Teaching skills: how to improve your success rate

By Hugh Alley   

Industry Manufacturing manufacturing Trades training

Seven critical elements that will make a difference.

Engineer shows an apprentice how to use a CNC machine. PHOTO: FOTOLIA

At the 2017 fall convocation at University of Manitoba, the College of Rehabilitation Sciences (CoRS) graduated 47 out of the 50 candidates who started in occupational therapy and 14 of 14 in respiratory therapy.

Other institutions don’t do as well. The trades training programs in BC have a completion rate well under 50%. Canadian high-school graduation rates are marginally better, ranging from 35% in Nunavut to 87% in Nova Scotia and PEI.

This kind of “success rate” is an enormous waste of instructional effort.

The success rate in industry is pretty much the same as it is in the schools. Managers don’t purchase training with new machinery or software; or they ask if it can be done for less. “Too expensive,” the senior manager says. “They’ll figure it out.”


But they don’t figure it out. So a $500,000 milling machine gets used as if it were a $30,000 router, or staff make do with inadequate reports from their ERP system because they don’t know how to use it properly.

Training accounted for fewer than 2% of staff budgets according to the 2018 PLANT Manufacturers’ Outlook survey. By their actions, managers proclaim their conviction that training is ineffective.

What is it that the people at the College of Rehab Sciences do to make the difference? Seven critical elements emerged from discussions with professors and graduates:

1. Faculty are practitioners. Are your instructors the people doing the work?

2. The college trains its faculty to teach. Do you put a new hire with one of the old hands and say, “Show them the ropes?” Or do you train those old hands how to instruct using a proven methodology?

3. Students are expected to graduate. Do your managers expect new hires to succeed, or is the attitude, “We’ll try ’em out for a few weeks and we’ll let ’em go before probation expires if they’re not doing well enough.”

4. Students show the proven characteristics of the profession. Do you hire new staff because they match a carefully considered profile, or because they understand English and the manager got a “good gut feel?”

5. Staff focus on fashioning new professional therapists, not on processing numbers. Do you set up administrative and onboarding processes to remove obstacles for employees, or do you set them up to be convenient for the staff running the systems?

6. Staff and faculty know the students by name and engage with them. Do managers and senior people know the names of your employees, and regularly engage with them at their place of work? Or does the company treat staff members as interchangeable cogs?

7. Instruction is focused on helping people succeed. Testing is to measure what more is needed, not to weed out people. Is your instruction designed to help people learn, or is it just thrown together by whoever had some spare time?

Lessons from the College of Rehabilitation show it’s possible to be efficient and successful at training very complex skills to a wide range of people with very different backgrounds. Your organization can do that, too.

Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains in delivery, quality and cost over a short timeframe. Call (604) 866-1502 or e-mail


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