Workforce development has evolved from quick verbal conversations wedged between production downtimes into mature programs over the last several decades. These programs incorporate custom, industry-specific content, adult learning sciences and interactive technology to engage the learners. Comprehension is measured and documented in ways that meet the criteria of customers, auditors and regulators alike.

Today’s robust training programs include the identification of training objectives, development of content, delivery of content and trending of data for continuous improvement.

New hires and temporary employees are trained prior to their first day on the manufacturing floor to help ingrain expectations and requirements keeping employees safe on the job while they produce products that continually conform to specification. Refresher training is prevalent and conducted at regular intervals and/or in response to a nonconformity or workplace incident.  All of these improvements in onboarding and continuous education of front line employees should result in productive, efficient and engaged workforces.

However, a 2013 Gallup poll reports that 70 percent of the U.S. workforce is not engaged or actively disengaged directly resulting in more workplace accidents, more quality defects and decreased productivity.

And although workforce development has made some great strides, there’s more to employee engagement than just training programs. Training employees on the how and the why is critical in driving knowledge comprehension, safe behaviors and employee engagement.

However, training and education in and of itself is not the only driver of organizational culture. People are creatures of habit and effective employee training and education must include additional elements to encourage the application of that knowledge through the formation of new workplace habits and behaviors.

Remember the last time you reorganized your desk? How many times did you go to the wrong drawer after you moved the paper clips? You knew where you moved them but it took a while to break the old habit and form a new one. Understanding that aspect of human nature demonstrates that current training practices (knowledge exchange) are not enough. The learner must also being encouraged and then required to put into practice (change behavior) what has been taught.

Building an effective training and education platform

The first is an awareness campaign immediately following or in conjunction with training content delivery to keep the topics top of mind.

The use of posters, short videos, messaging for meetings, continuous feed videos in the employee break room to reiterate and highlight the training message, are just a few examples of how to use visual prompts and reminders. This sets and reinforces the expectation that front line employees need to convert what has been learned into actual practice.

Supervisors and managers provide an additional and important part of this campaign through verbal communication and messaging when conducting huddle meetings, shift hand-off meetings and in daily interactions with front line workers. They provide the conduit that again reinforces the expectation by talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk. Management that does not practice what they teach will certainly negate all of the hard work that has been put into any thorough training and education program.

The second step (molding employee behavior) consists of observation and reinforcement. The adage, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” is true in many ways. Old habits become ingrained, especially if “we’ve always done it this way”. Managers, supervisors and department heads can help to break those old habits by observing employees at work and providing constructive feedback.

The operative word here is constructive. It’s important that feedback be delivered so it feels like a gift not a punishment. Recognizing those that are applying what they have been taught is as important as providing correction for those that have regressed into old habits. Effective feedback recognizes the current behavior (good or bad) and explains the consequence of that behavior. Remember that “stop” or, “don’t do that,” do not effectively provide feedback. Also, “please” and “thank you,” while showing good manners, are also not effective.

Praise or correction must call out the behavior and explain the positive or negative consequence. Remembering that people just want to feel good about what they do every day will help to keep those corrective conversations constructive. The graph shown below is from a 2013 study detailing how important observation and corrective feedback is to the learning and adoption of new practices.

Observation and Feedback

Training is a key driver in employee engagement and by adding awareness and corrective observations to existing training and education programs employee behaviors can be modified driving consistency, safety, productivity and standardization across an organization.

It’s time for training professionals to take it to the next level by not just creating and delivering content. But, rather keeping content top of mind through awareness. Coaching employees using observations and constructive feedback is key, as well as, recognizing and praising good behaviors.

Helping your employees feel good about the work they perform each day through knowledge and application will payback handsomely in engaging a workforce, increasing productivity, decreasing quality issues, reducing turnover and creating a safe working environment for all.