There was a time when the profession of choice was either a doctor or an engineer. Then there was the ‘banking boom’ which brought an influx of MBA’s into the corporate world. Then, the technological revolution caused a shift in the favored major. Recently however, there is a propensity for ‘trainers’ to mushroom.
One of the reasons for that is there are really no entry barriers to this profession in Pakistan and the value of certified trainers is almost non-existent. The notion is that if one can speak relatively well, is adept at internet research, is confident and has attended some workshops (or not!), one is well equipped to venture into the corporate world as a trainer.
One of my biggest woes as a training professional is that ‘train’ and ‘entertain’ are too often considered synonyms. Trainers often fall into what is called the ‘amusement trap’. In the words of Wali Zahid, one of the most respected trainers of our industry, “the dividing line between trivia and training activity, and training and entertaining is blurred.”
The client is also not very demanding or, for that matter, discerning. If the trainer is able to entertain the attendees throughout the session and receive a good feedback on the ‘happy sheets’, he/she is usually considered to be a great trainer; but nothing can be further from the truth. Engaging the participants in singing songs and wiggling bottoms is perhaps rather entertaining and does not involve much thought. Just to be clear, nowhere am I advocating that workshops shouldn’t be fun; I am only just stating that the definition of fun must be in harmony with the goals and objectives of the training and that learning should not be sacrificed at the altar of ‘fun’.
A training programme’s real worth can only be judged based on the lasting value it is able to create. The training should be designed to address the needs and the objectives of the organisation. Having said that, fun activities should be incorporated with a focus to develop the skills and/or knowledge of the trainees.
One of my pet peeves as a trainer is that even though learning theories have evolved, some of my fellow trainers are using training models that were relevant in the 1980’s or 1990’s with dull and boring PowerPoint presentations, following rules like 7 words per bullet and 7 bullets per slide. With the information overload in our lives and access to virtually every word ever printed and every thought ever articulated, the Gen Y’s need to be targeted in a different manner with a focus on visual design in the slide deck. As David Ogilvy famously
quipped, “most people use PowerPoint like a drunk uses a lamppost - for support rather than for illumination.” Training workshops should go beyond the Google offering and integrate active learning strategies in content design. Trainers should focus on engaging participants in activities such as discussions, or problem-solving activities that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the content.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we as trainers face is making an impact. I mean a real, measurable return on investment, and being able to prove that after we’ve gone. What hinders that is primarily a failure to follow through learning beyond an event or course. In the prevailing climate of data and metrics, one ought to be able to gauge the impact of the training and make adjustments accordingly, rather than provide the same cookie cutter solution to one and sundry, irrespective of the industry, size and objectives.
The organisation also fails to communicate the value of learning and development to the employees. Too often, other urgent tasks or priorities seem to take precedence. It’s a challenge to get learners to actively participate without being called away for urgent phone calls and meetings. Once that bridge is crossed, the bigger issue is that the tools, processes and resources back at the workplace do not support what has been communicated during the workshop nor are the employees supplemented with the right performance metrics and feedback processes. The value of training is often not realised and if the organisation wants to bring about lasting change, then the same message should be communicated across the board and lived and breathed in daily activities, rather than be used as a perfunctory workshop packet of information merely to mark man hours spent in training or to meet the budget underspend.
Lastly (even though I have many more lamentations), in this era of paperless environments, why, oh, why do the clients insist on handouts and printed material? Their justification is that participants need to take something back with them, even though I can bet my life that these very handbooks merely gather dust on some book shelf, never to be referred to again.