Those who can’t, Teach

In earlier blogs I looked at Lord Young’s report into the state of H&S in the UK. He mentioned the issue of competence. As it turns out, the Safety & Health Practitioner (that erudite journal of safety practitioners) also ran an article on competence (spooky, hey?).

The authors stated that probably the four main activities tackled in a safety practitioner’s job were risk assessment, training, accident investigation and auditing (of various forms). It was quite an interesting article and is worth a read – so that you know what you should be doing in between meals.

The authors noted that safety training was frequently poor – aimless, ill-defined, dull, presentation biased and lacking any real evaluation. They recognised that since many expect safety people to train as part of the job, there is an expectation that they already have that skill when, in practice, they don’t.

I think the problem in this type of training is 3-fold. (well, there’s a lot more, but let’s just stick to three things for now). Firstly, there is a popular view that “knowledge is stuff” and that the trainers job is somehow to transfer this to the audience, rather than to help them create their own understanding of it.

Secondly, related to the first point, people who do a bit of training on the side often come at it from a presentation skills perspective (usually one based almost exclusively on powerpoint). But that’s only one aspect of teaching/training. If you stick to that, you will be pretty one dimensional and what works for 20 minutes cannot be sustained for a morning or whole day’s training, without becoming dull.

Thirdly, poor trainers may actually believe that they’re good at it and so be reticent to expand their skill set because they don’t see the benefit. This may be arrogance or it may simply be that they haven’t recognised they aren’t good (or, more likely, no-one’s told them).

The truth is, training is a transferrable skill set that can be learned. OK, some desirable aspects, such as engaging personality, you bring with you, but much of the rest can be taught. With a little practice, imagination and risk-taking, a dull presentation can be turned around to a purposeful, engaging and even enjoyable experience for the ‘audience’. To achieve this, what people need is a basic, but systematic, introduction to what teaching/training involves and a little practice. What I’m talking about is the whole arena of deciding what training is needed, planning the course/session (learning outcomes, teaching approaches, resources, methods of assessing learning etc), delivering it, assessing what learning has taken place and evaluating the success of the course as a whole. This last step should enable you to identify room for improvement. Obviously this all has to be proportionate – so there should eb lots of flexibility built in.

There are many ‘train the trainer’ courses out there, with some better than others. Some fixed on a specific specialism (like manual handling) whereas others teach you the core skills that you can adapt for every situation. Things like the CIEH Training Skills and Practice fall into the latter category.

If all you do is short presentations to the board or board-people then training skills is unlikely to be needed (people can resist most forms of torture for short periods). But if you do more than that, do your trainees a favour and expand your skill set. Look on it as a CPD thing. You never know, you might actually find it quite liberating not to be shackled to powerpoint and back in control of your training. Then again, if shackles are your thing….