Safety First

Rob Vetter: Training is a job for trainers

Thursday, 15 July 2010 ( #470 )
Companies that select trainers based on operating experience alone do themselves and their trainees a great disservice.<br />PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK
Companies that select trainers based on operating experience alone do themselves and their trainees a great disservice.
PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK
Rob Vetter is technical director and managing partner with the Ives Training Group, in Blaine, WA, USA, a leader in North American mobile equipment training systems since 1981.
It may seem obvious, but there are a lot of people that do not realise and/or appreciate the skill set required to deliver powered industrial equipment operator training. In most cases, companies that select trainers based on operating experience alone do themselves and their trainees a great disservice. Operator trainees that receive training from someone without the appropriate skills are typically not exposed to the information and proper practice needed to be safe, which makes them potentially hazardous in their jobs.

Ultimately, the best trainers are those who possess the appropriate soft skills and hard knowledge required to train - as well as a significant amount of operating experience. To pluck someone with these attributes right out of the workforce of a given operation is an exceedingly rare occurrence. The reason for this is mostly because without some sort of formal training, it is nearly impossible for a person that is normally disassociated from the training world to have the necessary qualifications to train competently. It is even less likely for this person to have the complementary soft skills and attitude needed to train others, which no amount of training - formal or otherwise - can provide.

It is very difficult to quantify the knowledge and skills of a trainer without going through a point-by-point assessment of the relative criteria of each. However, it is important to consider the following factors:

The Right Stuff

The road to becoming or acquiring a good trainer starts before any formal training or performance evaluation takes place. It starts with finding a person with the right "ingredients" for the type of work involved. Since instructor-led training is a very social activity, the right person must be socially adept, which is to say they must enjoy and be skilled at interacting with others. Again, it may seem obvious, but do not overlook this. A person who may appear to be knowledgeable and capable but prefers to keep to himself or herself would be the wrong choice.

The potential trainer must have the desire to train for the right reasons. Safety, life and limb, and the preservation of quality of life are all good reasons; the chance to boss people around or get a bit of time away from the usual grind are not.

Being patient, positive and empathetic are also among the necessary traits of an effective trainer. If a trainee gets to the point where they do not have any questions, it should be because they understand the information not because they are scared to ask.

There are many other personality traits that lend themselves to the task of training, but perhaps one of the most tragically overlooked is the ability to speak to a group with ease and confidence. Without this, a would-be trainer becomes a will-not-be trainer; it's as simple as that. The ability to communicate clearly is arguably the most important trait a trainer must possess. Usually, acquiring a solid knowledge and understanding of the subject matter along with a thorough lesson plan brings a certain amount of confidence in itself. However, if the trainer has a fear of public speaking, it can be the death knell to an otherwise promising career.

These are just a few of the soft skills and traits a good trainer must possess. Others, like organisational abilities, questioning and listening skills, attention to detail and ensuring understanding, are also highly significant. However, covering each of these in detail requires much more space than is available here.

Knowledge

Earlier, the ability to communicate was offered as arguably the most important trait of a good trainer. The argument arises in relation to whether knowledge is most important. Regardless of which side of this argument you fall on, there is no argument that one is a close second to the other. That being said, knowledge is often assumed. A person with significant operating experience is often mistakenly assumed to possess the required knowledge to train, say forklift operators. This is often far from the reality of the situation. When it comes to forklift operator training for example, OSHA lists no fewer than 12 equipment-related topics to cover, all of which branch into several sub-topics - and that does not include the all-important "other" category. The OSHA regulation then goes on to list another 10 workplace-related topics to cover. CSA standards list 17 equipment- and workplace-related topics that can also be broken down into several sub-groupings.

It is highly unlikely that even the most experienced of operators, even those formally trained as operators (not trainers), have the knowledge or ability to address each of these topics to the degree required and in a manner by which they can be understood by adult learners. In addition, neither of these lists includes the procedures or techniques involved in conducting practical driving evaluations and documenting the results.

Summary

Like most things worth doing, training is worth doing right. Employers who must train powered equipment operators must also consider the scope of such training against the knowledge and capabilities of the trainers they select to deliver it. Doing so ensures not only compliance with the written word of the applicable regulations, but demonstrates the desire to comply with the intended spirit of such regulations by actively assessing the performance results of their training, not merely its execution.
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