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Training strategy: why it’s important and how to do it

Most workplace training happens at the operational level, where a need is identified for performance improvement on a given topic and the training is simply developed and delivered.  This is especially true for environment and sustainability training, which is traditionally the domain of the subject matter expert – the one who knows all about stormwater modelling, water pollution control, contaminated soil management, emissions reduction, solid waste minimisation– and more – much, much more.

Here’s where we run into Problem #1: any professional trainer will tell you that most subject matter experts in any field don’t know that there is such a profession as learning and development for adult vocational training. So they just get stuck in and deliver the training without framing it in the context of the wider internal and external aspects of the business. And that’s just what our environment and sustainability subject matter experts do too.

Problem #2 then rears its ugly head. Our environmental experts often don’t know that there is a thing called Train the Trainer training that will help them develop and deliver their training in ways that optimise the learning of the many different groups of adult learners they will face. In my experience, these serious experts often make a good job of their training – but why settle for good when access to excellence is readily accessible if you know where to look for it?

Even assuming an environmental subject matter expert undertakes some Train the Trainer training, my experience tells me that he or she will still face Problem #3: how to rigorously evaluate how effective their training is.

Yes, they may have had to prepare a business case for their training to justify the cost. But they can measure so much more on the plus side of the balance sheet if they learn how to use the tools of the professional trainer to measure the effectiveness and direct and indirect benefits of their training.

What’s the solution to these three problems? A training STRATEGY.

Environment and sustainability issues often involve many very different technical disciplines, topics and skills. They need a strategic approach that shows the big picture, that sets the context for the training – why is it needed, what should be in it, who needs to know, what measurable difference does it need to make?

Here’s an example:

Solid waste managers: questions to ask yourselves and your stakeholders

Which levels of the resource (waste) hierarchy apply to your waste reduction target for a given specific waste stream? How do these levels fit together in space and time? Which stakeholders are involved in each one? What particular training topics are needed for the stakeholders at each level? What other support will they need to achieve the outcomes, such as guidelines, equipment, land or buildings, markets? How does the circular economy concept help you? How will you measure your outcomes across your own local targets and indicators and the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Once you’ve done this thinking and built your own strategic big picture, how does it help you?

  • you can work out your training priorities – what to do first, and why
  • you can agree on an overall approach to training development, delivery and evaluation before you start your training on the different topics: what learning principles will inform your approach? How will you support trainees to apply their new learning at work?
  • your overview makes your training more cost-effective and targeted for delivering on business and environmental outcomes, as well as social and cultural outcomes
  • you can then describe to your managers the whole picture of what you did, how much it cost and what changes in learning, workplace practice and other outcomes resulted
  • you are more likely to get more budget to carry on this work and to take the same approach to another waste stream.

Sound good? It works for practically every sector. Yes, there are times when the “just do it” formula works without this strategic picture, but having this picture will help you make such snap decisions more easily and still deliver best practice training whose cost-effectiveness can be evaluated.

I’ve identified two components of the strategic picture, and together they inform the operational delivery of training.

The two strategic levels shown above are largely ignored. Sometimes this is for defensible reasons, where identifying and meeting the training need is simple and straightforward.

However, this does not always apply to environment and sustainability training, especially for complex topics like solid waste, emissions reduction and stormwater management, among others: these demand very clear thinking about where training and other initiatives can make the most difference.

Let’s look at the strategic context. For most environment and sustainability managers, it’s one where environmental stresses now demand prompt and effective action on topics where the costs of inaction are fast becoming more obvious and significant. Managers must deliver better environmental outcomes to their communities and the risks of not doing so, such as those posed by climate change, are immense. Yet this also offers opportunities for most sectors to innovate and enhance their capability.

To help define the strategic context, commonly used tools include:

  • situational analyses such as PEST: Political/legal; Economic; Social/demographic and Technological contexts. Some people add Environmental, Ecological, Ethical, Legal and Demographic factors
  • organisational analyses like SWOT; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
  • the DPSIR model is also used to identify environmental drivers, pressures, states and impacts to inform responses relating to environmental values.

Developing a training strategy means understanding the value of and implementing core principles that support good learning outcomes. Professional trainers and learning and development professionals use several models, including:

  • the ADDIE model, which defines the stages of Assessment, Design, Delivery, Implementation and Evaluation of training, ensuring all these are given sufficient consideration
  • Kolb’s learning cycles, which encourage trainers to incorporate opportunities for concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation into their training and into the workplace support for trainees applying their new learnings
  • the 70:20:10 model, which acknowledges that 70% of what people learn is from informal experiences in the workplace, and enables trainers to make the most of this. It also relates to the strategic context and ensures workplace support for new practices learned in training.

Once this pair of strategic analyses are done, the training can then be developed, delivered and evaluated. This is the operational aspect of the training, and its quality and value depend on the quality of the strategic analyses.

Got it? Good, isn’t it!

Now here’s my own #1 Problem:

How do I access a really important group of people – environment and sustainability experts – who don’t know what they don’t know about training?

Here’s what I’m doing about it. I’m putting information out there so I can spread the word about how environment and sustainability subject matter experts can make a fabulous job of their training and make a real difference to the world, by:

  • writing a series of blogs and newsletters to spread the word – pass it on if you can!
  • asking you to answer a short survey on what you would like to know about how to develop, deliver and evaluate great environmental training
  • including this information in the second edition of my book.

Please help me do this: here’s that link to the survey again:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YK3XVK5

It will only take 5 minutes or so, and will help me to meet your training needs in the new edition of my book!

THANK YOU!

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