Jim had taken a special interest in PLCs and had shown a remarkable aptitude for solving PLC-related problems. His supervisor noted, “He’s got several of his own books on it and keeps wanting PLC training.”
The company’s customer base has plenty of PLCs, but the company policy is that all employees get the same training. This is based on the common wisdom, expressed on a wall poster, “Anyone can do anything, if they get the training and apply themselves.”
Because Jim already has completed the PLC track, his training this year will focus on where he is weak. That area is basically mechanical, so he’ll go to a hydraulics class and also take a general mechanics course.
This situation is typical in many firms.
People often are weak in an area for reasons that training cannot fix. Using limited resources to try to fix that weakness wastes those resources and frustrates the employee. Different people have different aptitudes; people are not interchangeable parts. But you could hardly tell that from the policies of many companies.
What you want to do instead is identify where people are strong and then provide a structured training program to make them even stronger in those areas. Make use of their natural and existing competencies, and use training to improve in those areas.
By taking this approach, you get much more bang for your training buck. The training is more effective for the trainee, and you avoid the demotivation that comes when workers are trained in something they don’t have the aptitude to do well.
There are a few areas in which all employees should receive training, such as are core job training areas. Safety is a core area, but note that the degree of safety training (and course content) varies by employee responsibility. Some employees will need specific training that others do not, depending upon the task to be performed and other factors.
Don’t use training as an excuse for sloppy hiring. Hire people who have the basic aptitudes and attitudes you need, then use training to elevate them from “good” to “excellent” in those areas.
The typical hiring practices focus on identifying credentials rather than abilities. How many times have you been burned by this? Always give a practical test if you’re hiring people to do practical work. This will help you to sort the low-aptitude people from the high-aptitude people. For example if your prospective hire for a mechanic job can’t identify a 10mm socket just by looking at it, you probably shouldn’t hire that person.
If your people interact with customers, then communication training would probably help them do that better. Employees with poor social skills shouldn’t be interacting with your customers. Training isn’t going to help them, so don’t hire such people for that kind of work. Such people may be well-suited for many other kinds of work environments.
Put people in jobs where they can naturally shine, then train them to shine brilliantly.