ICS Magazine

The Value of Formal Training

November 20, 2007

Whether you are starting a new business or adding new technicians to an established company, formal training is an absolute must. Sure, it is possible to pick up the basics and “get by” without going to formal training, but sometimes this technique can prove awkward and expensive.

Any proper training program should include both formal classroom style training and a strong dose of on the job practical training. My goal here is to outline some of the value and benefits of the formal part of the training program.

First, formal training will be standardized. By this I mean that the course materials are based on industry standards and best practices, not rumors, wives tales, or wild guesses. Basic background information is presented offering a foundation on which to build. Generally the formal training begins with the “why” and finishes with the “how.” For example, the IICRC Carpet Cleaning Technician class covers fiber characteristics and carpet construction, outlining why certain products respond certain ways and offering an explanation of why the cleaning procedures taught need to be performed a certain way.

Second, formal training is generally reviewed regularly and kept up to date on the latest products and techniques available. Terminology is taught that allows communication with others in the industry and helps the technician stay on the leading edge of technology. The formalized training materials have been tested and are known to be appropriate.

Another advantage of formal training is that it is recognized and acknowledged by industry peers. Certain credentials, such as IICRC Certification, are known throughout the industry and those achieving the various designations can speak with authority, comfortable that they have been told the correct information. Suppliers, manufacturers, and related industry partners use recognized credentials as a baseline for various types of referrals, and service recommendations.

Yet another value of attending a formal training class is the fantastic networking opportunities afforded by the class itself. Spending a few days in a learning environment with other professionals in your chosen field will frequently result in new contacts and friendships that may last for years. It has been my personal experience that when attending a formal training class, I will learn almost as much during the breaks as I do from the instruction. The opportunity to ask the questions that have been nagging me, or to just find out that I am not the only one with certain challenges, will often more than justify my time at the class.

Granted, not all formal training is first class. There are a few precautions to observe in selecting a training program. First, look for a generic class taught by an experienced and professional instructor. If you don’t know anything about the instructor, take the time to make a few inquiries before signing up; it will be time well spent. Second, watch out for the sales clinic disguised as training. Certainly products must be used in demonstrations and hands-on sessions, but gaining knowledge and skills should be the focus, not the product. Finally, every formal training program should have some type of evaluation built in. This can be a formalized exam such as a certification test or a simple performance test following the instruction. Without some type of evaluation in place, neither the student nor the instructor can really be sure that the proper information was learned.

Today, formal training is available as never before: in live classroom settings; over the Internet; on DVD and videotape, and as part of industry conventions and meetings. True professionals never stop the formal learning process to supplement their years of experience in the field. Experience alone is valuable, but then so is formal education. Together, these make an unbeatable combination.

My friend and colleague, the late Bob Wittkamp, had a great comment on this subject: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”