Education Revisited

What do we want to achieve with the education of our workers?

Oct 1st, 2010

What do we want to achieve with the education of our workers?

By Paul Hull, Contributing Editor

What is the goal of a good education? Is it a certificate to be framed in an 8-by-10 plastic frame and hanging slightly lopsided on the office wall? Is it a credit that our neighbor may not have? Is it achieving something that everybody (whoever that is) said we should have? Or does a good education prepare us to be skilled, honest, caring employees and citizens?

In the world of work where most of us reside, training and education are basically the same. How often have you said that you really don't understand television, cell phones or computers–you just use them? We don't have to understand how television gives us a picture from the other side of the world; we evaluate the picture's usefulness or interest. It's the same with the equipment used by utilities. We don't have to understand the engineering details of the design; the rules of metallurgy involved; or the intimate efficiencies of a particular boom, chassis or engine design. We should, however, know how much a machine is capable of doing for us, what it can do for its operator and even how much money it can make each hour it operates. If we don't use our machines to do what they are designed for, we are throwing away money on their purchase or rental. That's what training and education address–helping us understand what we are operating. The value is immeasurable and immediate. Knowing and using the capabilities of our utility equipment and tools can help us accomplish the job more quickly, more efficiently and more profitably. Well-trained employees are as helpful as any cost-cutting plan you can find.

Before allowing anyone to operate your equipment, you must be sure he or she knows what to do and what not to do. Correctly trained workers help ensure profitable and safe operations–assuming the trainers know what they are doing and teaching. Efficient instructors are as important as dedicated, motivated students.

All training and technologies don't necessarily imply extensive new vocabularies for owners and employees; that would frighten many workers and their bosses. Some experts in today's technologies have dozens of buzzwords, initials, and even have invented words and phrases to convince us they are the experts and we the lesser beings. The practical results of education and training are employees who produce more, earn more (for their bosses and themselves) and want to stay with you. Think back to school. Your best teachers were those who taught you something worthwhile, not those who demonstrated how smart and accomplished they were.

Our first education or training began when we were tiny children. It involved eating, drinking, standing, walking, toilet training and communicating. All education and training involves understanding, and that usually involves talking and reading, questions and answers. The first educational questions for utility employees are:

  • Do they understand what is being said to them?
  • Can they read the language of the training exercises if they are written?
  • Are they confident enough to ask questions?

The language of training is a technology, one that must be understood by the learners to be of any practical use. A high percentage of today's workers don't speak English as their first language; that does not mean they are unintelligent. Some of them are our best workers, so we want to keep them. Do they understand your training programs (from books, tapes or simulators)? Some manufacturers have manuals in Spanish and other languages–could that be a useful training technology for you?

Never underestimate the value of the help you can receive from manufacturers and their representatives. Whether it's a hand tool or a sophisticated software program, some of the best education will be available from those who made it.

Attitudes to Education and Training

Why are so many employees cynical about training? Were their schooldays so bad? Are their trainers inept and boring? Do they understand the benefits of work education? Is the training planned and prepared to address the issues and help the employees–or is it something the trainer does for his or her own satisfaction or because he or she has been told to do it to meet the law? Let's repeat the basic premise. The key question in all training sessions, whether for field-workers, office workers or managers, is: Do they understand what we are teaching? Throwing money at training does not automatically produce good results, but throwing the right words may work very well. Do your trainees actually understand what you are saying? If you are training in English, do they understand English? Can they read written instructions? Can they read the manual? Can they read any language? Do they understand cultural feelings and habits you have known all your life (and you assume everyone else has, too)? The first rule of training, perhaps, should be that the people who are listening should know what you are talking about.

There are colleges, institutes and other organizations that offer excellent training or further education for your workers, who usually must have access to and understand computers. Sometimes the learning occurs in two places–at a job site and at a distance. You can learn theoretical basics at home, for example, then spend time with the equipment at a specially prepared training ground. One reason workers might not understand manuals or instructions is because of lack of exposure to them.

You cannot assume someone who can play football, baseball, basketball or war on a video game or computer is computer literate enough to follow written or spoken instructions for equipment and job training on a computer.

Training also involves testing. Frequent checking or testing to see what has been learned and what needs revision is very helpful. Computer-based programs can offer much because their speed and accuracy in calculations are unbeatable. No one is faster or more accurate than a computer.

And don't forget local regulations! Repeat–don't forget local regulations. An important facet of good education is making all employees (including you) aware of laws and regulations that apply to their work. For many projects an adequate knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations and regulations is vital. You can find programs that give you different, advanced OSHA certifications, but there are some procedures everyone on-site should know, especially if the site in question presents difficulties such as confined spaces or restricted access. OSHA rules are not just the government's interfering; they are sensible and for the benefit of everyone, including you. Knowing how to prevent accidents, knowing what to do if an accident happens, understanding rules for protective wear (not only hardhats) and being able to spot potential electrical hazards are all skills every on-site worker should know. Utility work has its own dangers; you know what they are from your own experience. Training and education tell your workers what those dangers are. For the safety of your workers, your equipment, and everything and everyone at a job site, safety is the most important aspect of training and education.

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