Getting the most from your engineering training providers

Published:  22 November, 2018

In order to get the most from your engineering training providers, ensure their courses are relevant and engaging so that staff return to work as competent, confident and empowered individuals. PWE spoke to Martin Smith, director at Technical Training Solutions (Tech Training).

In many industry sectors, business success and continued growth is being hampered by skills shortages, particularly mechanical and electrical engineers, or by companies not investing in relevant training for their employees. In spite of this, most nationally recognised, accredited engineering training courses tend to take a ‘broad brush’ approach in terms of course content, with very little (relevant) practical assessment to gauge whether the delegates are competent at the end of the course.

Martin Smith, director at Technical Training Solutions (Tech Training), says there is often a disjoint too, between what is taught and what the delegates are actually doing on a day-to-day basis in the workplace. Smith says his company recognised this issue around 20 years ago and began to develop its own training courses that were more focused on the needs of the engineering employers.

A certificate of competence or attendance?

Tech Training has been providing hands-on, tailored mechanical, electrical and instrumentation training to UK industry for more than 30 years. In the first 10 years, Smith says it kept hearing engineering directors and training managers saying the same thing (and still do): “I have a pile of staff training course certificates here, but I’m unsure which ones are actually competent and confident in that discipline?” He explains that often, employers felt that a training certificate simply represented a “proof of attendance” and was no guarantee of staff competence.

Smith highlights that Tech Training courses are not subcontracted in; the courses are developed in-house by its training staff and taught by the same people. Training courses are standalone and are designed for smaller groups of between 8 and 10 people, on courses that typically run for 1-10 days. The company refine these courses to suit the employer, either on-site or at its training facility in Rochester, Kent.

He comments: “We focus on the practical side of training, which runs in parallel with the theory, encouraging interaction with practical training rigs and a ‘learning by doing’ approach. The objective is to improve the delegates’ knowledge and understanding, which will lead to competency in that discipline. We don’t want to produce robots that have been taught about theory only – we want them to understand what and why they are being asked to do things in a certain way. The ancient Chinese proverb captures this idea: ‘Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I'll remember, involve me and I'll understand’.”

Keep their attention

This approach doesn’t simply mean doing three days of theory followed by one day of practical sessions. The two run in parallel with lots of crossover; they are intrinsically linked. In some cases, depending on the delegates, Smith explains that they may even feel that the practical exercise should come first before the theory.

The aim is to try and complete the training course with delegates having attained a certificate of competence in that discipline. Smith comments: “We assess the delegates during and at the end of the courses to check for this competence. This isn’t just a multiple choice assessment – the focus of assessment is on the practical exercises on special purpose training rigs designed for that particular course.

“Our approach to the courses themselves and the practical assessments means that we have to limit the number of delegates on each course to 8-10 people. We don’t want delegates waiting to use training rigs. Typically, we would have four test rigs on a course and so we can administer assessments in parallel. With manageable groups of this size, our instructors are able to ensure that each candidate is learning in an effective and enjoyable manner.”

The company believes that its approach to training actually has the best chance of keeping the attention of the delegates. “What we avoid at all costs is the “death by PowerPoint” approach.”, explains Smith. He continues: “Our delegates don’t have to listen to long lectures. Each subject is presented in its most straightforward context so that candidates can explore the essential issues and engage with the learning experience intended. For example, if candidates are learning about isolating three-phase motors, we have specially-wound 40 Volt 3-phase motors custom-built for them so that they can connect the motor control gear and demonstrate that they can individually isolate the motors in a range of scenarios. This approach is made possible by constantly investing in real industrial equipment to help delivery of the courses.”

Tech Training’s ability to provide competence-based certificates is a direct result of its approach to the training courses themselves; short courses with clearly defined objectives, course programmes that make it clear what will be taught, employing top-quality instructors who engage the candidates in its 'learning by doing' approach, and assessing the candidates as they progress through the courses.

Importance of the trainer

Smith says his employees are its most important assets and the company has rigorous staff selection criteria, which is critical to the quality of the courses it provides. Its training staff must have a strong background in terms of their technical skills and expertise, but also people must have a blend of interpersonal skills and a positive attitude to teaching.

Its engineering courses are ‘designed by engineers and delivered by engineers’, and consequently staff are enthusiastic and passionate about what they teach and many have actually worked in the industry sectors they provide courses for. Its staff also develop and prepare their own courses, which they can tailor to suit individual companies or adapt to suit the skills and knowledge of delegates.

Take ownership of their machines

Production downtime in the process industries – food and beverage processing, metal processing, chemicals and pharmaceuticals – can be extremely costly, so employers need to train their production operators to take more ownership of machines, including their maintenance and availability. The employers need to make their staff feel more motivated by providing the appropriate training that allows these individuals to feel more valued, improving their confidence and decision-making. Upskilling operators should then lead to improved productivity, reduced maintenance costs and increased machine uptime.

With this in mind, Smith says that his company provides training that encourages delegates to look at the equipment or machine in a different way when they return to work. These courses are designed so that delegates are more likely to relate all of the course content to their day jobs. They can apply the most up to date legislation and best practice when carrying out everyday activities at work and they’ll have a much better understanding of why they are carrying out each of these tasks.

Smith comments that he’s often had feedback from employers who said that their delegates on its courses had returned to work as “different people”. Suddenly, they began to ask questions, took more of an interest in their job, their colleagues and their machines, and even suggested new ideas to help improve machine efficiencies and workplace safety – an employer’s dream.

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