Worker Training Roundtable: Managers Discuss Strategies
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John T. Prelesnik,
Manager of Building Automation Systems,
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
Manger of Training,
Building Operator Certification program,
Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, Seattle
Director of Engineering,
CBRE/ISS/Hewlett Packard, San Diego
For maintenance and engineering managers in institutional and commercial facilities, technician training has become an essential tool in retaining workers and increasing their productivity. It also has become a major challenge, from structuring training programs and identifying appropriate resources to ensuring that training delivers the desired results for department and organizations.
What are the major obstacles managers face in developing and implementing effective training programs for front-line technicians?
Gazman: The challenges run the gamut from money issues — just not having a budget to train people — to there not being a culture that promotes people's skills. Sometimes, that means transforming that within the organization and making it a learning organization, where education is valued.
Prelesnik: While many managers have experience in the field as technicians themselves, many do not have any formal training in curriculum development. Being able to develop your training plan in an organized, well-thought-out progression is important. For larger organizations, managers can often tap into their employee development and training departments for instructional design expertise and guidance. This will help ensure the content flows in a logical progression and supports the learning experience.
Congdon: First and foremost is funding. As the real estate market has changed with respect to management of buildings and they've gone to more outsourcing as opposed to insourcing, and as budgets have tightened, training dollars have continued to dwindle per person. (Another) challenge is the lack of understanding of the requirements each site has with respect to technical training. We hire building operator engineers and look at their skill sets and go, "They've done this, that and the other thing, and that's great." But then when they get to the site, it has a different set of requirements. We're not necessarily tying the required skills to the skills that somebody brings.
What is the first step managers can take in identifying the training needs of technicians?
Gazman: Managers should start by conducting a job-task analysis to identify knowledge, skills and abilities that are critical to the profession, then cross-walk those skills to the organizational goals. So if energy efficiency and high-performance operations are goals, the skills standards should be training that helps employees build those skills. They have to identify core competencies that have immediate and measurable payback.
Prelesnik: Start with the basics, even if you think your personnel should already have a firm grasp of the subject matter. Laying the groundwork will help to avoid confusion later, when more in-depth concepts are discussed. Talk to your personnel, and find out what issues they are finding themselves up against in the field, and try to tailor your curriculum to address those issues. Identifying best practices for all maintenance activities regardless of department includes getting feedback from our customers and incorporating that feedback into our curriculum. We also utilize training evaluation sheets to find out what we can do to make our training experience more effective.
How can managers match the available training resources with their technicians' needs?
Prelesnik: Know your personnel, and look for training opportunities that will build upon their current knowledge base. I have a very competent team with varying levels of skill when it comes to servers, application support, programming, network troubleshooting, field processors, mechanical aptitude, drawing reviews, and commissioning. Unfortunately, training opportunities often take a back seat to our existing work load, so when a good training opportunity presents itself, you need to be ready to take advantage of it.
Gazman: Once core competencies are defined, skill gaps are assessed, and professional development goals are set, then managers can evaluate training resources like certificate programs, system-specific training, and other educational programs much more clearly for suitability. Most educational programs have a defined set of learning objectives, which describe the knowledge learners are expected to acquire and how they're going to demonstrate them in specific observable and measurable terms. So managers and their staffs should review these objectives for suitability and alignment with the skill gaps.
What factors do managers need to consider in selecting the most appropriate training medium?
Prelesnik: Cost is always a major consideration when looking at the different training mediums available. Many vendors sponsor training classes, but they can start in the $2,000 range, and that doesn't include travel, meals, and hotel rates if the classes are located out of your local area. For that reason, we found it beneficial to offer on-site classes that were a condensed form of what our vendor was providing. I also highly recommend speaking with your vendor to see if they offer online classes or sell CD-ROM instructional videos, which can be checked out individually or hosted on an online education center web site. This allows your personnel to access the training materials 24/7, which is beneficial if you are running more than one shift.
Gazman: Off-site training is a better option for smaller groups. It affords the same type of structured environment as on-site training. You get a high level of interaction among participants, which promotes a rich peer exchange and a broader understanding of how training topics shake out across sectors and markets and industries. Online learning is a good option for staff who can learn without face-to-face contact with the instructor. It's a good option when flexible schedules and travels to class are an issue. Good candidates include staff who are comfortable using a computer and have above-average facility navigating the Internet.
What strategies can managers use to convince facility executives to provide funds for training?
Congdon: The challenge is coming up with a way to show a return on investment (ROI). What's the ROI going to be from providing the training? … Now that we've shifted into this age of sustainability and energy efficiency, we need to provide ROI. If we can take this person and provide some building-automation training and get them to understand some of this energy management, we can bring this back around and show how that can save energy.
Gazman: Third-party-validated evaluations of the savings associated with training for operations and maintenance for technicians is important. It's a measure of training as an investment. There are studies that support that training is effective. Investing in professional development of facilities staff reduces energy costs while increasing occupant comfort. The energy efficiency and building operations fields are constantly evolving, so by keeping staff up to date with continuing education, they are better equipped to handle problems and find cost-saving opportunities for the company.
Prelesnik: While I can't speak to other organizations, at MD Anderson, we participate in an employee survey every two years. Training and employee development are always top concerns of our employees. I believe executive management understands this and is willing to go the extra mile to make the investment to keep our employees productive and engaged. Celebrate your successes, and benchmark increases in productivity and reduced down time.
What lessons have you learned in developing and delivering technician training?
Congdon: The key is the motivation on the part of the technician. It's not just developing a training course. It's developing a motivation for the training that will encourage the technician not only to take the training but to learn from the training.
Gazman: You don't want people to just sit in a classroom and be lectured to for eight hours. Training should be highly interactive, whether it's in the classroom or online, and it should give participants sufficient opportunity to practice and apply the knowledge and skills they're learning. Learning activities should build on what participants know and help them see the value of training.