Trainers prove their worth

Awards recognize T&D programs with good business sense

The true value of a company’s training and development programs often goes unappreciated, but once a year the Canadian Awards for Training Excellence gives trainers the chance to shine and prove their worth to employers.

While the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD) chooses the winners based on several criteria, including the training program’s originality and instructional design, the submitting organization must prove the program’s business value in order to win.

“Training used to be considered a soft cost,” said Ruth Daniels, chair of the awards judging committee. She added that trainers now have to show the return on investment and prove how the programs improve business.

Mental Health Works, an initiative of the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario) and one of this year’s four winners, recognizes the importance of an organization’s bottom line. Its winning entry is a CD-ROM called “Working it Out: A Manager’s Guide to Mental Health and Accommodation in the Workplace.”

“The Canadian economy loses billions of dollars to mental health problems,” said Donna Hardaker, manager of trainer support and development with Mental Health Works. “A conservative estimate is that $14.4 billion is lost. But when they include indirect costs such as loss of productivity, it’s suggested that it’s upwards of $30 billion that is lost to the Canadian economy every year.”

The CD-ROM tool, based on Mental Health Works’ full-day workshop, has three modules that help managers identify the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, inform them of their rights and responsibilities towards employees, and shows how to develop accommodation plans and other solutions to help employees with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

“One in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime,” said Hardaker, adding that early identification of the problem and access to treatment leads to reduced symptom severity and recovery time.

The program tests participants’ knowledge and suggests which material to review if the participant does poorly. The entire program takes about three hours to complete and can be done with audio or only text, a flexible function that Daniels said is important for an effective training tool.

“It accommodates individual learning preferences,” she said. “No matter what your learning style is, it’s easy to use.”

Another electronic training program that impressed Daniels was the “Fire Safety” program, developed by Ontario’s publicly owned electricity provider Hydro One Networks. It can be difficult to translate a typical classroom program to an online format, but Daniels said Hydro One’s use of audio, graphics and animation made the program interesting and easy to use.

The online component also made it easy for the company to track who had completed the training and report that information to the government as part of its health and safety requirements.

Along with business value and instructional design, the needs assessment is also a key determinant in winning an award. An organization must figure out what kind of program will be most effective and when to implement it before developing the program, said Daniels.

“Most change initiatives in an organization come about and then there’s an impact and often a failure because training doesn’t coincide with the significant changes,” she said.

When Alias, a Toronto-based 3D graphics technology solution provider, realized it was facing three major organizational changes, it developed a change management program called “Driving Results — Enhancing Performance through Coaching,” to be implemented alongside the changes.

The program was all encompassing enough to apply to all business groups, but flexible enough to suit a particular group’s needs.

Flexibility is another key factor in determining the best training programs, said Daniels. The Ontario Service Safety Alliance won an award for the training program “Certification Part II: Chemical Hazards Training.” It was developed for a variety of businesses that need to comply with governmental regulations.

Each business can personalize the program based on its own unique needs. The program can be used for individual learning or by an instructor leading a group within an organization.

The awards will be presented on Nov. 8 at CSTD’s President’s Dinner as part of the Knowledge Exchange National Conference and Trade Show.

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