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Monday, March 16, 2015

My new blog page ….

      I love blogspot! It has served me well for many years.
      Now it's time for me to integrate my two blogs into my new website. All my old posts from this blog and my other main blog have been moved over.
      Please visit me there - http://www.clarefeeney.com/blog/.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Joining the dots between occupational health & safety and environmental management

      Some of my friends and colleagues have been telling me that my success framework - the seven elements that support effective environmental training programs - could apply to all sorts of different professions. I didn't really get it, though I encouraged them to pick it up and apply it to whatever area they wished.
      But yesterday evening I caught up with Graham Philps of Quality Constructive Solutions. Graham is a quality, health and safety expert with considerable experience in environmental management. He bears the unique distinction of being the first person I didn't previously know to congratulate me on my new environmental training website. Lots of my wonderful friends, family and colleagues have been very enthusiastic - but as I said to Graham, it's usually only your mother and best friend who take the trouble to tell you so!
      Graham and I share many of the same views about training - he said "I can't believe how much training is done without checking people's understanding afterwards!" I told him that many professional trainers confess to the same shortcoming: it's an area of vigorous discussion in training circles.
      But one of the things I realised in the course of our conversation is that my success framework is ideally suited to health and safety at work.
      Like environment, health and safely is a highly regulated field and depends for its success on clear guidelines and procedures, good training, good resourcing and  thorough monitoring, evaluation and reporting. Crucially, it also depends on strong and positive relationships with external parties, including regulators, and with many different parties within an organisation.
      For the first time, I got it!  My success framework will be as effective for occupational health and safety as it is for environmental management.
      And of course, many projects I've worked on in the past have shown that many environmental initiatives also deliver health benefits, the change in the printing sector from solvent-based to plant-based inks being just one example. There are many more.
      Given that the risk identification and management processes are so similar for health, safety and environment, let's start talking and sharing to streamline our internal procedures and cut through the bureaucratic paperwork to make life easier for our much-battened upon supervisors and middle managers!

More information:
You can find out more about Graham's company, Q-Sol Quality Constructive Solutions, here.
And you can go to my new training website from here.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Practice leads to Proficiency - but does our training allow enough time for this?

      This question of allowing enough time in workshops for what is most important has challenged me throughout my training career. It zoomed to top of mind a couple of weeks ago at Beryl Oldham's seminar on training needs assessment for the New Zealand Association of Training and Development.
      Taking a good look at what Beryl called "what IS" there (rather than what level of staff performance we "think" might or should be) is essential at the assessment phase.
      But it was when she asked if we know "how well does training transfer from the artificial training environment to the actual workplace" that I really sat up. This has also been difficult for me as a mostly external trainer with no influence over the workplaces my trainees go back into.
   It was here that Beryl emphasised the need for repeated practice in order for trainees to acquire proficiency. She asked:

  • do we allow enough time in the training for people to practice skills? 
  • do we assess the criticality of various necessary skills?
  • do we allow more time for trainees to practice more critical skills - during and after training?

      "If criticality is involved, they need practice, practice, practice," she said. So, we need to include more training time to rehearse critical procedural skills. "If people have to do important things frequently, then they need to have regular routine practice sessions," she said.
     I can really see the application to environmental procedures, where non-compliance can have serious consequences for the environment - and the business.
      We also need to train people's supervisors or managers before they send their staff on the training. Campbell Sturrock  works in the civil construction sector as Team Leader, Business Improvement - which I think is a great name for an environmental team!  Campbell told me recently that the need for supervisor/manager training was a key learning for him. He said that in his view, supervisors are an essential part of supporting trainees'  new skills and making sure critical skills are regularly practised at work, especially just after the training so trainees develop capability and confidence. He said this also emphasises that the company really, truly, deeply believes this is important - a powerful signal to staff to take environmental procedures seriously.
      As Beryl said, "The biggest reason that training fails is that we don't follow up on the job."
      If we want to maximise the return on investment (ROI) of the time and money that bosses invest in training and the goodwill trainees invest in it, then we need invest properly in our training needs assessment and our assessment of the criticality of key skills - and program in that all-important time to "practise, practise, practise."

Beryl Oldham is a Certified ROI Professional and a New Zealand Associate of Drs Jack and Patti Phillips' ROI Institute. Find out more about her work here.

Find out more about Drs Jack and Patti Phillips' ROI Institute here - and about their book "The Green Scorecard: Measuring the Return on Investment in Sustainability Initiatives" here.

Check out the New Zealand Association of Training and Development here. Look for similar associations in your own country - they offer wonderful opportunities for professional learning and development. Every environmental subject matter expert delivering any form of training should belong!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Training - the temerity!

      It's always amazed me how training works. You take a bunch of fully autonomous adults in a room together - and there is an automatic consensus about the conventions we operate under. Yes, we socialise, crack jokes, make conversation, have fun. But it's not a social situation in the normal sense, apart from in the breaks.
      The conventions around how we operate in a training context form an unwritten social contract. Most of us are unaware of it, and just naturally enter into it. Someone tells the others what to do - and they do it!
      It was trainer extraordinaire Rich Allen who first made me conscious of just how extraordinary the training context is. He pointed out that as trainers, once we've built rapport with our trainees, we can say things like, "Now go back into your groups for this activity," or "Pick up your materials and move to your new places." He said we use a "special trainer voice" for this - it's friendly - but it's also clear and commanding. And he made us all burst out laughing when he said that you'd never use that tone of voice at a dinner party - imagine saying, "Pass the salt" in "trainer voice"! It's a very specialised tool to be used only in a specialised context.
      So why would a roomful of adult professionals, each and very one of whom is an expert at his or her job, submit to "trainer voice" in a workshop?
      Well, that's the convention! 
      All animals learn from each other, and humans seem to spend the longest time doing so, in our childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. But we may be more rare in that, at intervals throughout our life (if we're lucky!) we also enter into formal and informal learning situations, some spontaneous, some institutionalised. And while we know that many people end up on training courses they don't particularly want to attend, most of us (including most of our reluctant trainees) still enter into the convention of the workshop when we get there.
      That convention really is a mutual contract that does two main things. It allows the trainer to use "trainer voice" and other modes that focus attention, and it engenders in the trainees a willingness to embrace the process. And those two things are possible because we all know that we are doing it in a learning context. 
      So the role of the trainer is to be conscious of and respect that context, and the very specialised, highly evolved behaviours that go with it.
      And while trainees "submit" to the conventional behaviours that allow the training to proceed in a timely and fully inclusive manner, adult learning also offers the joys of mutual respect and celebration of each others' expertise. Some of my most enjoyable moments in training have been when trainees have raised questions or commented on things in a way that reveals the depth of their knowledge and their interrogation of the training itself. That too is part of the convention: we are all learning together, and some of our best learning comes from challenging what we are told.
      Good trainers remain aware of their own and their trainees' dynamics, and operate in the full knowledge that breaching the unwritten workshop contract will result not in revolution or an overt display of bad manners, but most often in suspicion and withdrawal - and, worst of all - a failure to learn effectively or a lack of willingness to apply the training at work. 
I should add that there has been a long gap between blogs, as I've travelled to the UK to collect copies of my book and meet some great people there and in Europe. I'm now starting to promote the book and the speaking and training that will accompany it - more on this soon!
Find out more about Rich Allen and subscribe to his training tips at http://www.justrightevents.biz/.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Training that creates communities of excited professionals

      The best training creates communities of excited professionals who want to communicate with each other about what they're learning.
      Training is becoming both more social and more virtual as technologies enable this. It's also becoming much more collaborative – not only amongst learners, but between learners and trainers, as trainees take responsibility for their own learning and ask correspondingly more of their trainers.
      Engineering ethics may not at first blush appear to be a topic that would inspire such excitement and collaboration - yet as long ago as 2009, this is just what it was doing. I attended a workshop on engineering ethics at a conference in Canada in November 2009, facilitated by the lecturer of a US-based university course on the topic.
      He realised after some time that his course was a success when he discovered that his students had spontaneously started creating little skits about real ethical issues they had encountered, filming them and uploading them to YouTube.
      What might this mean for your training program? Well, your students need to be able to inform each other and the trainer about their upload - this could be via a simple email list, or a listserv, or a Facebook page specific to the training course. You could then set up a wiki or online discussion board in which your students can initiate and take part in discussions and exchange ideas arising from the training and the associated activities. Where to from there? The possibilities are limited only by our imagination!
      But that's the easy part.
      How could we incorporate this invaluable informal activity into the more formal structure of our training workshops? How can we maximise the value of the contact we have with our trainees by making the best possible use of student-generated material? How can we generate other material that students can engage with before and after our training?
      High-school science teacher Chris Clay started giving his teaching sessions on YouTube, which the students would watch before class. This meant they could then use the class time to discuss what they'd seen, clarify misunderstandings and practise the work together. The improvement in learning outcomes was spectacular.
      By contrast, MIT professor Anant Agarwal found that at first, students of his circuits and electronics course would watch the videos, but by later on in the course they tackled their assignments first, watching the videos later on when they needed support or confirmation. Again, combining what he called "in-person with online" learning gave the best of both worlds.
      It's mouth-watering to see the potential for making our training both more enjoyable and more effective.

You can see the engineering students' skits if you go to YouTube and search for “engineering ethics”. They are great - and I recognised many of the dilemmas they'd already encountered in their still short professional careers.
Click here to find out about Chris Clay's approach to teaching high school science.
Professor Anant Agarwal was interviewed in the 13 July 2013 New Scientist Issue 2925.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The cutting edge of the knowledge economy - a view from the digger bucket

      Now that I've submitted an expanded second edition of my book to my publisher in the UK, Global Professional Publishing (it will be published in September this year), I find I'm having to explain the purpose and content of the book in a different way. It's not easy! 
      It started when I attended a 2-day VIP workshop for professional speakers and confessed to everyone there that having just submitted the book, I hadn't prepared anything at all to present. I was also struggling to get out of the detail and into my "why", to explain the book when people ask, "So what?" Facilitator Linda McDermott was totally unfazed by this, and the two days were hugely productive.
      My learning was tested some weeks later, when someone said the topic of environmental training was very narrow and would only appeal to a very specialised audience. Well! I had to investigate my outrage to realise how useful that statement was for helping me distill my message.
      As far as I can see, the only audiences that environmental training wouldn't appeal to are businesses who don't want to lift productivity and profitability; public agencies that don't want a cost-effective solution to just about every environmental problem you can think of; communities who don't want to work together to restore their local environments; and governments that don't want to create jobs.
      There is a huge amount of evidence that environmental training can do all these things, with national and international agencies all round the world working hard to bring them about. 
      Sometimes it's difficult to understand how this can actually work on the ground, when at the policy level we are talking about the "knowledge economy" and other important but abstract concepts.  
      Let me tell a story about the time I was on a large civil construction site and asked the Team Leader, Erosion and Sediment Control, how he'd ended up in the job. He said he was a digger operator building the various environmental controls and became quite interested in this aspect of his work - so much so that he was promoted to Team Leader. Over the years he built up considerable skill and seniority - something he would never otherwise have done.
      Of course, these people are already experts: I've been lucky enough to have a go on a digger - it was fantastic fun and I was absolutely hopeless! You can rotate the cab, turn one track to rotate the whole machine, drive forwards or backwards at any angle, raise or lower the arm and manipulate the bucket or whatever else is on the end of the arm - all at once! It was a 4-d operation like orienting a starship in the depths of the interstellar space. These guys are so good they can use their digger bucket to pour a cup of tea and add sugar without spilling a drop. If you don't believe me, check out the link below.
      Another digger operator developed so much expertise on very technically demanding and environmentally sensitive projects that he would actually be named in contract documents for certain projects where his skills were particularly needed, such as stream bed and bank restoration. So while remaining a digger operator, he became increasingly valuable to his company - and would, of course, find his skills and remuneration increasing accordingly.
      And think of the value of these two men as mentors to their staff and colleagues - what an asset for human resource development and overall company value they must be!  
      These men are real-life examples of the much-vaunted "knowledge economy" that many governments struggle to translate into practical realities. Of course, other types of training can deliver such benefits - especially literacy and numeracy training: I've seen environmental training become a vehicle for this, too, as people learn how to follow detailed designs, read meters and log their environmental tasks. Building these skills generates tremendous increases in staff loyalty and engagement, productivity and of course, profitability for the companies concerned. 
      There are also big opportunities in what Storm Cunningham calls the "restoration economy": already large but low-profile, this emerging economic sector involves reviving places damaged by human activities (war, pollution and the like) and natural disasters (earthquakes, flooding and so on). The former will grow as more of us understand the net social and economic harm of such unsustainable activities, and the latter as climate change intensifies and we learn more about the poor land use choices of the past that put people and investments in risky places. 
      So, better skills, more jobs, better outcomes for people and places - in some cases transforming the faltering economies of entire towns - what's not to like!

Find out more about Global Professional Publishing here.
Click here and here to find out how environmental training creates jobs.
Go to FunkeyNote to find out more about the wonderful Linda McDermott, speaking coach extraordinaire.
See the photos and hear the interview about the National Excavator Operator Competition on the Radio New Zealand website Spectrum page.
Click here to find out more about Storm Cunningham's work.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to create an exam that everyone will enjoy

      Over a coffee with a colleague earlier today, the conversation turned to assessing learning after a training workshop. Of the many people who've attended my workshops over the years, some have been extremely capable practitioners for whom school most definitely would have been one of the least rewarding times of their life.  In fact at one workshop a delightful young man confided to me that he couldn't read, so please could I not ask him to read an excerpt out loud. (It's for this reason that I always call for volunteers to read out loud - and even when someone's workmates are laughing and pointing at one of their team to volunteer, I never accept the offer unless the hand comes out to take the paper. In the case of the nice young man, I was able to reassure him that I was looking for someone to pretend to be a grumpy judge, and that he was far too nice for the job!)
      When we deliver training, we really do need some way of assessing the learning outcomes that goes beyond the level 1 "smile sheet", which basically tells you whether or not people liked the food. But sometimes we train people we won't see again, so we can't assess the improvement in their workplace skills. In these cases we need some kind of assessment at the end of the day, whether on site if the numbers are small enough, or in a "classroom" style setting.
      Academic people are used to sitting exams and won't be phased by a written or text-based online  test at or after the end of a workshop. But for the non-academic people who at best are not used to sitting exams or at worst are still scarred by their school experiences, the terms "test" or "exam" strike fear into their hearts and will set them up to fail.
      Some years ago, I did a green building course over a weekend with Johann Bernhardt and Eddie Van Uden. Then they announced there would be a test at the end, and I was absolutely horrified! Sure, I was interested in green building and wanted to build a green home eventually - but I wasn't a builder and was convinced I'd make a complete mess of it.
      To my surprise and delight, Johann and Eddie set up the exam for everyone's success. They handed round a sheet of paper with 10 questions on it and space to write the answers (so far, so normal), got us all round a table (bit of a departure from normal there) and then read out the first question and said; "Well, what do you guys think?" (- by now, definitely abnormal in terms of any exam I'd ever sat!) Someone tentatively suggested an answer, someone else asked a question, another offered a story from their experience, and at the end, our trainers asked someone to sum up, then we all wrote the answer down!
      We went through all the questions in that way, with different people able to summarise the different questions, and the trainers making sure everyone had good chances to have some input. It was not only a thorough evaluation of the workshop, but also a thoroughly enjoyable way to review and consolidate our learnings.
      This approach would be just as effective for people who aren't confident writers and readers, too: to ensure these people can learn comfortably, we'd need to give open reassurances at the very start of the workshop and before the "test" that we will talk through the workshop at the end so the trainers can make sure people are confident about what they've learned, and that you can make notes if you wish. See? Choice not compulsion, participation not reiteration, and co-operation not isolation - much more how it is in a good workplace.
      Who among your trainees and which of your workshops could benefit from this approach?