with his or her own hands under supervision.
2. Set best practices and performance standards as applicable. Time is always a constraint in any business, but it is useful to establish (formally or even informally) some consensus on best practices in common tasks. The Army does a good job with its blocks of instruction broken down into ‘Task, Conditions and Standard,” a process that insures that skills are taught in a uniform manner at every post and practiced identically at every evaluation. One senior NCO noted when I was being trained as a trainer, that you may personally have a faster way to take apart a pistol, but that may simply be due to having a lot of practice doing it the wrong way. Someone trained on the proper way, with as much time under his or her belt, should do it even faster and better.
3. Never stop training. Basic training was just the first step in the military enlisted career development process. As you moved up in rank you were not only expected, but required, to take your skills to the next level. In an industry where new technologies, new product lines and new techniques are a fact of life, this is critically important. Many vendors offer educational opportunities on their products. Associations offer educational opportunities at their conventions. Magazines, such as ours, offer tips from seasoned pros. Taking advantage of these opportunities should not be optional. In this issue of Fuel Oil News, there is a training directory that should outline some of the opportunities.
That’s all that space provides, but it covers the gist. A little formal attention to initial training and continued skill development can be worth the added administrative hassles.