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Special Report - Focusing on Performance

Special report - Training

Graham Barkus, Manager Organizational Development and Learning, Cathay Pacific Airways, says that continual development rather than training is the way forward

What improvements are offered by new techniques in training?

Training fails most often when it gives participants answers to questions they don’t have, or that are not relevant to their working situation and challenges. It is most effective when tailored to both the needs of the business or workplace circumstances, and the unique needs and context of the participants.

Competency-based development is fundamental to the nature of workplace learning needs. As the pace of change in the environment increases, yesterday’s knowledge quickly becomes inadequate or insufficient. Competency-based approaches create a broader base of improved capacity and capabilities that can be applied in diverse and quickly changing situations, and are therefore more likely to have valuable application in the work environment.

Our approach to training outside of technical skills in Cathay Pacific is increasingly emphasising development over training. The primary difference is that where training is more about tasks, processes and procedures with a goal of people meeting a “correct” standard, development focuses on increasing the capacity and capabilities of people to meet new, bigger and usually more complex challenges. 

Training most often presents the same content the same way to all participants; development applies the same principles and works with the same ideas, but grounds these in the experience, backgrounds and skill levels of the participants in each program—and therefore each iteration is likely to be different from any other, even on the same program.

The economic downturn has reduced recruitment fears, but is there still a long-term problem interesting people in an aviation career?

Aviation as an industry continues to offer a wide range of attractive career options. However, the challenge is whether areas such as service delivery are attractive to people who may or may not want a long-term career path. And also whether there is an adequate pool of suitable candidates for roles such as flying that require long-term commitment, passion and interest. Issues such as seniority lists can also affect career progress. 

Can training standards be improved without adding to costs?

The most effective way to improve training standards is through reducing the extent to which training is generic. Even in training processes where there are clear, black-and white standards of performance, an assessment of each participant’s competency level pretraining may identify a range of existing performance standards from “needs the full program” to “does not need the program at all.” 

Training investment is sometimes wasted by focusing too much on program attendance rather than performance outcomes. Focusing on the latter allows improvement of standards and increased efficiency through the better and more focused deployment of resources. This includes the use of technology for training that does not necessarily require a face-to-face approach, or which requires a measure of competency for compliance purposes.

How important is the need for ongoing training?

As long as the operating environment changes, there is a need for continual learning and development. Training is an important part of the learning mix.

Does training need to be adapted for different cultures?

To be properly effective, training—or more particularly development—needs adaptation for individuals. And culture is clearly a part of what makes up an individual.

Does training get the attention it deserves at board level given that is a key element in aviation’s future?
It can sometimes be tempting to see training outside of critical technical areas, as a “nice to have” which can be cut at will, particularly in economically tough times.

The flip side to the “nice to have” argument is that training should be a given, or a form of demonstration of commitment from an organization to its employees as part of a retention strategy. 

Both arguments are flawed. There are strong indications that it is precisely during tough times that investment in developing new skills and competencies is most valuable; if generic training is offered to people but consists of nothing relevant or applicable to their work situation, it wastes time and other resources.

Ideally airline boards would take a more strategic view of training and development, and link it closely to business need and change. The question may best be framed in four layers:

  • In light of environment change, (or business need, performance issues, etc), which groups need to operate differently?
  • In order to enable the new way of operating, what learning needs exist?
  • In order to meet the identified learning needs, what role should training and development play?
  • In delivering the training and development needs, what design would be most effective (face-to-face classroom-based, on-the-job training, e-learning, blended approaches, self-study, etc)?
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