The adult learner: Training your labor force

March 13, 2007
By: Phil Evans

Training programs enhance worker skills, encourage employee/employer loyalty, and help reduce employee turnover. This article defines what is important to an adult learner, describes the different types of adult learners, and details the components of an effective training program. It also discusses trainer requisites.

Manufacturing training image

Life is exciting, and employment can be exciting when you are mentally prepared for your job. I believe the lost trait of employee/employer loyalty can be reborn if employers and employees share in daily activities, such as the training process so valued in the past, i.e., apprenticeships. Many of the problems industries face today center around poorly educated and trained employees.

Training is an obvious first step toward lower employee turnover. Although some workers never are satisfied, no matter what, when employees feel they are valuable to a company, leaving is a decision that becomes less and less a personal need.

We can enjoy life only when we have enough knowledge to understand day-to-day challenges. Preparing for challenges is the main purpose of an education. Company-sponsored training programs have proven themselves in the past; it's time to let them prove themselves again.

Everything about business and industry today is exponentially different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. Teaching and training adults (post-high-school individuals) also is different, especially if several years have passed since the adult's school "dazes." It's amazing how life experiences affect us.

Teaching and Training

Teaching means to communicate skills or knowledge, to verbally give instruction. Training is to show or demonstrate an activity or performance of a skill.

Why teach and train employees? To give them knowledge and skills (tools) for future use in making a valued decision (not necessarily right or wrong) and to communicate. Making mistakes ispart of the learning. You learn nothing if it's done perfectly every time.

Creating the proper environment is essential to the learning process. The shop floor inhibits concentration. Work-in-progress and running equipment easily can distract the student's attention away from the topic at hand, whatever the interest level. It's not enough just to present the material. The way it is presented determines success or failure.

The program must be progressive, starting with the basics and leading to the level of expertise. Don't assume all students are starting with the same basic skills. Begin teaching at the lowest necessary level, which can be identified with verbal or written pretests.

After a period of instruction, take time to verify that the students understand the material. Conduct an informal question and answer session, followed by a brief quiz before continuing. Adhere to this process at program intervals in graduated stages.

A couple of things to keep in mind are: (1) the learning program can last a couple of hours or be a full-blown apprenticeship that may last a couple of years; (2) none of us were born and programmed with the knowledge and values we need in life. That information must be learned and processed.

Critical Components

Four main steps comprise any teaching and training session:

  1. Preparation—Be prepared; provide detailed instructions laid out in a defined order.
  2. Presentation—Present the learning objective clearly and effectively; communicate what is going to be learned and why.
  3. Interaction—Interact with the participants; listen and respond with empathy, and rephrase for clarity.
  4. Evaluation—Solicit feedback and conduct a group evaluation.

An effective program involves three steps: First, tell the students what you are going to tell them. Second, as the session progresses, tell them what you said you were going to tell them. Third, in concluding the teaching session, tell the students what you told them (reinforcement).

What's Important to the Adult Learner?

Among the factors that are important to adult learners are:

  1. The purpose of the training: "Why am I here?"
  2. How the training relates to the job: "What does this mean to my job?"
  3. The opportunity to practice: "Can I do that?"

Learner Types

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, adult students are somewhat different from high school students. Once out of high school, we all develop our own personal learning traits based on life experiences.

The four types of learners are:

  1. Commonsense learner—needs to practice concepts and integrate them into experience.
  2. Dynamic learner—likes to teach himself and share what he has learned with others. (This person is very important on the shop floor, and his learning is reinforced every time he passes the information along.)
  3. Innovative learner—needs to know the reason for learning and to find personal meaning in the instructions. (This must be done by the instructor in a courteous and respectful manner. We all learn differently.)
  4. Analytical learner—needs the information to be provided and integrated, reflecting on concepts with application analysis. This also must be done respectfully.

Positive Reinforcement

Recognize learners for their comments, contributions, attention, and thoughts. Doing so helps motivate the learner, builds mutual respect and makes learning fun.

Reinforce and compliment behavior you want to be repeated, as soon as it happens.

Become a coach. Coaching is providing positive instruction and training. Coaching is always being aware of and on the lookout for special performance. Special, positive performance is a direct indication that the session was successful. Learning has occurred.

Being an effective coach requires two extremely important personal traits: communication skills and a profound expertise of the subject matter. These two traits foster creditability and respect.

Obviously, no one person can be an expert in all facets of industrial manufacturing, such as safety, machining, welding, painting, or math. Don't hesitate to call on suppliers for training assistance. They should have enough expertise to get the job done. A possible stumbling block might be their teaching skills. Tech schools and trade schools often contract out their services.

Make every effort to secure the best-qualified trainers. If you invest in training, don't stumble on the intended outcome.

The difference between success and failure—only time will tell. Who do you promote? Only the cream will float to the top.

Phil Evans

Contributing Writer
54309 Jamie Drive.
Callahan, FL 32011-7628