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Using Technology to Enhance Training: Effectively Reaching Today’s Diverse Workforce

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Last year, I wrote the article “Effective Training of Today’s Diverse Workforce” for SERVICES, and it included numerous examples of how technology can improve training. Since this is the 2013 technology issue, this article will update some of the changes I have witnessed since that article first appeared.

Two recent surveys about employee attitudes reveal some very interesting statistics about our current labor market. First, a survey released in 2011 by the Mercer Corporation indicated that over one third of the workforce would like to change jobs. Of the group that are 25 and younger, over 40 percent would like to change. Even in 2013’s sluggish economy, where we still have high unemployment numbers, we have many employees that are considering changing their jobs. One logical consequence of this fact is that when the economy finally gets back on track, we’re likely to see a flood of people leaving our industry, unless we can determine why they want to leave and then do something about it.

The second survey was released in May of 2012 by Right Management, a subsidiary of ManpowerGroup. It found that only 19 percent of today’s workforce is happy with their job. Think about that, only one in five of your employees are satisfied working for you. The survey goes on to ask, what message is this sending to employers? If we want an upbeat, engaged workforce, we need to find ways to help employees feel challenged and rewarded by work. The main suggestion given in the survey is to “offer more employee training and education.”

The real issue is analyzing exactly how we are training our staff. Are you still delivering training programs the same way you did in 1995 or 2005? Do your proposals still advertise that you have a “trained” workforce? Do you still have employees listen to a lecture or video from 1990 that explains how to clean a toilet?

Our training programs must adapt to the workforce as it exists today. Most companies I work with have employees that range in ages from 18 to 75+. Are you training all of these different age groups the same way? Research indicates that different generations need to be trained in different ways. For years, we have been told that there are at least four different generations in our workforce. I will list them here, but let me stress that these are the opinions of research analysts, psychologists, and other professionals, not necessarily my opinion. The four groups include:

Traditionalists: Those born prior to 1946 often have characteristics of dedication, sacrifice, conformity, law and order, patience, respect for authority, duty before pleasure, and loyalty. This group also tends to be reluctant to rock the boat, and they are typically uncomfortable with conflict.

Baby Boomers: Those born between 1946 and 1964 usually have characteristics, such as optimism, health and wellness, personal growth, feel forever young, team players, and are service oriented. Baby Boomers generally are not budget minded, want process ahead of result, are over sensitive to feedback, and are sometimes judgmental of those with different opinions.

Generation X: Those born between 1965 and 1980 are often interested in diversity, global thinking, life balance, technology, having fun, self-reliance, and informality. Some of the challenges this group can present are impatience, different manners, inexperience, skepticism, and criticizing.

Generation Y: Those born between 1981 and 2000 often share characteristics of optimism, confidence, street smarts, diversity, and automation in every aspect of their life. This group usually needs more supervision and structure, and they are often called “job hoppers” by old timers. They also tend to believe “work isn’t everything” and “technology will get me through what I need to do.”

You can see some of the differences between managing and training employees that are 70 years old versus those that are 20, since old training methods may not work on newer generations. So what are you doing to ensure that all age groups in your staff are being adequately addressed by your training program?

Ineffective Training

Given the information above, it’s important to first point out some of the more ineffective training methods being used today before we discuss training technology.

The Buddy System: The old standby technique is to send new employees to work with an experienced employee, so they can “learn the ropes.” My belief is that the rope may also hang you, as your old-time employees may be showing them how to do it wrong. I think on-the-job training is a recipe for on-the-job failure, unless it is augmented with other forms of instruction, including holding refresher training at least two times per year

The Lecture: Another poor method of training is to offer employees a dry presentation, where you tell them how to do their jobs properly. This lecture format often doesn’t work with today’s younger generations—they want “action.”

Rules and Regulations: Some training consists of discussing what “thou shalt and thou shalt not” do on the job. But providing just the rules and regulations of cleaning and attendance only makes people not want to work for you. Check your employee handbook. Does it contain paragraph after paragraph of things the employees should not do, with very little information on rewards and promotions they can attain?

Low Tech: Using an outdated training program that doesn’t take advantage of the latest advances in technology and communication is not going to be very effective. As pointed out above, using just the older, more traditional methods is likely to lead to continued high turnover.

Advances in Training

Now, lets examine some of the most effective ways to communicate our training to your workforce. Many of these methods involve the use of new technology, which not only enhances the delivery of training, but also makes it more appealing to younger workers.

In-House Videos: Take videos of your current staff performing work correctly and play it in the application room as prospective employees are filling out paperwork. This makes them aware of the actual work they’ll be performing. Then, when you offer them training, explain that these are real employees of your company doing their job, and as a new employee, they might also have the chance to be a “movie star.” You might also want to put these videos on YouTube, where a much larger audience will view them. Such videos get employees talking and thinking that your company is a fun place to work. I have personally witnessed the enthusiasm this can create in a workforce, particularly with new recruits.

Involve Your Distributor: Ask your distributor to assist in making in-house videos. This is a service they should be eager to perform, since it helps solidify their relationship with you. I am aware of distributors who have become real partners with their contractor customers by shooting such videos and then posting them on YouTube and other online forums, where they can be accessed by a huge audience at a moment’s notice.

I have even talked with distributors who have produced an entire library of three-minute training and information videos for their contractor customers. This allows your supervisors or project managers that have an iPad or tablet to show the training or secure MSDS information instantly. This type of forward-thinking vision continues to evolve every day, and distributors that invest in it are benefiting tremendously. One distributor, for example, recently told me they are considered by many of their customers to be in the “knowledge” business, and it is paying handsome dividends. No longer are they thought of as just a place to buy products. They are viewed as the go-to source for any information and training the contractor needs. As a side benefit to the distributor, it also reduces the need for their reps to have to travel to conduct training classes in person.

Podcasts: Podcasts are a perfect way to provide up-to-the-minute news and training to your employees. On certain days of each week, say Monday or Friday, you can feature a three to five-minute Podcast that serves as your company’s newsletter as well as providing short training messages and reminders of tasks that need to be done that week such as changing vacuum filters. To encourage your employees to pay attention to these messages, hold weekly or monthly contests that award prizes for correctly answering questions about the presentations.

Webinars: Many vendors, along with BSCAI and ISSA, conduct regularly scheduled webinar sessions on various subjects, and you can coordinate with them what you want to view, and then schedule your employees to tune in. Pay employees to watch the webinars, and then have your own web-based exam to see what they learned—again maybe awarding prizes for correct answers.

Your distributor can also be a tremendous asset by providing webinars for you and establishing an ongoing schedule of upcoming webinars being presented by the many manufacturers they represent.

A Bright Future

These are just a few of the effective ways to train using technology and get your message across with today’s diverse workforce. There are many other methods, such as texting, company blogs, videos for mobile devices, photos for mobile devices of “before and after” scenes, etc. The ways to effectively train using technology are endless and exciting. Many of you are likely using some or all of these methods already—and maybe even some I haven’t thought of. The point is that almost every company has the ability to conveniently and methodically train and inform employees with technology. The goal of this article is to inspire your imagination and create an awareness of the many tools at your disposal to provide creative training. With the high cost of replacing employees, it is incumbent upon us to develop training and information systems and processes that will keep the most valuable asset we have—our employees.

I began by citing two studies that found an enormous number of employees would like to change jobs. I am confident the economy will get better. And I am confident that companies that use technology to better train and educate their employees in ways that are informative, fun, and well received will be the ones that will retain their best staff members.

Richard (Dick) Ollek is the senior partner with Consultants In Cleaning, LLC, where he provides consulting services to Building Service Contractors. Prior to forming the company in 2005, he owned and operated his own cleaning and facility services company for 34 years after managing another company for 9 years. He has written 4 books for the industry on selling, human resources, operations and the do’s and don’ts of contract cleaning. He also writes a weekly blog can be accessed through his web site at www.consultantsincleaning.com.

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