Death by Chocolate Training

Can you really have too much of a good thing?

Training is critical for both safety and competence of personnel. With codes, standards and regulations changing at an ever-increasing pace, is it possible to have too much training?

I make my living training, so the obvious answer would be no, send more people to class, its good for business.

The real answer of course is yes, you can over train. What’s more, in addition to a waste of valuable resources, overtraining can create risk and even danger with certain types of complacency.”

Normally you would not see an article like this on a blog site dedicated to the importance of training, but over the past few months I have had a few separate experiences causing me to shake my head slowly with that “This must be a dream” feeling. While the first example of over training is understandable, you might have trouble believing the second, but trust me, I couldn’t make it up if I tried.

During a recent audit of a client’s training program, I found (and not for the first time), a training policy designed to meet the letter of the regulatory requirement with no real regard for the intent of the standard being cited. This organization mandated a specified amount of training for each employee each year. The same amount of training every year. An equal amount of training for every employee. No exceptions! I have seen this before.

Under this one size fits all mandate, you end up with some employees who become stressed trying to find things to fill their training requirement while others who may need more training for a specific reason or function are turned down because “We are already providing more training per employee than any of our competitors, and just can’t authorize what you need.”

Typically, programs like this ensure that everyone is over or undertrained and no one in the organization is happy with the amount of training. Staff on either side of this coin end up stressed. You can recognize these organizations as 1/2 of the staff begin scrambling and binge training in the last 6 weeks before corporate year end.

I have never understood the concept of arbitrary quantities of training (or anything else for that matter) and had trouble understanding where this type of one size fits all training rationale could come from.

Then, a few weeks ago, I received a call from a person we will call Pat (name changed for privacy and sensitivity purposes). Pat had called to inquire about our inspector training program. We have a few courses that are geared for pipeline inspectors from both the perspective of people just entering the inspection field, as well as a condensed pre-exam course for those inspectors who are experienced and simply looking for a refresher prior to writing the API 1169 qualification exam.

I asked Pat about experience in the pipeline industry, and I was provided a diatribe of completed courses dealing with construction practices, construction safety, quality systems and driving safety just to name a few. While a lot of them would be appropriate for pipeline construction, nothing was industry specific. I again asked Pat about experience, and was clear to identify that I needed to have an understanding of practical knowledge and experience before recommending any training. Turns out Pat had never actually worked on a pipeline or for a pipeline company. Truth be told, Pat had never worked in any construction field.

I then asked Pat “Why do you want to be a Pipeline Inspector?”

The following is near verbatim:
“I’m not attached to pipeline inspection. I would like to be any kind of inspector. I have a degree in literature with a major in mythology and a minor in Latin so I’m pretty smart. I know inspecting is easy work and pays well so I just need to know what course to take to get a certificate.”

Explaining that work experience was of critical importance, I learned that Pat had worked a summer job in a grocery store and felt that would be enough. I recommended some shadowing and perhaps some time in an entry level position, but Pat felt that would be a waste of time for someone with a higher education and intelligence. Pat explained that physical or dirty work was of no interest and then asked what qualification was needed to be a trainer and if any experience was needed for that.

We all come across these types of people from time to time. They are not unique or even rare. Their inability to understand the critical nature of experience makes them a potential hazard. They are in fact the reason why competency programs like those identified in section 3 of the CSA Z662 and the API 1173 are a requirement and mandate companies to clearly identify the level of training, qualification and experience for each required task they assign.

While adequate, topical and appropriate training is critical for competency it must be measurable and task specific. Training for training’s sake is a waste of resources and can create many unforeseen problems at many levels of the organization. In the oil and gas industry, companies are required to, on a task by task basis, identify and quantify the elements of competency. This needs to be broken down into safety, technical and regulatory knowledge of each task. While there may be many common courses at an entry levels, most organizations will have very distinct and tailored training and qualification requirements for employees and contractors depending on their roles and responsibilities.