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Continuing professional development training might be compulsory for all vets, but the rates of application once back in the practice are worrying low. By John Burfitt
When it comes to the value of workplace training, it seems the figures don’t lie and don’t offer much good news either.
According to a 2020 report on trainingindustry.com taken from a number of top US training companies, $US370 billion was spent on workplace training in the previous 12 months. The Australian veterinary profession plays a role in this figure, as local vets complete 60 points of continuing professional development (CPD) training over a three-year period as part of their accreditation.
But for all the money spent on training and education, the return on investment is hardly inspiring. The 2015 Workplace Learning report by the 24×7 learning solutions organisation claims only 12 per cent of training participants ever apply the skills learned in new training to their job. The news is not much better from a McKinsey & Company survey, which found just 25 per cent of respondents believed training measurably improved their performance at work.
What was most telling in the McKinsey report was the revelation that most companies don’t bother to even track the returns on their investment in training.
The problem of retaining information, according to The University of Adelaide’s Dr Hayley McGrice, has little to do with the quality of information on offer or the commitment of the learner. Rather, she believes it’s the amount of material usually presented in training sessions, which can lead to information overload and reduced retention. “Training sessions often focus on conveying high volumes of information in short time frames but don’t give people the opportunity to apply the new skill in a timely manner,” Dr McGrice, a senior lecturer in the university’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, says. “Only a relatively small amount of information can be processed at any one time in someone’s working memory.”
It’s a point leadership and people management specialist Karen Gately agrees with. “I would rather a team member sign up for one hour of training a week for eight weeks, than eight hours in one day,” Gately, the founder of Corporate Dojo, says.
“When someone is taught all the new information in one hit and then comes back into the workplace, they don’t have time to unpack what they learned, let alone practise it. We’re far better working in sprints than marathons.”
Timing aside, Gately insists it’s how the new training is framed in the workplace by the practice owner or manager that can make all the difference to the outcomes. This is when the boss needs to also take on a mentoring role.
“It has to be shared accountability, so that person knows they have to come back with information, but they also have a manager who coaches them about what to do with that information,” she says.
If a team member is going to a conference or a training course, Gately recommends that on their return they do a presentation to the rest of the team explaining what they learned and why it’s important. “That way, they have to get their own heads around what they learnt, but the rest of the team will also benefit with some of the new ideas that person has brought back, so the new learnings extend out to everyone.
“Most people are likely to thrive when they have both personal accountability as well as effective leadership to coach and mentor them about how to implement this new information. Both approaches are absolutely necessary for the training to be effective and to make a difference.”
Training consultant Louise Davis says one of the problems with mandated CPD, as it applies to Australian vets, is that training can be considered more of an obligation than something of real value.
“People aren’t always motivated by something that’s compulsory, so you have to determine how do you position that the training is valuable,” Davis says. “For anyone in a practice, training needs to be positioned as an essential for staying up to date and relevant in a profession that continues to undergo changes.”
One of the training principles Davis works with is the 10–20–70 rule. The way this ratio works, she explains, is that 10 per cent is formal training, 20 per cent is workplace mentoring and 70 per cent is workplace application.
“If you really want training to have an impact, it’s what the boss does beforehand and afterwards that sets up the transfer of learning,” Davis says. “Beforehand, it’s setting up the context of what and why that person is going off to learn, and afterwards, it’s about helping them apply the new learnings in the workplace, and the best ways to measure the changes.”
Davis says the biggest mistake managers make is sending team members off to professional training, and just hoping changes will inherently follow. “As the boss, you need to show leadership to get the best return on your investment in that person and their improved skills,” she says. “It’s the top and tail in training that counts, and having a system to carry it forward so real change can take place.”
Adelaide University’s Dr McGrice claims the testing of knowledge and then applying it in a real workplace setting can help to establish it as part of a person’s skills set and long-term memory.
“This is when you need to set goals,” Dr McGrice says. “I use the six days, six weeks and six months approach, of how can you use this information and implement meaningful changes in those periods of time. Make the goals SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. Then revisit them to ensure the professional development has resulted in positive changes in your practice, and has been a valuable use of time.”