Skills need to be transferred

TRAINING and development programs as usually practised do not always produce the goods.

This is because training and development are seen as being synonymous with courses and transfer to the job of skills actually learned does not occur.

Why is it that many people cannot do what “courses” have supposedly trained and developed them to do or to be what courses have said they should be?

This paradox is associated with the fact that it is extremely difficult to transfer course learned knowledge, skills and attitudes to the work place. The paradox is particularly evident in supervisor and manager training and development courses where the material taught is much more conceptual and much less tangible than technical skills training. The idea that managerial expertise can be “transmitted” needs to be abandoned.

The basic cause of the transfer failure is related to a number of factors, the main ones being:

l The individual learner’s needs at a particular point in time have not been identified - at worst people are sent on courses in the hope that “it will make them better performers” or “it will do them no harm”, and at the best they are sent with a more specific aim such as “to give them better communication skills” - still a rather vague objective unless one is much clearer about what aspects of communication need to be learned and how these aspects relate to the actual job in which the individual is involved.

l The course on offer has been designed to cater for as wide an audience as possible within a particular organisational level and is thus general, theoretical and designer focused rather than learner focused. Even with practical simulation exercises included such courses learning is difficult to transfer to particular situations. The learning has occurred in a vacuum as it were.

Very little is done to help learners with the task of transfer itself. Often the learner is sent off with little or no preparation and no idea of what the course is meant to achieve or what he or she is expected to do upon return to the job.

Because designers do not know the specifics of each learner’s job or organisation, the best they can do is leave it to the learners to develop their own action plan as a result of the course.

The plans developed at the end of courses can be over optimistic and organisationally unachievable and are usually forgotten and rarely get revisited once the realities of the job take over.

Unless the organisation is receptive to the newly-trained people being given the opportunity to practise new skills then transfer will not occur. Organisations are renowned for absorbing and crushing innovation and individual attempts at changing behaviour unless the total organisation is committed to innovation and change - from the top down.

Much more effort should be made to ensure that on the job learning is given a higher priority than courses and that transfer is assisted and encouraged if courses are used.

l Roger C. Smith is director, International Programs, UWA

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