Richard Shore is managing director of Mentor FLT Training Limited, the UK's leading provider of training and associated services for all types of materials handling equipment and workplace transport.
The case for training operators on any type of equipment is hopefully well proven by now. Where the equipment in question includes potentially dangerous items of plant such as forklifts, access platforms, cranes or mobile plant, there really isn't a credible or viable argument against comprehensive operator training in its safe and efficient use.
The advantages of increased skills and confidence that improve safety and productivity are equally enjoyed by the employee, the employer and society at large. So, given that the case is proven, what innovations can there be that improve the safety and efficiency of this process and how in these financially austere times can we achieve this in the most cost effective manner?
Innovation, to me, means either doing things better by doing them differently - often as the result of a new invention or the advent of new technology - or it means doing the same thing but more efficiently: something that often with hindsight is regarded simply as the application of common sense.
It is comparatively easy with unlimited resources and no financial or time pressure from competition to come up with a solution to a problem. The old saying 'just throw money at it' applies. Innovation, however, means producing a solution that is actually better than the one that came before and if you can do this at a lower cost then, the benefits are unquestionable. In the case of operator training, if you're bringing down the cost of efficiency and safety without any dilution of quality, then everyone wins.
In my own company, we have always tried to look at what our customers needed and wanted and, unlike many in the training and health and safety business, we have always treated our customers as grown-ups - i.e. they are responsible, want to do the right thing, have the best interests of their employees at heart but still need to operate within a budget. So, how have we innovated to make this happen?Service
* The first thing our customers said they wanted was informed and pragmatic advice on the best and most cost-effective way of training their staff in order to meet their practical and legal responsibilities. In order to achieve, this we recruited and trained a team of advisors with specific industry knowledge who fully understand the pressure that customers can be under and are highly skilled at providing the right advice and solution in a timely fashion.
* Next, our customers wanted ready availability of instructors. When new staff are employed, it is vital for their safety that they are trained as soon as possible and it is also important for the employer that any new staff are made safe and productive as quickly as possible. Quality
* Of paramount importance are high and consistent standards. Customers need to know that the training provided to their staff is to the same high standard whether it is carried out in London, Lanark or Llandudno.
* Accredited and recognised courses. It is important for customers to be confident that the training provided meets with the latest standards and covers all legal and practical requirements. Furthermore, they need to know that the organisation they choose to train their staff is being effectively monitored and accredited by a respected external agency.Value
* Known costs. It is a fact of modern commercial life that people want and need to know when they order something just how much it is going to cost. In fact, some computer systems won't allow any order to be raised without this. So we developed a single pricing structure that meant the cost of training was exactly the same wherever the course took place on the UK mainland. In other words, charging extra for mileage, accommodation and certification was, for the vast majority of customers, both impractical and unacceptable, so we removed the problem.
* The application of consistent standards and our investment in people and technology has allowed us to roll out our training programs across multiple companies and industries that has resulted in real economies of scale.
So what future innovations or changes can we expect? E-learning:
This is one that has been around now for a number of years and while it has a clear and very important role to play, it also has limitations. Any system of testing following training that requires accurate verification of the identity of the delegate involved is not generally suitable for an e-learning (or e-testing) program. Where we feel e-learning potentially has a real future is in providing online assessments of operator attitudes and aptitudes that will mean refresher training can be done at the right time for each individual and it becomes a selective rather than prescriptive solution to keeping skills and knowledge up to date.Simulators:
We were early advocates of the use of simulators for initial training or operator assessment for practical and safety reasons. This was not (in 2003) a well received or commercial success, although we remain open-minded that for more expensive and complex items of plant, this may have a future.Management Training:
Although there are established legal requirements for the managers and supervisors of equipment operators to be suitably competent (PUWER 1998), these are unfortunately not universally applied or enforced. We firmly believe that this is the key remaining method of improving operator safety and efficiency and have recently launched an innovative and nationally accredited management and supervisor training course to address this need.Regulation:
With the change in government in the UK and the need to dramatically cut public spending, lots of previously sacrosanct and quasi-legal training and certification requirements that companies have been forced to comply with will be looked at very closely to see if they really are still relevant and 'add value' to the wider economy. This being the case, there will certainly be a lot of demand for new innovative and cost-effective training solutions across a host of industries in the near future.Learning Recognition:
Often for commercial rather than practical reasons, delegates on operator training courses are required to re-do things that they have already shown themselves to be more than competent at. Fortunately, even before the current economic climate, measures were being taken to simplify matters to allow companies and training organisations to recognise candidates' previous qualifications and build on these rather than insisting that they do them again. This is to be encouraged and, as it saves both time and money, is particularly important now. There is certainly plenty of room for innovation to make this happen.
So the innovations to come in operator training will be based on the use of new technology, partly by getting a wider participation in the process by making managers and supervisors 'buy-in' and partly by the changes that economic circumstances will impose on current thinking - and that is almost certainly not a bad thing.