I have spent my entire training career in the employ of state government. Including the university system, we have a workforce of 85,000 in jobs ranging from maintenance workers and mechanics to state troopers, consumer protection attorneys, kindergarten teachers, museum curators—you name it. Because we’re government, there is enormous pressure on training departments to deliver instruction on policy, safety, and other regulatory or “compliance” topics. It’s dull content, often provided in a cover-yourself format, and it’s usually not much fun for designer, facilitator (if it’s a live event), or trainee. It can be rote and cover too much material that may not be immediately applicable, or may never be used. For many in the instructional design business, government or otherwise, working with compliance-y content is the bane of our existence. In spite of that, those 2018 goals still need to include the compliance topics.
All fun and games
Leadership training can be interesting and fun. Customer service training lends itself to skill practice and shared commiseration about angry callers. Sales training often involves role-playing in getting leads or overcoming objections. Team-building workshops can involve games, collaborative problem-solving activities, or outdoor excursions. Content like this lends itself to interesting treatments and fun interactions. As designers, these areas are probably where we want to focus our attention and where, often, we leverage our greater creativity.
I get it.
Here’s what I also get: This year so far, five of our state workers have died on the job, or as a result of injuries sustained on the job. These workers aren’t just names in a news report or numbers on a safety or labor document. They were ours. Lots of factors came into play in the incidents, including insufficient staffing and, in one instance, a worker who panicked. But, as ever, training is part of a mix of factors that support and enable good performance. I don’t know that different, better, or more training would have saved these five lives, but the incidents inform us about ways training could save others. At this moment there are people—colleagues of mine—discussing future training for workers in these jobs. What should it look like? More reviews of policies? Practical application exercises? Rote quizzing? All of the above?
Different cards on the table
A challenge with these situations lies with the perceptions of different stakeholders about the problem and their understanding of training and how people learn. I know I’m overgeneralizing, but I’ve also had plenty of experience with this: Human Resources wants policy copied and pasted onto slide decks and read aloud, live or online. Safety staff want more signage and warnings and checklists and observations and incident reporting. Management wants sanctions for people breaking rules—and training on what that means—and, as often as not, wants to put more responsibility on already-overburdened frontline supervisors. The workers want everyone else to spend time experiencing their reality before designing or assigning any new training. And often everyone wants a one-size-fits-all solution deployed to all workers. Sometimes training solutions aren’t the answer. Sometimes the proposed training won’t solve the problem. Sometimes it could make the problem worse. What role will you—or can you—play in negotiating this? I’ve been fortunate to (mostly) have strong L&D leadership who understand training and help me navigate the politics of these situations, and I’ve had help with building negotiation and assertiveness skills to get me through many conversations and decisions.