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How Much Training Is Enough?

Too much is never enough. The key is to not waste your time. Just because your techs return from a class with a certificate and a smile doesn’t mean they learned anything.

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Many of you have probably been sending yourself
and your employees to training classes since the early 1980s,
right? Now it’s the late ’90s, and you’re still sending yourself
and your employees to training classes.

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Does it seem like it’s never going to end?

To be honest, it probably won’t ever end.
The type of training needed in the future will change, but training
will still be needed to succeed. One of the best analogies I’ve
ever heard about why training will continue to be necessary relates
to milking a cow: The cow doesn’t stay milked! When it comes to
training, there’s always something to learn that will make you
and your employees more competitive.


Before we go any further, take a few minutes
and inventory your training needs by honestly answering the following.
Give yourself two points for every "True" and one point
for every "False."

1. ______ Your yearly closing ratio (number
of jobs vs. number written) for your estimators is below 80 percent.

2. ______ Your technicians don’t accept changes
well.

3. ______ Last year’s net profit was less
than 15 percent.

4. ______ You don’t have regular (at least
monthly) employee meetings or in-house training sessions.

5. ______ Your gross profit on materials
is less than 25 percent.

6. ______ Your training expenses are less
than 1 percent of your gross sales per year.

7. ______ Your staff’s primary training is
from I-CAR; paint, equipment or vehicle manufacturer’s; or no
one.

______ Total Score (Add points scored for
1-7.)

If you scored eight points or less, you’ve
realized the benefit of training and communication for the success
of your business. Great job!

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If you scored nine points or more … well
… you’re probably wondering what the heck some of these questions
have to do with training. All I can say is this: If you take the
time to consider the information in this article, I’m sure you’ll
see the relationship by the end (if not, call me).

Training: Yesterday and Today

When I-CAR first emerged on the scene in 1980,
there was literally a crisis at hand. Vehicles were changing,
and the knowledge, skills and equipment were going to change as
well. Those of you who remember the early I-CAR classes remember
the instructor was often just a facilitator of information; many
times, he had just returned from a training session in Detroit
and simply related the "latest" information to class
attendees. Testing or other learning evaluations at the end of
the class were out of the question – no one would have come.

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Certainly one thing has changed since those
early classes: The expectations of students have increased. Today,
the normal industry student expects not only to be taught, but
to be kept entertained throughout the class and also for the instructor
to be an expert. This combination has always been difficult to
obtain with a volunteer-type system for any industry – including
ours.

Another change is how outside influences –
insurance companies – have created an overflow of students in
"required" training classes. With so many participants,
enrollment in these classes is often to high to maintain a proper
learning environment. This is a key factor to consider when there’s
no evaluation of learning performed in the classes.

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So what’s the answer? As long as any training
course or testing program testing old information is recognized
by an insurer, it needs to be part of your training budget –
if you’re planning on participating in that insurer’s program.

But stopping there will be a major business
mistake on your part. It will be equally important in the very
near future to begin developing your own in-house training programs
and to find higher-level training programs for you and your staff
to remain competitive.

Types of Training

To truly examine training benefits of any
training program, you must first identify the goals and objectives
of the specific training. For this article, I’m going to use the
following classification types for training programs:

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  • Participation awareness;
  • Participation evaluated;
  • Independent awareness;
  • Independent evaluated.

Each differs in its goals, objectives and in the method it validates
learning, which is ultimately what may be important in the near
future.

Participation Awareness Programs

Participation awareness programs are, by far, the most common
type of training programs available to our industry. As mentioned
earlier, attendees having to validate what they learned would’ve
lessened the attendance count. This still holds true today. Many
of the possible attendees would be opposed to being tested. So,
these classes generally don’t have real hands-on activities. Instead,
they have simulations or controlled projects. No level of competency
is normally required to pass. You just need to be present.

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This type of training is where most of the industry and interindustry
courses and seminars are categorized. You attend, and you receive
the "points" and a participation certificate.

What’s good about this type of training? It accomplishes its goal:
Get people involved, and increase general awareness of the subject
matter. That’s simply its purpose, no more or no less.

So what’s the downside of this type of training? Even though some
may argue its value and effectiveness based on the instructor’s
quality, there’s still no validation of learning. Without accurate
validation of learning, no class standards are in place to hold
the instructor or provider accountable. No matter how well-written,
the courses are very instructor dependent and can become more
of a "show" rather than a training program. Without
accurately evaluating the student learning, classes that are intended
to last 12 hours can be cut very short, as long as they’re still
interesting. After all, how many people complain that the class
ended early? A few maybe, but not many.

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In these types of programs, review questions and home-type exams
are intended to reinforce the learning process and, in some way,
validate learning. Unfortunately, this is very reliant on the
quality of the questions, the method in which the presenter uses
them and how they’re reviewed. In the best-case scenario, they
can assist in clarifying points of content, but they don’t validate
learning or application.

Participation Evaluated Programs

Participation evaluated programs also require the attendees to
be present for the entire seminar, but they include some form
of learning validation as well. This can be achieved many ways,
one of which could be a final exam at the end of the class. Unfortunately,
this can easily result in the presentation "teaching the
test."

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Naturally, the seminars that include a final exam that isn’t secured
(secret) have attendees who score very high (look at the other
industry classes that fit into this category. Real estate is one
example). This can be very misleading, since the retention of
the course material may be no longer than the final exam.

You probably can relate this type of training to many of your
secondary-education classes. In these settings, you were often
required to attend the class and pass some type of exam. But,
many times, as soon as the exam was over, so was the need to remember
the information. I bet you can think of a few classes in high
school that fit this example. (Hopefully not all of them!)

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Vocational education – properly done – generally goes to the next
level: competency-based performance. This way, the student not
only attends the course and passes written exams, but must perform
to a preset standard. This sounds like ideal education, and it
is, but it’s very costly in time and money – neither of which
is normally available.

The fact that a final exam and attendance are required to get
credit has always increased class participation and focus during
the presentation. But they don’t necessarily translate into validation
of learning. Learning takes time. If the testing was performed
independently at a later date, it would then be able to validate
learning – if the test remains secure. If the test becomes unsecured
and the instructor is given the final exam questions, the instructor
will – whether consciously or subconsciously – emphasize these
points during the course, especially if his performance is based
on how well the students do.

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Until recently, this type of training was considered the best
method of "really teaching," when done properly. However,
our industry has had very few examples of this type – short of
top vocational programs – because the secured testing available
doesn’t currently match the latest technology required for today’s
vehicles.

Independent Awareness Programs

Independent awareness programs are available in many forms. A
magazine article such as this one, newspaper articles, TV shows,
reference manuals and computer programs are but a few resources
that can provide this type of training. The key is that there’s
no one checking to see if you’re going through all the materials,
and there’s no testing of information. On the positive side, students
can progress as fast or as slow as they wish with many types of
these programs.

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This type of training offers the highest amount of flexibility
and can reach the masses very inexpensively. The TV infomercial
has reached millions and sold many products.

The downside of this type of training? Hitting a learning objective
is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify since no validation
of attendance (completion) or learning is performed.

Independent Evaluated Programs

Independent evaluated programs are best demonstrated in the post-secondary
schools. For many college courses, attending the lectures isn’t
required. Just pass the exams (which, it should be said, isn’t
always easy).

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Video tapes with self-testing programs fall into this category
but may not validate learning. They do, however, help teach students
to look up answers. It’s important to note that this process of
knowing where to find information is an important skill. With
the many different "systems" being used today, it would
be very unlikely for someone to know all the systems. But I do
want to clarify that there’s a big difference between knowing
where to find the information and how to use it, compared to looking
up answers to questions and not remembering the answers immediately
after completing the exercise.

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Also, Internet and computer-based training (CBT) programs fit
into this category, as long as the final exam is secured. The
students learn at their own pace and then take an exam at the
end.

This category is an ideal learning environment for many students,
but not all. Many students require the interaction with others
to complete their learning cycle. Others can simply read the manual,
watch a video or listen to a tape, and easily pass a written and/or
performance test. This is what makes the need for a secure examination
so important. It becomes the one constant in the learning process.
No matter what form of training is received, the test is consistent.

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In the last few years, I-CAR has introduced a performance test
for GMAW welding on thin-gauged coated steel – and more than 50
percent of the journeymen who took the test failed. Recently,
the failure rate has gone down slightly, but it’s still alarmingly
high for such an important skill.

The reason this I-CAR performance test falls into this category
is that the testing process includes a video tape and information
booklet. They both go out weeks before the test and demonstrate
exactly what’s on the test and how to successfully pass it. In
most of the early surveys, no one watched the video or read the
booklet because, since they weld on a daily basis, they didn’t
think they needed to practice or prepare for the test! This attitude
has, most certainly, spelled doom for most.

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Using the old way of educational thinking, the test would have
been deemed bad and considered invalid due to the high failure
rate. (See what’s happening in schools today. Scores are bad,
so the test is changed to make it easier).

For any performance testing to be valid, what’s important is that
the test reflects a true representation of an actual job task.
The learning is independent, but the validation of learning is
consistent with industry standards. High failure rates in this
case don’t represent an invalid test but tell us something very
important: We definitely need better training.

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What Does Your Business Need?

What would your answer be if I offered to give you $100 for every
$10 you gave me? "What’s the trick?" would probably
be your first thought. But if it were a legitimate offer, would
you decline? (Hint: No way!)

Let’s re-examine your answers to the seven opening statements.
Look at statements 1, 3 and 5 first.

1. Your yearly closing ratio (number of jobs vs. number written)
for your estimators is below 80 percent.

3. Last year’s net profit was less than 15 percent.

5. Your gross profit on materials is less than 25 percent.

All of these could easily be answered "False" after
you’ve learned how. It just takes proper training and support.

What would an 80 percent closing ratio mean to your sales next
year? What would 20+ percent net profit translate into dollars
for your company? How much money does a gross profit of more than
25 percent on materials realize? All of these are available to
you – and the investment pays great returns.

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Now look at statements 2, 4 and 6.

2. Your technicians don’t accept changes well.

4. You don’t have regular (at least monthly) employee meetings
or in-house training sessions.

6. Your training expenses are less than 1 percent of your gross
sales per year.

Changes needing implemented can be seen much more clearly from
the leadership position you’re in compared to the perspective
your staff generally has on a daily basis. To get people to change
with the times, they must see the need, benefits and results.
It’s called the vision. Otherwise, it’s like swimming upstream.

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How about monthly training meetings? The greatest reasons for
any system failing is the lack of training and communication.
If you don’t consistently send the same message over and over,
learning won’t take place. It takes time.

Along with this, a budget must be established to allow for a consistently
sent message through your organization. In fact, to prepare your
staff for "your way" of doing business, why not establish
your own in-house training programs? For each job responsibility
in your organization, make training modules available to show
employees exactly how you want it done.

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And, lastly, let’s consider statement 7.

7. Your staff’s primary training is from I-CAR; paint, equipment
or vehicle manufacturer’s; or no one.

Participation training without evaluation should be considered
when it accomplishes your training goals. However, it doesn’t
validate the competency of those you train. In the future, you
may not be able to rely on others to supply all your training
needs.

Are We Done Yet?

So, how much training is enough? You could probably never get
to that point. As vehicles continue to change, the way we do business
changes, the skill level required to perform the repairs changes
and the level of competition continues to increase.

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Those who have in-house training requirements are going to have
a competitive advantage. Some training without evaluation will
always be necessary, but training that accomplishes your objectives
to perform better and be more efficient will require a different
type of training.

The future is closer than you may realize. Many larger organizations
have already put together training centers bigger than your entire
repair facility. Why? Because they realize they need to rely less
on others to provide training – training in which they have little
control over quality, effectiveness or validation. They’ve taken
on more responsibility, but in the process, they’ve also taken
responsibility for their futures.

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Can the same be said about you?

Contributing editor Tony Passwater is a long-time industry
educator and consultant who’s been a collision repair facility
owner, vocational educator and I-CAR international instructor;
has taught seminars across the United States, Korea and China;
and is currently an industry consultant. He can be contacted at
(317) 290-0611 or ([email protected]).

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