Training from the Trainees’ Point of View

Gypsy trade is the picturesque term given to businesses with inherently high employee turn over. Restaurant employees, whose average national turnover exceeds 200 percent, typify this phenomenon. Speed’s Koffee Shops, Inc., recognized this problem and decided to re-examine its training program and adjust it to the vagaries of a classic gypsy trade.

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They launched their project with a five-question form, to be completed by all employees and returned to their immediate supervisors. Out of more than 400 employees, a gratifying 92 percent obliged. And their responses went a long way toward educating management in its areas of strength and weakness.

The first question— “What do you think of Speed’s training program?” was deliberately vague and gave employees an opportunity to generalize their feelings. Approximately 85 percent of the responses praised the training program but then qualified the compliments with an infinite variety of complaints.

More than 60 percent of the re¬turned questionnaires criticized orientation training. The employees felt they were rushed through train¬ing and, as a result, were ill-prepared and nervous on the first day at work.

Management now makes a con¬certed effort to put the new trainee at ease before training begins. The trainer now spends several minutes with each new employee, chatting and trying to alleviate any nervousness. The employee is then introduced to the people on the job and made to feel welcome. The results? Most reward¬ing. Not only do new employees tend to learn more, they also fit in with their new coworkers easier and faster.

Apparently George Halsey, author of Selecting and Inducting Employees, was right when he said: “More can be done to make or mar the new employ¬ee’s future during his first few days than in weeks at any other time.”

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“Given your choice, what would have been the best way to learn your new job—by classroom instruction or OJT; or a combination of both?” Re¬sponse to the second question was predictable. As might be expected, less than 10 percent of the employees advocated classroom instruction only. And only about 25 percent of the employees would like to have seen classroom instruction added to the OJT they received.

Management was unprepared for one request couched in the responses of most employees: for more written material to study, on their own, away from the job. Previously, Speed’s had used a six-page outline and checklist to guide the training session. The trainee kept one copy of the outline and another was retained in his permanent file; after each step of the outline was explained and demon¬strated, it was initialed by both the new employee and his trainer. Obvi¬ously, the employees wanted more.

Now Speed’s distributes a 186-page training manual to each new employee. The original checklist serves as a basic guide, which is supplemented by a lengthy new section on company policies and benefits.

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Becoming a team member

The third question— “Is there a good way to make each employee feel he’s part of, and important to, the company?”—brought the most varied responses.

A few answers advocated periodic employee progress reports. Appa¬rently, the assumption was that if management cared enough to sys¬tematically analyze each employee’s progress, that employee would be made to feel important to the total business. Another suggestion was for a monthly newsletter devoted to com¬pany happenings.
Management rejected both of these suggestions as not being quite the right vehicles for furthering employee participation. But it did snap up the idea presented by another employee, who advocated periodic meetings of all his cohorts.

Because this plan would incorporate all the best answers to Question Three, management decided to adopt it. It would, in effect, be a monthly newsletter that would still provide employee participation. It would give people a chance to find out what was going on in the company now and what was planned for the future. And it would provide them with an opportu¬nity to question policies and company politics.

More training for everyone
The purpose of the fourth ques¬tion—”Should your training have lasted longer? Why or why not?”—was not the obvious one. It was expected that no employee would believe train¬ing lasted long enough, but the ques¬tion was formulated to uncover the greatest lack in the training program.

As expected, 72 percent responded that they began the job ill-equipped to handle it. Most pointed out specific things they thought they should have been told prior to actually starting. But because the restaurant business involves a great variety of unpredict¬able daily occurrences, it would be impossible to incorporate everything the employees suggested into a viable training program. However, those points that were mentioned by a majority were added to the training program.

A surprising 43 percent of the employees commented on the lack of follow-up training. One said, “We learn one thing in training. Yet, when we get on the job our supervisor often tells us something entirely different. Didn’t he have the same training I did?”

The problem, of course, was that most, if not all, the supervisors were “old hands.” Either they had been trained differently years before or, more often, had developed what they felt were better ways of doing things.
With this in mind, management called a meeting of the supervisors, who were asked to help reorganize the training program.

Those who actually did have a better way of doing things (and there were a few) were encour¬aged to contribute. If their ideas were unfeasible, management explained why and encouraged the supervisors to adopt the methods now presented to new employees. The supervisors are now reinforcing the training program instead of undermining it. They feel they have helped in the program’s construction and have an interest in its execution.

Mutual satisfaction
The questionnaire ended on a posi¬tive note: “Is there a way to please both the new trainee and the man¬agement?” One hundred percent of the employees answered affirmatively.

Most said that management and the trainee both wanted the same thing—a well-trained and productive employee. Some said attitude was the key factor to mutual contentment: The trainer should feel his job is impor¬tant, and the trainee must .want to learn what he is being taught. One employee said that both management and the new trainee should be pleased if the trainee is paid his or her worth and management gets the work it pays for.

It is now a given at Speed’s Koffee Shops, Inc., that the employee questionnaire is the single most important tool in helping management discern the strengths and weaknesses in its training program. Without its help in pinpointing problem areas, manage¬ment would have been forced to rely on a trial-and-error system of readjusting a basically sound program. Speed’s has made a great many changes based on the suggestions of the employees. Only time will tell if all the changes and additions were the right ones.

Source : Training Magazine August 1978

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