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Save by Growing Your Own Trainers

August 28, 2002
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Basic Skills Training, Training Technology, Featured Article
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The Federal Aviation Administration faced a serious, potentially disastrousproblem. The agency discovered in the late 1990s that unscrupulous suppliers ofaviation parts were selling unapproved and sometimes faulty components that didn’tmeet government standards for aircraft manufacturers. Incredibly, some offshoresuppliers were even repackaging parts taken from crash sites and reselling themas new.

The crisis reached national proportions when CBS television’s 60 Minutesnews magazine broadcast a story on the issue. Clearly, the FAA needed to quicklytrain its personnel to spot suspected unapproved parts. The department hadtraditionally relied on outside vendors to create and deliver training. But thistime it had insufficient funds. To further complicate matters, the organizationdidn’t have internal trainers to deliver material that an outside vendor mightcreate.

The FAA’s situation is one that often occurs during difficult economictimes: How do companies continue to train their employees when they can nolonger afford the services of professional training organizations? Duringeconomic downturns, training resources are usually among the first casualties,leaving internal groups scrambling to provide training in critical areas.

FAA officials knew that using contract vendors gave them more flexibility.Now, without the budget to hire outside trainers exclusively, the group neededanother solution.

Certifying internal trainers
The agency chose to do what many government and corporate trainingorganizations have done for years: combine the training and instructional designexpertise of an outside organization with internal experts prepped to teach thematerial.

Brattle Systems, a company based in Arlington, Massachusetts, that createscustom training programs for both the classroom and the Web, consulted withinternal experts to design a course that could be delivered all over thecountry, something they’d done many times for the agency. What was differentin this case was that Brattle personnel showed FAA employees how to train, gavethem an opportunity to practice their skills, and then certified them. To ensuresuccess, Brattle staff members went on the road with novice FAA trainers for thefirst 17 weeks of the course, observed them in the classroom, and providedcoaching.

While train-the-trainer programs are certainly not new, some organizationsignore one serious challenge that they present. Designing a curriculumconstitutes an essential element in any education initiative, but it’s equallyimportant to ensure that those delivering the material can do so competently.Some managers, reluctant to part with their most valued employees, respond to acall for internal trainers by deploying either a very inexperienced person, suchas a new hire, or a problem employee, choices that can damage the program’scredibility.

“You get some people in the group who just shouldn’t be teaching,” saysJim Hassett, Brattle president. “They don’t know how to communicate and insome cases don’t care to learn. One thing that separates projects that workwell and those that haven’t is the client’s willingness to fail some people.In some organizations, with all the politics involved, they won’t do that.”


“It is important to develop a really good certification process sothat you don’t just give people a train-the-trainer session.You force them to pass something before you let them out into the real world.In that way, these new teachers prove that they know the content and that theycan teach it effectively.”

He has learned from experience that any certification process must berigorous. “It is important to develop a really good certification process sothat you don’t just give people a train-the-trainer session,” Hassett says.“You force them to pass something before you let them out into the real world.In that way, these new teachers prove that they know the content and that theycan teach it effectively.”

Brant Slade, a consultant with Oliver Wight Americas, a New London, NewHampshire-based company, would go even further. His company provides high-levelconsulting and training services to major manufacturing companies to help themradically improve their processes. Recently, the company developed a license andcertification program that offers customers significant cost-savings along withthe ability to develop internal expertise.

“Some companies take people who are simply available,” Slade says. “Butyou need someone with leadership skills, good communication ability, who’sfairly aggressive and who can work well with various levels of management. Theyneed to be willing to invest the time to study, practice, and take feedback. Ialways tell senior people, ‘Pick your stars for these programs.’ ”

Creating internal expertise
While cost is usually the top reason that companies shift totrain-the-trainer options, developing internal expertise is a close second. Infact, when companies can build a cadre of internal experts, they can reducetheir dependency on outside consultants and, ultimately, lower costs.

Solutia, a specialty chemicals company in St. Louis with $3 billion in annualsales and more than 10,000 employees, engaged Oliver Wight consultants to helpthe company lower its inventories, improve customer service, increaseproductivity, and gain better overall control of its operations. The consultantstypically use a combination of training and on-site coaching to help companiesachieve these goals.

After implementing SAP software, Solutia discovered that when the consultantswho had installed the system left, they took their expertise with them. As aresult, users weren’t getting the full benefit of this complex ERP program. Todiminish their future dependence on outside consultants, managers at Solutiadecided to purchase a license from Oliver Wight that would enable the company todevelop certified instructors, coaches, and assessors internally instead ofdepending on outside consultants.

“We felt we could leverage a one-shot expense with Oliver Wight and createtheir expertise in our own people,” says Bob Howard, Solutia’s director ofsupply chain optimization. “Those people then would provide the sustainabilitywithin the organization and within our financial means.”

Oliver Wight board chairman Jim Correll says that the company sets a high barfor certification, since the people they train will become internal versions oftheir own consultants. The process for training trainers resembles BrattleSystems’. First, an Oliver Wight consultant conducts a class with theprospective instructors, arming them with materials such as PowerPoint programswith the notes included. Then, they review the information in greater detail,highlighting the key points and reviewing the instructor notes. Finally, eachnew instructor presents the material and is critiqued.

Slade says the critique can be pretty rough, but it’s always constructive.“We try to help them learn to be good presenters, as well as being able tounderstand and teach our material.”

The method for choosing instructors is another critical factor in the successof the program. “We not only looked at their functional background, but alsotried to choose people who were recognized by others within the company as beingestablished experts with professional credibility,” Howard says.

Achieving certification represented an attractive perk for company managersat Solutia. They saw it as an opportunity to develop professionally andappreciated the prestige of gaining it.

Training master trainers
Another approach to maximizing training dollars involves creating completeinternal expertise. Tenet Healthcare Corporation, a nationwide provider ofhealth-care services, owns or operates 116 acute-care hospitals and relatedbusinesses, and employs about 113,000 people in 17 states. The Santa Barbara,California-based company engaged Development Dimensions International to providesupervisory and leadership training to improve employee retention.

“The number-one reason people leave an organization is dissatisfaction withtheir supervisor,” says Jim Concelman, DDI’s manager of leadershipdevelopment. “Tenet recognized that they didn’t have consistent qualityfrontline, first-level, and second-level leadership for people in theorganization. We worked with them to put together a curriculum tailored to theirparticular needs. They are now in the process of training 10,000 supervisors.”

Tenet says that the cost of using an outside vendor to provide such trainingto each of its facilities was prohibitive. The company opted to have DDI notonly instruct trainers but also certify master facilitators who could pass alongtheir skills. Tenet’s vice president of learning services, Norma Resneder,describes this as a waterfall approach, with training trickling down throughoutthe organization. “We actually trained four or five master facilitators whocould train within,” she says.

Resneder feels that their approach not only saved the company money but alsohelped individual trainers take ownership of the training. It became theirproduct. DDI is now helping Tenet set up a mentoring program called TenetLeaders who will serve as an internal resource for advice or counseling.

Companies save money
The bottom line here is, well, the bottom line. Approaches such astrain-the-trainer or certification clearly save companies money. Largecorporations such as Solutia, for example, saved millions of dollars.

But when calculating whether using internal trainers pays off or not,organizations must consider all costs and not just those of hiring an outsidevendor. They should account for the time lost when managers or supervisors teacha class instead of doing their regular work. They might also have to hire moreemployees. Some companies add teaching to regular work, which can result inlower productivity and morale problems.

Concelman says the real question is this: “Does an organization want topull somebody whose primary job is, for example, clinical education, away fromclinical education part-time to do leadership training, or does it want to takehighly skilled people who are dedicated to doing nothing but training anddevelopment and specialize in leadership development and have them trainingemployees?”

It’s a valuable question that each organization must answer. In toughereconomic times, however, some organizations have very little choice. 

  Workforce, September 2002, pp. 44-48 -- Subscribe Now!

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