Training Half Life (worker retraining)
...by Author Sam McNair PE, CMRP of Life Cycle Engineering
Here is a critical tip for all of you who are pushing your organization to train.
An important thing to remember about training; it has a "half life". Like radio-isotopes it decays over time. The "half life" is 2-3 years. I developed some interesting data in a large chemical plant once concerning this when trying to address operator and craft training issues directly affecting asset reliability. In both cases we had done RCFA on failures and established that a baseline number of failures were the direct result of lack of proper training. Unfortunately it was a nice large representative sample of failures (hundreds) because it took a while to convince people that a real problem existed. This data was presented at National SMRP back about 2000 or so as a small part of a much larger presentation, and didn't get much notice itself.
In both cases we embarked on some very focused, high quality training which included a required demonstration of proficiency at the end. In both cases the effects were dramatic. It was not cheap to provide god training. In fact it cost about $60k to train and certify 22 millwrights, and about the same to train and certify about 180 operators plus their supervisors in a more limited scope of tasks. The actual payback in both cases was about 3 months. We knew this because we continued to perform RCFA and post maintenance testing. Time passed and we observed that the gains we had made were slipping away, and by 2 1/2 years they had reduced to 50% of the previous level. Limited refresher training was provided and the results jumped back up to the original level. We joking called refresher training “fighting against the dark forces of evil and entropy”.
Interested in this, I got looking into the mandatory operator procedure re-training required by OSHA for designated hazardous industries (us). And found it required feedback from operators and supervisors as to the correct frequency of refresher training. It had been oscillating back and forth between 2 & 3 years for a long time. This was another key validation data point.
Also interesting, is that private pilots are required to perform a review and demonstrate basic proficiency every 2 years. More demanding are the requirements for instrument flying (where lack of proficiency can get you very dead, very quickly) which requires certain proficiency demonstrated or recency of experience every 6 months. You can't tolerate a 50% reduction of proficiency and get away with it instrument flying, but can survive in normal private pilot operations. Airline transport pilots working for the major airlines are also required to do an extensive refresher every 6 months due to the complexity and high residual level of performance required on demand at any moment. This results in a very high degree of retained proficiency. All of this has been developed over decades as the result of experience, extensive studies, and unfortunately spilled blood.
The military also retrains constantly because the consequences of poor performance aren't tolerable. The military has appreciable turnover so training is very expensive and a large part of their overall budget.
Often companies will fail to train people out of the fear of losing expensively trained resources. Yes that can happen. But Henry Ford reflecting on the subject made the best case yet for training: “...far better to have well trained employees and lose some of them, than have poorly trained employees and keep all of them.”
So the lesson here is: If you train to obtain a measureable improvement in performance (why else would you train?), unless you provide for refresher training in about a 2 year time frame, you will measurably lose half or more of what you gained by the initial training. So you must plan for ongoing refresher training if you want to retain the gains. Remember that you have turnover and the new people coming in need to get the proper training too. Over and over, at site after site, when we ask why a certain known good practice is no longer in place, time and time again we hear the fateful words: “we used to do that, but somehow we got away from doing it.” Don‘t let this happen to your organization. Train effectively in the first place and retrain periodically for retention.
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