How to Create Better Workforce Development Training

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Workforce development is essential for businesses and other organizations in today’s economy. And while there are many aspects to great workforce development, starting with successful onboarding of new employees, workforce development training is a key part of the effort as well.

Yet many organizations don’t have an expertise in training development, and aren’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of how to go about it.

In this article, we’ll give you a simple blueprint to follow when developing workforce development training. Following these steps will get you far, and once you’ve got this down you can learn more and further refine your workforce development training as well as other aspects of your workforce development efforts.

The Six Steps Behind Effective Workforce Development Training

You can improve your workforce development training by following a simple six-step process.

That process is illustrated in the image below, starting with “Design” at the noon position and continuing in a clockwise fashion through “Continuous Improvement” and back to “Design.”

We’ll explain these six steps more fully in this article, but take a moment to see what thoughts and ideas the image below brings to your mind before you read on.

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Two Things You Might Have Noticed About Workforce Development Training

Did you notice this is a never-ending cycle?

Did you notice it involves continuous improvement and then going back to the design phase?

If so, give yourself some congratulations. And know your workforce development training efforts will never really be done.

Just think of that as job security–it’s a good thing, really. Designing Workforce Development Training Image

Step 1: Designing Workforce Development Training

Don’t just rush into creating and delivering training. Step back and come up with a plan first.

The planning process, known as design, includes the following:

  • Training needs analysis
  • Identifying business goals training will support
  • Identifying KPIs/metrics used to track those business goals
  • Job task analysis
  • Learning objectives
  • Learner analysis
  • Even more

Let’s look in more detail at each.

Performing a Training Needs Analysis

When you perform a training needs analysis, you step back and ask two questions:

  1. What’s the “problem” we’re trying to solve here?
  2. Is training a good solution to that problem, or would some other intervention work better? (Read more about this here).

Identifying the problem will help guide your efforts from here on in.

In some cases, you’ll find that training is not the right solution. Maybe it’s better to change a process, for example. In cases like that, stop the training effort and begin working on the other intervention. Of course, in some cases, it will prove that training is the way to go. If that’s the case, keep going.

Identifying the Business Goals the Training Is Intended to Support

At some point, after the training is complete, you’re going to want to know if the training worked. And by that, we mean you’re going to want to know if it had a positive, measurable effect on one or more business goal. Because remember, companies don’t train workers without a reason. There’s always a business goal behind it.

Identifying the KPIs/Metrics Used to Measure Those Business Goals

But if you wait until the training is complete before you think about this, you’ll be behind the proverbial eight-ball. You won’t be able to measure and demonstrate the effectiveness of the training program.

Now’s the time to:

  1. Determine the business goal the training is intended to improve.
  2. Determine what key performance indicator (KPI)/ business metric is used to track that business goal.
  3. Record that business metric now and set up a schedule for continually monitoring and documenting that metric.

Once the training has been complete, you can compare the previous metrics with the current metrics and look for a trend. Hopefully, a positive trend.

Remember that simply saying the training is complete, or that workers passed a test, or that workers spent a certain amount of time in training, is NEVER enough to justify the value of the training.

Performing a Task Analysis of Job Tasks

In some cases, your training may be focused on creating awareness or teaching knowledge to employees. Maybe it’s a new company policy.

In other cases, though, the training will be intended to help workers develop new skills so they can complete a specific task or procedure on the job.

In those cases, you’ll want to break the procedure down into a series of smaller steps. This will help you prepare to teach the steps of that procedure to workers.

This process is known as the task analysis.

Note: In some cases, the job task isn’t a simple procedure with a series of smaller steps performed in the exact same order every time. For those cases, you may find this article on scenario-based learning, this article on helping workers develop problem-solving and troubleshooting skills, and even this article on motivating workers to be innovative of help.

Creating Learning Objectives for the Training

The next step of designing manufacturing training is to create the learning objective(s).

A learning objective is something you want the employees to be able to do when the training is over. It’s the entire reason for holding the training. It’s what you want to help workers learn to do so that they can do it on the job and the business can therefore meet its business goals.

Once you’ve created your learning objectives, they should function as a road map for all the rest of your training. You should create training content to help workers satisfy those learning objectives. You should notify workers that the training is intended to help them perform those learning objectives. You should create assessments to determine if workers can perform those learning objectives after training. And you should observe on-the-job behaviors after training to see if workers are performing those behaviors, skills, and/or procedures on the job.

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For more about learning objectives, download our free Guide to Writing Learning Objectives.

The Learner Analysis: Learning about the Workers and Their Learning Preferences/Needs

Your training should always be learner-centric. What does that mean?

It means you put the employees and their learning needs at the top of your list and you create training to match their learning needs.

As a result, you’ll need to learn as much about the learners–the employees you’ll be training–before you create the training.

There are many ways to do this. Maybe the best is to talk to them and ask them questions.

In addition, though, you might try having them complete surveys and questionnaires, observing them while they’re on the job, or getting information about them from their supervisor or HR.

Here are some characteristics to try to learn about:

  • Their current ability to perform the task and satisfy your learning objective
  • Their work schedule and availability for training
  • The language they speak, understand, and communicate in (both written and verbal communication)
  • Their reading level and capabilities
  • Their ages
  • Cultural group and/or ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Any physical handicaps
  • Learning preferences (one-on-one training; instructor-led classroom style training; group collaboration; written; self-guided online learning; etc.). Please note I’m not referring to the debunked “learning styles” theory here.

Considering the Delivery Method of Your Training

You can deliver training in different methods. What’s a training delivery method, you ask?

Training delivery methods you can use for your manufacturing training include:

  • Written training materials
  • Video-based training materials
  • Webinars
  • One-on-one training
  • Instructor-led training with a group in a class
  • Mentoring, shadowing, and/or following programs on the job (OJT)
  • Online training materials
  • And more

Mountains of research data shows that, in general, there’s no one training delivery method (or media) that’s more effective than the others. The research shows that all of them can be equally effective. What really matters is in the instructional method (for example, the instructional method of “providing helpful feedback” can be used in classroom-style training, in field-based training, during a live webinar, and even in an online eLearning course).

For more on this, see the classic book Evidence-Based Training Methods by Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark. Or this more recent research by Dr. Will Thalheimer.

You’ll often find that one type of training delivery method (instructor-led classroom training, for example) may be more appropriate for a particular training need, while a different training delivery method (online training, for example) may be more appropriate for a second training need. And in still other cases, you’ll find it’s best to deliver training in more than just method (such as introducing a topic with an online training course and then following up with an instructor-led classroom session).

Because of this, it’s best to use what training experts call a blended learning solution for manufacturing training. In short, this means picking the best training delivery method, or the best combination of training delivery methods, for each training need.

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Note: In addition to the blended learning article linked above, you may want to download our free Beginner’s Guide to Blended Learning.

Considering Partnering with Training Developers for your Workforce Development Training

At some point, you’ll want to think of how much training you want to create yourself and how much you want to create with professional manufacturing training providers, either buying off-the-shelf manufacturing training materials or getting custom manufacturing training created for your company.

The video overview below shows some examples.

Other Things to Consider when Designing Workforce Development Training

Some of the additional things listed below may not seem all that sexy, but they’re still important:

  • Availability of classroom space
  • Ability to deliver and complete training online
  • Mobile device capabilities
  • Similar logistical challenges

This stuff may not seem too exciting, but it’s important. For example, it won’t help if you create an award-winning, mobile-responsive online training program and your workers have no mobile devices.

Resources for Further Research on Designing Workforce Development Training

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Step 2: Developing Workforce Development Training

Once you complete the design step, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and develop your training program.

This means to make it, no matter what delivery method you’re using (online training, written, video, written, PowerPoint presentation, instructor-led training, etc.).

Below are some tips for you.

Using Credible Sources of Information

Make sure the information you’re including in the training is from reliable, credible, and accurate sources.

Work closely with subject matter experts (SMEs) and other sources to do this.

You may also want to consider partnering with training providers to get experienced knowledge for your manufacturing training, manufacturing safety training, and other workforce training needs.

Match Your Training to Your Learning Objectives

We already mentioned the importance of creating learning objectives and explained what they are.

So when you’re making those training materials, make sure that the materials teach workers to satisfy those learning objectives and take out stuff that doesn’t help them do so.

Remember that in training, less is always more.

Make Use of Adult Learning Principles

Always incorporate adult learning principles in your training.

According to a generally accepted set of adult learning principles, adult learners like the employees you’ll train:

  • Like to be self-directed
  • Come to training with previous knowledge, experience, and skills
  • Want to make progress toward specific goals
  • Want training that’s relevant
  • Want training that will help them perform specific job tasks
  • Learn better when they’re motivated to learn
  • Want to feel and be respected

Read this article to learn more about adult learning principles and how to apply them in manufacturing training.

Limit the Time

The human brain acts as a limit to the amount of information we can process. Think 2-5 “bits” tops.

And we can only keep it in mind for a short time, too. 15 minutes, tops.

Everything else falls by the wayside. It’s forgotten. Lost.

So keep training short and sweet and return for more later if necessary.

Chunk Your Workforce Development Training

“Chunking” means breaking training into shorter parts and putting them in a logical order–or letting workers access them in an order that’s helpful for them.

Chunking is a good way to help avoid the cognitive overload that comes with information dumps.

This article about chunking training explains why and how to chunk.

Language Issues: Speaking, Reading, Understanding

The language(s) that you use in training will be very important. Get to know your workforce and the languages they use:

  • What languages do they speak? Understand?
  • How informal/formal is their language?
  • How well do they read?
  • Any reading disabilities?

Always take the time to get to know these language traits of the workers.

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Many workplaces have workers that speak different languages, especially in global organizations. In cases like those, it may help to provide manufacturing training in multiple languages as well, as shown below.

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You’ll also want to speak in a conversational manner to the workers.

Try to avoid:

  • Unnecessarily formal language
  • Academic language
  • Complicated language
  • Long, complex sentences
  • Big words
  • Jargon
  • Acronyms
  • Abbreviations

Check out these tips on how to write training materials and these tips using language so that training “sticks.”

Your Manufacturing Training Should Include Visuals

Our brains have separate processing channels for language and for visuals.

Language and Visual Processing Channels for Manufacturing Training Programs Image

Using training materials that make use of both language and supporting visuals will make your training more effective. And remember, those visuals don’t have to be super-fancy. Some of the tools below can help a great deal with visual creation.

Tools for Creating Visuals in Manufacturing Training Image

In addition, training providers can supply you with online manufacturing training courses with visuals that are engaging and illustrative, like those below.

Manufacturing Safety Training Visuals Image

Even something like learning to read P&IDs can benefit from a visual approach, as this online course about Process and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs) shows.

Awaken Prior Knowledge Related to the Training Topic At Beginning of Training Session

As we mentioned earlier when discussing adult learning principles, employees come to training with a lifetime of experiences.

If you have workers recall those experiences at the beginning of training, and then introduce new but related materials during the training, the workers are more likely to remember that new information.

For more on this, check out:

Use Comparisons & Contrasts to Prior, Existing Knowledge

One way to help people associate new information learned during training with prior knowledge is to make comparisons using metaphors, analogies, similes, and similar language.

Learn more about the use of metaphors, similes, and analogies in manufacturing training in this article.


We’re essentially hardwired to listen to and pay attention to stories. From Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Breaking Bad, it’s true.

And that’s why you should include stories in your training. Don’t just share information, facts, and rules. Put them into stories that touch on real life. That will make it all more attention grabbing and memorable.

For more about this, check this article on story-based learning and why you should use it.

Practice, Feedback, and Consequences

People learn very well by doing.

And so you should create training that provides plenty of options for learning by doing.

But remember to let the workers see and understand the consequences of what they do (although in a safe environment), and be sure to explain how well they’re doing (through feedback).

Hands-on training is great for this, and so is scenario-based training even when it’s online.

Click to learn more about scenario-based training and read more about scenario-based eLearning courses here.

Use Spaced Practice

People forget things. Quickly.

So if you’re doing one-and-done training, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The technique known as spaced practice will make your training more effective by repeatedly introducing workers to concepts, keeping the knowledge fresh and active in their brains.

A quick eLearning course might be just the ticket. Or look into microlearning for refresher training.

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Metacognition means to think about your own thinking and learning.

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Employees learn more when they perform metacognition.

As a result, build prompts into your training for this. Have workers ask themselves if they understand the topics. Give them low-stakes practice exercises. When they answer a question, follow-up by asking how certain they are.

All these help.

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Step 3: Delivering Workforce Development Training

Now let’s turn our attention to delivering the workforce training.

General Considerations

The biggest key to workforce development training is to deliver it with the employee’s learning needs top of mind.

There’s a lot to that, much of which we’ve already covered, but keep this set of adult learning principles central to training delivery.

For more, check this article on Robert Gagne’s nine events of instruction or this more in-depth article on a more recent list of steps of training based on cognitive psychology.

Instructor-led Training

When leading any form of instructor-led training, keep things active and conversational. As in a two-way conversation.

Try to avoid lectures like these:

  • The sage on the stage
  • Spray-and-pray training
  • Information dumps

Have the workers play an active role. Ask questions. Do role playing scenarios. See if they can lead the training. Have them complete worksheets or other exercises.

There’s nothing wrong with trying a train-the-trainer course, too.

Online Workforce Development Training

The same goes for online training. Whether you’re buying it from a provider or making your own, make it active. Active next-button-click-to-boredom training.

Mobile Devices for Workforce Training

Mobile devices are great for training because they make it easier for workers to complete training on their own schedule and when they need the information.

Consider getting training that can be viewed and completed on mobile devices like the ones shown below or as explained on this mobile training webpage.

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Mobile learning, also sometimes called m-learning, is best when kept short (see the notes on microlearning below) and when intentionally designed to be viewed on a mobile device. Videos also work well.

Mobile learning is great not just for assigned training but also for performance support at the work area.

Spaced Practice

In workforce learning & development talk, we often speak of the forgetting curve.

And one way to combat that is with spaced practice.

Spaced practice is pretty much what it sounds like. Introduce a topic more than once, keeping the learning content and skills fresh in the workers’ minds.

Here are some tips:

  • Provide pre-training before the primary training
  • Introduce a training concept at several different times during the primary training
  • Re-introduce a training concept at several times after the primary training (not immediately after, but before a year has passed)

The book Make it Stick has more good information, as does this Spacing Learning Over Time white paper by Will Thalheimer.


There’s a moveme

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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