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Sat 12 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Coach by association

As a time-saving and financially practical approach, on-the-job training is popular among retailers in the Middle East.

The retail environment is a busy place most of the time, and many would reasonably say not the best place for training front line staff. However, it is the workplace that presents some of the best learning opportunities for your employees. It is here that the customer experience happens, where policies are practised, where relationships are made and broken, and fundamentally it is here where the learning is markedly different from the traditional classroom approach.

If there is such a thing as ‘real time learning', then this is it. For example, watching an experienced member of staff effectively handling a difficult customer situation in the workplace can be a lot more effective than trying to learn about this in a class room.

The point though is to harness these opportunities so that learning in the workplace is relevant to the way you want the customer experience to be and employees should be given the opportunity to practise with guidance with what they see around them. If managed effectively, this way of learning can save your company the time and money that classroom training cannot always do.

This is not a suggestion that classroom training is a fruitless method of learning, but like all approaches it will have its plus points and its limitations. There are problems though; learning in the work place can often become a hit and miss affair. This is because training on the job is sometimes carried out by employees who are not qualified trainers and through no fault of their own the learning experience can be a burden to the trainee.

Another problem is that when we think about training our staff we don't normally think at the individual level. We tend to think about the costs, location, subject and duration. This is of course understandable because all these variables have an impact on the bottom line. However, we don't necessarily think about what defines effective learning. It is important that we take time to focus on this because it can save you money in the long term. Ineffective training will have to be repeated at some stage in the future.

As adults we normally learn better through something called association. In terms of the world of work this means that we usually need to make a link between what we are going to learn and the way we work. Whenever we want to learn something we normally look for the benefits it will bring us as individuals. For example, a retail trainee might look for the following benefits from a training session: How is it going to improve my day? Is it going to make my life less stressful when I engage with customers? Is it going to give me more knowledge and perhaps improve my confidence when I try to make a sale? Is the trainer going to be effective, and will I be able to understand what I am supposed to learn?

We learn more effectively by doing. In other words, when we are given the opportunity to practice under guidance and supervision, what we have been learning then the chances of us remembering it are greatly improved. A number of conditions need to be in place though to make training on the job effective. Firstly, it needs to be structured and carried out by employees who are given the time and a basic technique to follow.

In all training situations, it is paramount to consider the needs of the learner if the training is to be effective. It can be a daunting experience when learning new things especially for new employees entering an unfamiliar work place. A common problem with training on-the-job is information overload for the learner. So if possible try and break down your task related training activities to shorter training sessions of not more than 30 minutes and try and remember that all trainees do not necessarily learn the same way. Patience is an important characteristic of any trainer especially when training on the job.

The next time you think about training, consider your options. Bear in mind the need for a more structured approach to make the learning more effective for your employees. Class room, E-learning and On-the-Job Training all have their merits. When you think about the busy retail work place; remember that training will always have to be balanced with the needs of your demanding customers. So don't forget about On-the Job Training and the opportunities it can present to you in terms of saving time and money.

Myles Doherty is founder and director of Performance Connect.

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