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More than this? Getting more bang from your buck for training

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

How to get more bang for your buck with one-time training programs

We know that one-time training courses are seldom sufficient to build workplace knowledge and skills. People get trained and then return to their workplaces and often don’t get a chance to use the skills they learned, don’t have the confidence or authority to use the skills they learned, or the existing system just makes it easier to revert to the way things have always been done. Often it’s simply the wrong people who end up in a training program. Or a training program is delivered all in lecture mode without a skill based component.

It’s a truth universally known (or at least, bandied about) in health and development that money spent on training is a waste of money. This is not quite true – training is important, it’s just not enough. It needs to be part of a broader package of performance improvement support.

training is important, it’s just not enough.

In this context, it’s been great to see a rise in supportive supervision and workplace mentoring models that build teaching and learning into workplace routines and job roles. There are also handy digital tools for health workers such as BBC Media Action’s Mobile Academy and online or computer-based learning that make training content more accessible. It’s also great to see people factor in meetings and conferences as important components of capacity building, and also mechanisms to increase engagement and motivation.

And yet many workplaces don’t employ these methods and donors and decision makers are likely to keep funding stand-alone training sessions. Why is this? Well, it’s a great output on paper, pre and post tests are usually paint a rosy picture. In addition, it's just easier to fund a training rather than rethink the whole organizational culture. And people still do need new knowledge and skills.

So, anyway, it would be nice if things changed but I mostly have to work with the status quo. How can you make a one-time training more transformative? Here are some methods I employed in a recent assignment to creating training material for a health information system in Zambia:

  • Involve supervisors, tech support staff and mentors in the training as resource people. During the training, give them the task of compiling a list of FAQs as a ready reckoner to help staff once they return to the workplace, and also help them support staff with their new skills. This helps them anticipate providing on the job support, and how they might best do that.

  • Having supervisors and support staff at the training also creates clear leadership support for the training content. Recruit the supervisors as champions of the training content. Get them to provide words of support or encouragement, and celebrate them as a champion. For example, we included photos of their faces (taken with a mobile phone) on the training PowerPoint slides.

  • Put together a format to log follow up queries or complaints once people return to the workplace – you can use an excel based format for this. Make sure people have a way to “triage” this feedback – do people need additional training, does the system need to change, is this urgent etc. This will help define post training follow up priorities.

  • Use the post training evaluation form to ask in what areas people would like more follow up support? What areas do they not feel confident in?

  • Also ask them on the post training evaluation form their format preferences for receiving follow up support. Maybe they would like one on one mentoring, maybe they would like digital content on a pen-drive, maybe they would like an emailed or SMS “tip of the day”. Many of these things can be implemented at a low cost, within existing budgets and staffing arrangements. If this is not the case, having data about people’s preferences will help you make a case for more resources.

And, in cases where systemic change is possible, what we need is much better supervision and mentorship support at all levels. This would follow-up training and would help ensure that staff get the help they need to address specific skills gaps. This is starting to change, but it is hard. Many managers and supervisors have not been trained at all to manage or supervise. Their education experience is frequently a rote-based learning system and not a team learning or supportive learning experience so they don’t have a lot of examples from which to work from.

A big thank you to Becky Furth for her thoughts on this piece and her mentorship generally.

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