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July 22, 2014

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Training: going for gold


Bill Chandler, deputy head of training at international law firm Hill Dickinson

What’s the difference between Usain Bolt and many health and safety practitioners?

It sounds like a joke, doesn’t it, but it’s a deadly serious question.  Ok then, let’s start by asking what health and safety practitioners have in common with the fastest man in history.  The answer is that they all want to be the best in the world at what they do, or at least to be the best they can be.

If you ask any professional how they would wish to be regarded by their clients, their peers and their employers, they are likely to mention some or all the following in their reply:

  • ‘being the best’, obviously;
  • ‘a safe pair of hands’, with a reputation for providing a reliable and consistently high level of service;
  • ‘a leader in their field’, respected for their skills and knowledge;
  • ‘a trusted adviser’, in high demand among clients and colleagues.

So, back to my original question, what is the difference between them?  The answer is their attitude to training! 

Performance enhancing

Successful athletes recognise that they can only stay ahead of the competition by following – with unswerving devotion – a rigorous training programme to keep themselves physically and mentally in tip-top shape.

Many professionals, however, fail to appreciate the direct correlation between training and performance that sportspeople take for granted.  Too many professionals view training as a distraction from their job, something that they have to do because the business requires it or because they need to clock up so many hours to maintain their professional qualifications.

It would be unthinkable for an elite athlete to arrive at a major event saying, ‘I haven’t done any training this year, but that’s ok because I know what I’m doing and I’ve done it a million times before’.  Yet how many of us have said something similar when faced with the choice between attending a training session or doing some ‘real work’?

There is a natural tendency to think that if we’ve learnt something once that is enough, but things change over time.  In a complex field like health and safety, theory and practice are constantly evolving, as is the legal and regulatory framework within which practitioners operate.  How can we provide that gold medal level of service to which we all aspire if we’re not entirely up-to-date?  And when it comes to health and safety, any deficiency in training can quite literally put lives at risk.

Practitioners – and their employers – need to recognise that the quantity and (even more importantly) the quality of training will ultimately determine the quality of service provided by the practitioner and appreciate that investment in training will ultimately be rewarded by enhanced reputation, reduced risk and increased profitability.

Corporate culture

Companies and other employers need to recognise the fundamental importance of training and create a culture where training is positively encouraged rather than merely tolerated.

Managers must lead by example.  It is incumbent on all managers to promote training and encourage their teams to attend, but it is equally important that managers and senior staff make time in their busy schedules to attend if a convincing message is to be sent out that training is important.

It goes without saying that those responsible for training provision must ensure that the training is relevant and does actually benefit delegates (and the business).  Training must be provided in an appropriate format, at a convenient time and venue and should (dare I say it?) be enjoyable.

Personal responsibility

Companies and employers can only do so much.  Ultimately, whether we work for a large organisation or for ourselves, we all need to take personal responsibility for our own career development.

If we truly aspire to be the best we can be — respected, trusted and admired by colleagues and clients — then like a world class athlete we must accept that success won’t happen by chance.  We must embrace the inherent link between quality of training and quality of service and make a lifelong commitment to continual self-improvement:

Commitment to training = improved knowledge and skills = work of higher quality and lower risk = increased reputation and demand = greater career opportunities, pay and job satisfaction

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John Chapman
John Chapman
9 years ago

Well put Bill,

There seems to be definite reaction going on to the whole concept of training. A whole lot of time, effort and money is thrown at training. But very few organisations spend time considering how it will benefit both organisations or individuals. Or evaluating the outcomes. Managers needs to take a long hard look at what they are trying to achieve. Training providers need to do the same. Stop churning out the same thing and taking the money. Good, well planned training will make a positive contribution.

54 years ago

I don’t agree with the analogy – the term “training” in sports actually means “practice”.

Whilst training may be an important element of skill development, it is the constant practice and feedback (ie ‘learning’) which creates the expert. You could train (teach) me theory on field sports for years, but that won’t make me win gold. On the other hand, after 30,000 hours of practice, I might get somewhere.

I have a maverick view that there is too much training in the safety world and not enough learning. Discuss. . . ?