HAVE you ever wondered how training gets initiated? It starts with a problem. Ask yourself: Is there a problem? If there is a problem, can training assist? If training can solve this problem, what should it achieve?

Not all problems can be solved by training, though. Poor performance by employees, for example, cannot be improved by just sending them for courses.

The organisation has to look at the cause of poor performance first. Is it because of poor working conditions, sub-standard materials, inefficient machinery, unrealistic demands or ineffective supervision?

If employees have insufficient knowledge, training can broaden and deepen their knowledge base. If they are uninspired, training may motivate them. If they have poor attitudes, training can change their approach.

If workers lack the required skills, training can upgrade them. Training is needed where skills or knowledge are below the standard required.

Learning objectives

As a trainer, your role is to ensure that your course participants fulfil the objectives of their training.

The first step in planning your training programme is to establish the learning objectives. Besides giving direction, these state what can be achieved when the training programme is successfully conducted.

Learning objectives also set standards, which enable a consistent quality of instruction for different groups of employees from different companies.

A learning objective must fulfil these criteria:

* It sets a measure/standard of performance so that participants know what is required of them.

* It must result in an action that can be independently observed. For example, on completing a two-day customer service workshop, the participants will be able to handle a walk-in customer's enquiries on the company's products.

* It must set up the relevant conditions in which the required standards can be fulfilled, for example, the ability to pacify an angry customer within 20 minutes.

Various categories

In planning the workshop, the trainer recognises that there are three categories of information:

Must know: Essential information, for example, legislation, safety rules, company policies;

Should know: Includes anything that relates to "must know" information, for example, information about other safety issues that is important but not legislative; and

Could know: Useful to know and is only incidental to the subject. It provides useful background to the workshop topic, for example, the history behind the topic.

As an empathetic, effective trainer, you must cover all the materials in the "must know" category. If time permits, you can drift into the "should know" zone.

Step into the "could know" territory only if a nugget of information livens up the discussion. Too much information can lead to an overload, and participants may emerge from the workshop dazed and more confused than they were before they attended it.

Other factors

In planning the training programme, you have to consider the availability of audio-visual aids and other materials. These include a notebook, projector, TV, VCR, DVD player, flip chart, microphones (standing, cordless or lapel mikes), show-station and hi-fi system.

What is the budget available? You should design the courseware to meet the learning objectives effectively at a reasonable cost. In other words, get maximum results with minimum investment.

You also need to take stock of how much your participants know, and the nature of their working experiences. Then, you can build your training blocks upon the existing base of the participants' knowledge.

The number of participants in the workshop will dictate the learning modality and speed. The larger the group, the slower will be the learning pace. In your proposal, state the maximum number of participants so that the workshop will be effectively facilitated.

Consider the time available to conduct the workshop. Do not be overly optimistic and try to achieve too many objectives within the given time.

Some bumps along the way may slow down the training pace and there are parts of the programme where participants' productivity may be low. A professional trainer recognises that these roadblocks exist.

State benefits

At the beginning of the course, tell participants what the workshop is about, and what will and will not be covered. List the direct and indirect benefits of the course - greater productivity, more job satisfaction, better skills, etc. The more benefits a participant sees, the more motivated he will be to learn.

Tell them about yourself, your background and experience but do not oversell. This will establish trust and give the participants confidence in you.

Make your workshop interesting and inject some fun into it. It is your duty to maintain a high energy level at all times.

Deal with your participants' fears - some may have been ordered to attend by their bosses. Assure them they made the right decision by joining the workshop.