How to make sure training is actually benefiting your company

Dr Ahmad Badr, CEO, Knowledge Group provides a stark training reality check for corporations

Dr Ahmad Badr, CEO, Knowledge Group.
Dr Ahmad Badr, CEO, Knowledge Group.

If you lead any sort of team in the oil and gas sector, it’s a near certainty that you’ve spent more hours than you’d probably like worrying about the return on investment (ROI) of your training efforts. Negative past experience might have made you cynical that bold, seemingly unsubstantiated statements about “energised, enabled employees” will come actually true, and the possible costs involved might make you baulk at even thinking about investing at all.

Whether the aim is preparing staff for complex digital oilfield management, or building supply chain employees’ knowledge of the latest processes, too many organisations end up viewing the need for training as a grim necessity.

The reason that training initiatives often fail nearly always comes down to something very simple indeed: a company didn’t spend the time necessary to really think about what they actually need, and they didn’t identify the right approach to reach their goals.

That sounds simple to articulate but is manifestly more understandable in a business setting. The energy sector as whole moves rapidly - whether you’re talking in terms of new technology or the talent you need to run it - and individual organisations must continuously jostle to keep up with developments. While it’s relatively straightforward to install a new software system, upgrading your human capital resources can often seem far more challenging. Getting an individual to learn something, and getting a group of employees to a level of consistent understanding, can seem a far more ethereal aim.

The Quick Fix

The natural reaction to this is that a business will often choose whatever training programme seems to tick the most boxes. As a result, they might pick a tried-and-tested training solution that has proven useful elsewhere, or they might choose something that seems to cover a lot of ground, reasoning that throwing enough training material towards employees will surely mean some of it sticks.

This approach rarely works. For sure, you will have some high-performing employees who will excel in any programme, taking from it what your business needs, no matter the approach or content. But you will also have other employees who will likely fail to achieve because they can’t see the connection between the training and their own role.

The statement “training should meet the needs of the people being trained” sounds very obvious, but it’s also very often ignored when training is rushed or ill-thought out. Frequently, training might be delivered that is culturally inappropriate, or focused on the wrong topics or subject matter. A language programme for oilfield safety staff, for example, will be next to useless if the language it trains is focused on customer service, rather than technical safety terms. A leadership development effort is likely to end in disappointment if it attempts to teach first-time managers the skills they need for the boardroom.

A big problem with making these kind of knee-jerk training decisions is that there is, inevitably, a lag between implementing a training solution and seeing its impact in the field. Oil and gas is accustomed to making major decisions that rapidly show results. A new pipeline takes time to build for sure but, once operational, provides an immediate uptick in the transmission of thousands of barrels each day. Training, by contrast, potentially takes longer to produce evident benefits.

While the training is actually underway, the impression can be great. It can be exactly the kind of activity and movement that industry managers like to see. They have employees engaged with training programmes. They have PowerPoint presentations impressively highlighting all the development areas they are covering.

The long-term impression can be very different. Once the flipcharts have been packed away, and the industry trainers have all gone home, your employees need to have knowledge that actually helps them perform their roles better. This is not the moment you want to find out the training was inadequate to meet that need.

You don’t want to discover, six months down the line, that your health and safety personnel have covered a generic syllabus that has limited application to an industrial workplace where they are surrounded by uniquely dangerous and ever-present hazards. If the training doesn’t fit the need, how can you be sure they will be able to perform their job as you need them to?

A Measured Approach

Taking the time to think about what your business goals are, and then working to align training around this vision, is the best way to ensure training isn’t simply a box checked on a human resources system. If you want real ROI from training you need to be prepared to invest the time necessary to understand the issue you want to train for, the people you want to develop, and the approaches available to you.

This doesn’t have to mean acting slowly. In reality, much of this information doesn’t need to be found at the last minute. If your managers and human resources professionals are monitoring different departments’ performance and skill needs, they can quickly, proactively respond when training is needed. Naturally, you can’t predict the innovation of every new technological leap, but if your business is vigilant and talks amongst itself, you stand the best chance of identifying new development needs.

Once you’ve done that, you need to be ready to push forwards with that effort, monitoring its progress and being flexible enough to make changes on the fly. Training is ultimately about improving individual skills, and the more flexible you are with the approach, the better it can be.

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Oil & Gas Middle East - July/August 2020

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