Is Practical Training Practicable?

Is Practical Training Practicable? is an article covering the importance of practical training for mobile equipment operator training, such as forklifts.

Consider the meaning of the following two words and keep them in mind as you read this:

  1. Practical – consisting of, involving, or resulting from practice or action: a practical application of a rule. Synonyms: pragmatic, judicious, sensible. Antonyms: ill-advised, unwise, foolish.
  2. Practicable - capable of being done, effected, or put into practice, with the available means; feasible: a practicable solution. Synonyms: workable, achievable, attainable. Antonym: unfeasible.

I came across an all too familiar situation at a Trainer Recertification Program I delivered recently. As I went around the room asking each trainer what sort of challenges they faced in delivering operator training programs at their workplaces, I came across two experienced trainers, let’s call them John and Jane, who worked for different locations of the same company.

When I asked John what challenges he faced he said, “Time. I spend so much time retraining people that do fine in the classroom but fall flat on their face on the practical driving test. My boss is on my back to get it done and I just can’t seem to.” At this point Jane piped in, “I have the same problem, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done so I have to rush, then people fail and I have to spend even more time.”

I asked if it was possible to stretch the training into another day. “No” was their simultaneous answer accompanied by knowing nods of agreement and muffled laughter from others in the room.

When I asked if the unsuccessful trainees were beginner operators, they said that it happens about the same amount with beginner and experienced operators. I then tried to see if they had noticed any common errors between trainees that would indicate they could be missing something in their training.

“Not really,” Jane said. “Usually it’s things like look behinds, lowering before traveling and mast tilt while loading and unloading… But there are different things too,” John added.

“Those types of issues usually present themselves very early during practical training. How much time do you spend on that?” I asked.

“Well,” John began, “I tell everybody what they need to do driving-wise right after I show them how to do the inspection. Then I get on the machine and show them what I want them to do.” (Big mistake but more on that in another article.)

I followed by up asking how much practice time they gave their trainees with the machine before evaluating them.

“Well most of them are experienced and don’t need any practice, but I’ll give the rookies a little time for practice. Besides, I’m already spending too much time trying to get it done,” John replied. Nods of agreement from Jane and others in the room.

“OK, I think I see what’s happening here.”

The trouble with John and Jane’s operator “training” program is that it is missing its most vital component, practical training. They are going from the classroom to the machine and getting nothing more than a demonstration of what is expected of them before being asked to demonstrate it themselves during the course of an evaluation. The practical training time in which trainees are given the opportunity to practice the necessary skills is being completely bypassed. As such, trainee operators are practicing while being evaluated, doing poorly, and being identified as being in need of ‘further’ training. Then the trainer needs to back up, retrain and then re-evaluate. Of course they are running out of time!

If John and Jane had spent the time up front on practical training and moved trainees along to practical evaluations only after they were able to demonstrate the skills necessary to be successful, they would not have to waste all their time going back to do what should have been done in the first place. The practical training portion of an operator training program is that most precious and critical time in which the trainee can practice operating the machine and physically apply what they learned in the classroom. This is also the time that the trainer gets to be a trainer by interacting with trainees to ensure their new knowledge becomes evident in their behavior and can coach and correct as required. When the trainer observes a level of operational competence that is needed to successfully complete an evaluation, then and only then is it time to move on to the practical evaluation stage.

With experienced operators, this stage could be reached very quickly depending on how easily such operators are able to drop old habits and adapt. With beginners it will take longer depending on the skill level required for the specific tasks encountered at a specific workplace.

Let’s circle back to John and Jane’s challenge of the lack of time to “get it done” in context with the two words I asked you to consider and keep in mind as you read this article. John and Jane were not giving their trainees enough time to practice their operating skills before evaluating them and failed to identify this as the reason that so many of them were unsuccessful. They also mistakenly believed that allocating time for trainees to practice would only exacerbate their time shortage problem even though they both felt the problem stemmed from the necessity to spend so much time retraining people following unsuccessful evaluations. In short, John and Jane felt that practical training was impracticable when by its very definition, it can’t be. Practical training has to be practicable because without it, no training program exists.

Rob Vetter
Director of Training
IVES Training Group

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