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Training the New Hire:
Positives and Pitfalls

by David Duncan

So, you're in charge of training new hires in your workplace. Here are a few helpful tips to help you keep pace with training new people an ever-changing work environment.

Is your training program easy to understand?

You interviewed applicants and found one who matches the skill set and attitude for the job opening you are offering. The new hire has seen your operation and knows what is expected. Now, you have to start with the actual training.

Have you kept your training program up-to-date and easy to implement? Personally, I'm responsible for training new hires in four separate work areas in a foodservice operation. Periodically, I review each area's training program with other managers and update them. Also, when reviewing training programs, I ask myself, "Would I understand this on my first day in a new job?"

Be confident and direct

You have a solid training program, but your new hire still show signs of confusion during the training. Don't give up hope. Perhaps it isn't your new hire that is having trouble with the training session. As a trainer, you are looked at as the expert, which can be a little frightening at times, even for the most seasoned trainer.

Just being skilled and knowledgeable about the job you are demonstrating isn't enough to effectively train a new hire; you need to be able to communicate instructions with clarity and confidence. To keep my trainer skills sharp, I look for opportunities every day to pass on a piece of knowledge or skill I possess, not just in a formal training session. It may be just answering a simple question from a co-worker; adding something to a group of co-workers looking for a solution to a problem; or something similar that doesn't require set instructions.

I also like to be the student from time to time, learning from co-workers who can teach me something new. Recently, we acquired a new head chef who is excels with food seasonings and presentation. In the short time he has been with us, I have a chance to work very close with him, fine-tuning my skills and knowledge with his guidance.

If you practice teaching on a regular basis and surround yourself with teachers, you will become more confident and clear with your own teaching.

Adjust your trainer's voice to fit the trainee's attention span

Remember how nervous you were during your first training session? I do. Recently, I trained an intern who is confident and very skilled. Yet, early on, I found he retained information more effectively when I slowed the rate of my speech down a little from my normal rate.

Don't wait for your trainee to tell you to slow down or speed up. I use short pauses when I am explaining training material to make sure a new hire is still grasping the teaching. It is during the pauses in the training that I listen closely to the questions or comment (or! lack of) from my trainee.

As a trainer, you have control over the direction and pace of the training program, but what you hear and see from your trainee helps you to alter the rate you deliver your training program when needed to get better response from your trainee.

Allow your trainee to fail during training

As a trainer, you may be tempted to stop your trainee from fumbling during coaching, but refrain from stepping in and trying to save them. Many "what-not-to-do" lessons hold as much learning (sometimes more) as any other training does. For example, recently I gave a co-worker a few baking lessons. Her first attempt at a couple of baking projects failed, but we discussed what went wrong and her second attempt was successful.

Having experience the fear of failure myself in past jobs, I know how strong this fear can be in a trainee. Right from the start, I prefer to help a new employee confront and get rid of, as quickly as possible, any anxiety over failing. Once a new employee experiences what happens when things don't work in training, they know what to look for when they actually start their new job duties.

Schedule rest periods during training sessions

This tip goes along with staying aware of attention spans - both yours and the trainee's. Don't waste valuable training time by tiring out yourself or your trainee, but be sure to set regular break times. My workplace allows breaks every two to three hours which works well for training sessions.

A final thought on this issue. When I happen to take a break with a trainee, I talk about anything, except the training. I use breaks in training to strike up conversations about family, hobbies, etc. Normal break times in the workplace are meant for relaxing and re-charging, so let it be the same during a training session.

Relax, be nice...and be yourself!

This is the most important piece of advice I can offer. You enjoy teaching others in the workplace. So, let your trainee see how much you like being a trainer. Be relaxed, warm, and friendly, while staying on track with instructions.

If you were like me in school, I was bored and frustrated with the teacher who barely cracked a smile in class, or hardly ever looked up from his or her desk. This was the teacher who looked uncomfortable, making me uncomfortable being in class. My school experience has taught me to make it a point to try to shed any nervousness or discomfort before starting a training session.

Still, my fast-pace work environment doesn't alway's allow for a relaxed state of mind! So, when I need to slow my mind and focus on instructing a new employee, I take a moment to think about something pleasant. I might think about a joke I recently heard or read; an upcoming family event; or a favorite place. Once I have attained a quiet state of mind, I begin every training session with a smile.

Staying relaxed and pleasant during instructing a trainee will help him or her to stay comfortable as well. As a trainer, I see trainees retain far more information and show trust in what they are taught, when they see and hear the passion I have for being a trainer.

Bottom line: show pride in being a trainer and let the real you show through for your trainee to see!

Copyright, 2006, David Duncan

David Duncan lives in in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has spent the last twenty-five years in the Food/Hospitality industry in various leadership roles. In 1994, he graduated from Metropolitan State University (Saint Paul) with a degree in Non-Profit Administration. David also runs an independent home business together with his wife, Margaret. You can contact David at david.duncan2006@hotmail.com. Visit David and Margaret on the Web at: http://www.ryze.com/go/dmtduncan.

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