Developing expertise – what Aviation can teach us

The nice thing about working where I do is that I know I’ll never need to sell the value of “training” to the organization, so the timing was nice when one of my colleagues passed this article from Aviation Week on to me.  It speaks to a lot of the concepts that Tom Gram was referring to in his workshop at the CSTD conference as well as some other ideas from leading lights like Harold Jarche, Jay Cross, & Jane Bozarth, et al.

On one hand, the nature of aviation training would seem to make some of their decisions obvious: high costs for equipment & training, high risk of loss of life, high liability, etc., therefore, the training needs to be conducted at a high level.  Of course, those of us who are consumers of aviation training (e.g. anyone who hops on a plane for business or pleasure) are very happy that they take such pains to ensure that everyone involved – from the technicians to the pilots – benefits from a rich training experience.

I found this quote interesting:

In succinct agreement, “Maintenance training professionals are faced with the primary request of shorter time to operational availability of students,” said Stephan Wiegelmann, head of Sogerma services training, TAT Group.

While this is a fair statement, my first thought was: “doesn’t everyone else face the same challenge?”

I mean, when we think about it, most organizations have a need to ensure that new hires are operational as quickly as possible, but also that those progressing in the organization need to learn about the responsibilities of their new role.  Finally, we also have to consider the ever-present spectre of change in organizations means that everyone has to acquire new knowledge or skills so the organization can move ahead on its new course.  To do so otherwise would be costly.  So why don’t organizations come to similar realizations as their counterparts in Aviation?

Over the years I have seen organizations provided with evidence of the value of approaches similar to those employed by Aviation, but they are (seemingly) inexplicably blind to the benefits.

Organizations also face a bit of a knowledge management crisis.  See if this sounds familiar…

Guenther Matschnigg, IATA senior vice president of safety, operations and infrastructure, thinks the training method transition, including simulating malfunctions rather than just sitting in a classroom, started a few years ago as new aircraft production took off. “The aircraft we have now-a-days are so complex that you can’t get everything in a book,” he said.

Harold Jarche and the other folks at the Internet Time Alliance have repeatedly spoken of the relative levels of knowledge that workers have ‘in their heads’, versus what they really need to know to do their jobs. Folks in aviation have really known that situation for years, and the complex systems that the average knowledge worker has to operate in are really no different.  Again, this begs the question of why folks in business don’t get to reap the rewards of what Aviation already knows. For example:

“What we are seeing is that there is an increasing realization that practical training is really the critical element of maintenance training,” and “the concept of following some ad hoc practical training on the line is really not good enough for today’s generation of very different airplanes,”

Yet, time and again, business learners are forced to contend with off-the-cuff, ineffective events that masquerade as “training”.

Perhaps the difference is in the “invisible costs”.  Businesses are often able to sustain profits and revenues in spite of poor training.  While I’m sure there are examples out there outside of Aviation, I’m not sure that “lack of training” could be cited as a predominant cause of business failure because other factors tend to take a much more prominent role in the “blame game”.  Of course “lack of training” is frequently cited when businesses suffer some kind of newsworthy disaster.  Of course, we can almost cite verbatim the PR spin that says, “we will be reviewing our training to ensure situations like these, blah, blah, blah.”  It’s almost like “training” becomes a scapegoat and thus forced upon staff after the fact.  There are also corporate surveys a-plenty where demands for better training or simple access to ongoing training & development are usually at the top of employees’ wish lists.

So….who could and should business be looking to for an example of the right mentality with respect to training?  If one buys into the substance of the linked article, Aviation has much to teach all of us.  They learned long ago that the material and personnel costs of poor training are simply too high.  Consistent belief in the value of training and evolving tools and methods to meet the needs of the consumer and the learner have made them leaders in the field.

When it comes down to it, business can make a few simple changes and reap significant rewards.

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