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In Trainers We Trust

Published: 03rd Mar 2015

You may have the best intentions to provide your staff with the finest training available, but how do you know what quality you are getting from training providers? Do you know the experience of the person delivering the training?

The Middle East itself is awash with training organisations made up of many expatriate trainers, with many coming over from the Asian sub-continent, primarily due to their cost efficiency. If cost is the driver, however, then surely you should go for quality to ensure a return on your investment?

Health and safety is, by many, seen as a ‘cost’ to organisations, with the question raised as to whether it offers any real ‘input’ to either production or the services the organisations offer. Training, too, is often seen as a cost. The real issue that isn’t identified within many organisations is one of reflective learning: what have we achieved using the acquired skills or knowledge, and are its benefit tangible in the workplace?

As with all other training, the questions asked of health and safety training are:

• Is it needed?

• Is it essential?

• Is it legally required?

• How much does it cost?

While these are critical questions, perhaps what we should be considering is how much it will cost a company not to conduct training. As the well used saying goes: if you think training is expensive, you should try having an accident.

Let’s start by considering the need. If we are looking at something, does that mean there is a need, or would it simply be nice to have? A need, in terms of training, is often regarded as a legal requirement - given that many aspects of legislation require competence. In the Middle East, however, there is a limited approach to training in the regions own health and safety related legislation. For many of the regions economies, at least from a health and safety perspective, there is an over-reliance on the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reference to training competency, and the American equivalent, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These standards are not wholly determined, but rather, supported by other bodies such as the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) which delivers scaffold and plant accreditation. These standards of training exceed what can be evidenced in Oman. As such, some companies now offer free CITB criteria assessments for scaffolders, as well as courses delivered by CITB accredited trainers for scaffolding construction.

So, let’s get back to the original focus: standards in training. Don’t we need to know our trainers are competent? I reflect on work here in the Middle East and can identify with an insidious issue currently present in the region: the diploma mill, or paper mill degree.

Fake qualifications

I speak from experience, having identified one member of the training team when I arrived who had documents stating he had a PhD in Environmental Science – Rochville University was the accrediting institution. Unfortunately, I had suspicions on his abilities following questioning, so I took to the Internet to dig a little deeper.

Despite being shocking, my research into this type of dubiously accredited online university was at least quite entertaining; for example, several dogs –yes, that’s right, canines – have been awarded degrees by online universities.

Sadly my exposure to paper mill degrees was not an isolated incident.

One CV was submitted with attached certification stating the prospective employee had a BSc from an American University in National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 5, in Occupational Health and Safety. An American University providing a degree qualification on a UK vocational qualification? It just doesn’t happen.

So health and safety is a target, along with other industries, but the current issue in the Middle East is the massive influx of these diploma mill job hunters,  particularly in critical tasks such as engineering, health and safety and, pertinent to this paper, the training of it. Many are being produced in the Asian sub-continent, the USA and the UK, and key to the problem is a lack of awareness and recognition of the documents by the employer, which has a knock on effect on staff quality. Unscrupulous organisations will not consider the ability of a trainer to deliver the correct message to the workforce, and the lack of consequences of continued ‘poor’ delivery will have a knock on impact in the world of work, mostly in the form of incidents and accidents, which will in turn lead to increased costs, as mentioned earlier.

Policed standards

It is important that training organisations have policed standards. Some organisations have Quality Management Systems (QMS), which cover the design and development of training courses, as well as delivery.

You need to be aware that training bodies such as NEBOSH, IOSH, City & Guilds and EAL, to name but a few, can and do verify a centre’s credentials and have a duty to undertake audits and inspections on the facilities - generally at least two audits/visits per site each year.

In addition to the organisation, trainers themselves should be able to fulfil the needs of the organisation and to meet the needs of the anticipated clients. Many in the Middle East have the same rhetoric in terms of what they can deliver, so try to look for organisations that have established certain criteria for their trainers:

• Trainers should hold as a minimum the NEBOSH IGC or equivalent

• Three years of experience as a health and safety advisor

• A training qualification – such as PTLLS or CIEH PTC

• Training experience is desirable – all this for basic courses such as induction, initial fire response

Internally set standards in training, such as those listed previously, will reflect a company’s quality delivery. Issues with delegates should be addressed to ensure they have a learning experience, and assessments in training outcome achievements conducted to ensure that the organisation can, in most circumstances, deliver and bridge any knowledge gap before confirming competence against the objectives.

This level of competence is surpassed when we progress further up the scale of training, such as to permits to work. Again the minimum is NEBOSH IGC, plus a relevant degree such as Engineering (BSc), with five years’ experience as an HSE Advisor/Officer/Manager, plus once again the PTLLS or CIEH PTC. Again, for the NEBOSH and other ‘high end’ courses, some organisations have a CMIOSH head tutor, who holds relevant qualifications in health and safety and training to support this.

Robust career progression development workshop events assist knowledge in key areas, changes in training techniques and legislation changes. To ensure trainers are at the top of their game, they can also be critically assessed using a professional assessment competence evaluation document, which reviews delegates’ evidence to meet an individual’s learning objectives on his/her course. These are discussed with the trainer and agreed and implemented accordingly. As a reactive tool, this leads to being pro-active for the next delegate. This is a key tool in the development of courses and assessment methodologies, which ensure consistency of assessment for the delegate.

So, what is the driver for the move to a robust training approach for the employee? In order to set training objectives that are tightly focused, aligned to health and safety priorities and realistically achievable, they will need to be based on a training needs analysis, covering both business objectives and the individual development needs of the employee. You can develop this within your business department, focusing on the SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis of the individuals, determining what the business needs are in the first instance, followed by the individual needs in order for both to develop side by side.

A key part of this involves working as closely as possible with key business stakeholders, to ensure that a trainer’s training needs are aligned with the training organisation’s core strategies and objectives, and to ensure stakeholders’ expectations regarding training outcomes are clear and measurable. From a health and safety aspect, we need to consider the larger business development plans, have knowledge of key and impending legal developments in terms of health and safety legislation, consider new best practices, the technology and the required competency aspects from this level, to ensure we can cascade the information. From a training standard point of view this is perhaps the hardest single element – that of assessing the performance of a trainer.

The quality of delivery can be assessed, but from a critical aspect it is measurable only subjectively from one professional to another. From a results driven course, however, can we state that the number of ‘passes’ is reflective of quality delivery? I would say no, yet the course performance statistics are one of the only objective ways of determining quality. Could we consider feedback from delegates themselves? This would address their needs and focus on objective feedback. Some would argue it depends on the quality of the delegate, are they able to state that this was a ‘quality’ course that meets training needs? Some, I agree, wouldn’t be able to determine this, which is why using such evidence is a poor measure of quality, although it does hold credibility and should be reviewed within the organisation. How many training organisations review their trainer’s feedback and score it? It’s one of the few objective measurements we have, but we have to weigh it against the level of course we deliver.

The training development needs identified should be translated into SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) training objectives, undertaken to given standards. These objectives should state clearly what the individual should be able to do after the training activity has been completed, to what standard and by when.

With trainers needing continued or individual personal development, we need to ensure that an established protocol is in place for development.

Staff need to deliver to a standard, so if we are supporting training, wherever possible the training objectives established at the outset should be referenced to recognised performance standards and should state the conditions under which performance will be assessed – we do this in NVQ courses, where the delegate is assessed against the performance criteria or learning outcome. Formulating training objectives in this way will not only ensure a sound starting point for the development and delivery of training and assessment, it will also provide a robust set of criteria against which the success of the programme can be evaluated.

In today’s modern environment, development is much desired by both the individual and the organisation. Many organisations now ensure they provide personal development plans, whereby learning outside of the core subject is promoted, looking at topics such as finance, management, and leadership. It improves morale, increases knowledge and assists in the relevant competencies, both within and beyond the worker’s current role. Training is no different from any other aspect of business - it needs consideration, key performance indicators and enthusiastic staff to deliver quality and quantity, to the levels expected by the company, the stakeholders and accreditation bodies.

Overall, it is considered that we have adopted a best-practice approach, looking to develop from within, recruiting with restraint from outside the immediate manpower base infrequently, but when doing so, engaging with key areas such as ministries to confirm their acceptance of paperwork, particularly when it comes to ‘degrees’ from beyond the borders of the host country. Conducting interviews and requesting practical displays of training are also tools used to ensure competence. However, many organisations do not adhere to such strict policies, and clients certainly don’t, so depending upon what the ‘training’ driver is will depend on the quality of standards you require or expect.

As the old saying goes, nothing is too important that it can’t be done safely and to the quality standards required. Training in the proper performance of a job is time and money well spent, and employers would do well to regard it as an investment rather than an expense. An effective programme of quality safety and health training for workers can result in fewer injuries and illnesses, better morale, and lower insurance premiums, among other benefits; this added to the aforementioned standards and the impact is almost immediate. You then have better trained, better suited and competent individuals who ‘buy in’ to the culture you provide.

Within the Middle East, I believe there is a requirement for a quality training model, which due to the immaturity of the market-place, would need to be voluntary. The training industry would need to reflect and produce a ‘voluntary’ training guideline to assist employers in providing the safety and health information and instruction needed for employees to work at minimal risk to themselves, to fellow employees and to the public. Obviously, this would be set for courses that are outside the mainstream qualification/accreditation/certification body courses supplied.

The development of the guidelines would form part of a training-sector wide objective to encourage cooperative, voluntary safety and health activities among GCC/ Middle East training institutes, the business community, workers and government. This type of voluntary programme would include training, education and consultation, plus operational risk and safety management assistance. The guidelines would provide training institutes with a model for designing, conducting, evaluating and revising training programmes to meet the needs of the client. The training model can be used to develop training programmes for a range of occupational safety and health topics identified in the workplace or following completion of training needs analysis review. Furthermore, it can aid employers in their efforts to meet the training demands of current or future occupational safety and health standards.

A training programme designed in accordance with these guidelines can be used to supplement and enhance the employer’s other education and training activities outside of health and safety. Such guidelines, it is envisaged, would afford employers significant flexibility in the selection of content and training and preferred programme design. After all, we as a training industry should encourage a personalised approach to the informational and instructional programmes at organisational worksites, thereby enabling employers to provide the training that is most needed and applicable to local working conditions.

Published: 3rd Mar 2015 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Warren Fothergill