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Train the trainer program – passing on key knowledge

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email
There are always questions about the return on investment for training.
I was at an event with industry and educators once and a gentleman from a college spoke of an exchange with an employer who asked, “what if I train them and they leave?”  
The educator’s response?  “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”  
When training is provided, there is good information for those who attend, but passing that knowledge on to other employees, whether they are experienced, new to the position or new to the company, is also important.  The need for documentation is key, as is the need to 
have the person or persons within your company who have the expertise — share it with others.   
The question was, how can we assist companies become more self- sufficient and keep the sharing of important technical and other relevant information moving to current and new employees. WMC was very fortunate to have a company to work with on this initiative. West Brothers Furniture, located in Hanover, Ont. has manufactured high quality, sustainable solid wood furniture for more than two decades. They were looking at these same questions internally in order to find a way to benefit from internal expertise. They were ready and willing to participate actively in the development and piloting/implementation of such a program.  Adam Hofmann, ONE F AND TWO N’s Inc., who is acting as a consultant to West Brothers Furniture on business development, training, and other projects, was the key player on the development of the program.
The result of the effort is the WMC Train the Trainer program, which identifies what managers, supervisors and other leaders need to know about training their production workforce.  This certificate program is practical and specifically designed for use in wood manufacturing companies in the real world.  It is not just a theoretical program, as it focuses on what happens before, during and after the delivery of the training.  
The challenge for West Brothers and other companies is that with a high number of employees retiring over the next five years comes increased demand on managers, supervisors and other skilled employees to train and develop new employees to take on the highly skilled jobs.
Companies are faced with increasing competition from firms throughout the world. Costs are increasing in many areas of operating a business, for such things as energy, materials, transportation, taxes and labour. Newer employees with less experience and skills have a greater chance of making errors, resulting in wasted materials, as well as labour and production delays. As a key component of their plan to overcome these challenges, West Brothers Furniture is making an investment in their managers, supervisors and other lead employees to support their effort to increase the capability and performance of the company.
They reviewed various options to increase the performance of their workforce and what they recognized is that they have most of the necessary skills in-house. The need was to organize their effort and provide additional tools for their employees to use. To carry out their plan, a Train the Trainer facilitator and other technical experts provide additional tools and skills for their current leaders, who are performing and/or overseeing most of the on-the-job training for new and existing employees.
For companies, the benefits of implementing the Train the Trainer system can include increased productivity, reduced material and labour waste, and increased quality. Having a higher skilled workforce improves productivity and lowers costs, resulting in an overall stronger wood manufacturing company. A stronger company can share the benefits with employees through increased wages, improved working conditions and increased job satisfaction. Job security increases through skills enhancement, cross- training and flexibility for each employee. Each of us would likely agree that when we know our jobs well, feel productive, produce high quality results and are recognized for it, we have a better chance of being satisfied.
What are the learning objectives for the employees (those who will become the trainers)? They learn the basics of adult learning theory, gain a foundation in conducting a needs assessment, and learn to develop learning objectives and how to evaluate the impact of their training initiatives. They also learn and apply the methodology in delivering essential skills and various technical job/machine/process specific training for wood manufacturing employees. They learn and apply effective training techniques for 
engaging a variety of learning styles, create an effective 
and positive learning environment and manage unique challenges that can occur when training employees on the job. They also develop engaging training solutions that are learner-centered.
Trainees in the program complete the Train the Trainer self-assessment and read the course materials, as well as any other specific information being covered. They attend classroom-training sessions and interact and learn with other participants. As the training progresses, they apply their Train the Trainer skills and bring back their examples/experiences to share with the other participants. Support is provided for this on the job portion of the Train the Trainer program by a WMC facilitator.
The end result? After the program, certified trainers will be able to apply adult learning concepts and develop supportive climates to apply training tools in the manufacturing environment. This enables just-in-time learning, as a key approach to training new and existing employees.  
The trainers can use existing work documents, and assist in the development of new work instructions, procedures and operation manuals to support the training. The goal is to have them train new and existing employees on understanding their job requirements to ensure that parts and products are made to specifications and quality requirements. The Train the Trainer course includes numerous hands-on activities and when completed, each successful participant is given a certificate indicating that they are now a Wood Manufacturing Council Certified Trainer. In my next column, I will look at some of the specific experiences and observations from West Brothers, as the company 
highly involved in the development of the program and the first ones to roll it out.

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