Tech Air Takes Training To The Next Level

Train the Trainer program brings additional trainers on site.

As director of safety and compliance at Tech Air in Danbury, Connecticut, I have conducted a lot of training over the last 15 years. It’s a field that constantly changes as we adopt new equipment, processes and regulations. When Corp Brothers in Providence, Rhode Island, joined the Tech Air family last year, adding new locations and bringing our staff from 80 employees to 120, I realized that our training program had to evolve in a different way if we were to maintain the personal interaction that employees need to learn effectively.

This year, we rolled out a program called “Train the Trainer,” where I work with designated employees throughout the company and prepare them to become the trainer for their department. The program allows us to scale our training efforts as we grow, moving from one trainer to several. It takes advantage of the specialized knowledge and experience of employees across the company, and helps preserve the human element of training. A similar program may work for other distributors, whether they have an overextended trainer or simply wish to capitalize on the experience of those within the organization.

Why Train?
The number of government regulations a distributor must follow can be overwhelming. But if you peel back the “government” layer, you will see that these rules are meant to keep employees and customers safe. Why are you required to wear a seatbelt when driving a forklift? Why is it important to know how to evaluate a cylinder strap? Because forklifts and cylinders can tip and cause an injury, leaving a business owner potentially liable.

Tech Air training session with Marilyn Dempsey

Marilyn Dempsey (far right) conducts hazard training with office personnel, covering topics such as basic gas categories, container labeling and emergency response protocols.

Regulations must be followed, but they are not the reason for training. There’s no regulation that requires us to teach our administrative team about hazmat segregation and storage, but if a customer calls with a question about storing cylinders, their training helps keep the customer safe. And while accounts receivable might not be pumping propane, it’s important to know the appropriate personal protective equipment should they ever have to walk through the plant. Training is a necessary part of promoting a culture of safety and efficiency.

Selecting the Trainers
In order to train effectively, trainers have to know the material they are teaching. If you’ve never rolled a cylinder, you can’t teach someone how to do it. If you’ve never driven a truck, it’s hard to tell someone, “It sounds like you’re shifting too hard.” It’s more than a matter of credibility; experience enables the trainer to answer employees’ questions throughout the training sessions—and they always have questions.

That said, the most experienced person does not always make the best trainer. A trainer must be energetic and have the ability to connect with co-workers. An interest and a passion for the job go a long way in passing this same enthusiasm on to other employees. These qualities are all important in a trainer.

When selecting a trainer, we look at who has the best tools to conduct the training, weighing an individual’s personality and his or her experience. In some instances, the best person for the job may be the plant manager (for a production facility), the dispatch manager (for drivers) or the general manager (at locations without production facilities), but not always. In these cases, we work with the manager to select an employee who we feel will be able to conduct the training. Admittedly, you cannot always tell if someone will make a good trainer until they go through the process, so it’s important to continuously reassess each individual very carefully.

Once we select a trainer, he or she can accept or decline, because having the employee’s buy-in is critical. For the employee, being a trainer can earn the respect of peers and management alike—not to mention it is a great résumé builder for any employee looking to advance a career within the organization. Getting employees involved with training is a great way to instill a sense of ownership. A funny thing happens when you make employees responsible for training—they begin to concern themselves more with overall safety and compliance, and it becomes a real source of pride.

The Complete Package
With different trainers at each location, it’s important to make sure every employee is trained to the same standard. Presenting each topic as a “package” helps ensure consistent training. The makeup of this package varies for each topic depending on available resources and the most effective medium for that topic.

For forklift training, we use a video that we follow up with classroom-style training and a hands-on practical session. In some cases, a PowerPoint presentation with pre-recorded voiceover or interactive computer training may be the best approach. With topics like hazard communication, we use props such as placards and cylinders with labels to assist with training. Some of the equipment used in demonstrations can be bulky and difficult to transport. Damaged valves and cutaway cylinders can also be effective training tools, but are available in limited numbers. To make these props portable, I turn them into interactive videos and photos that are easily packaged.

As part of every package, I put together an outline to guide our trainers through the curriculum for each topic. We believe in the importance of the human touch, the need for trainers to personalize the script and be there in person and talk with every employee. This human touch is also necessary in the development of training packages. Throughout the process, I interact with all of the trainers in order to incorporate their feedback and keep the training personal.

I like to keep training sessions relatively short, no more than a half hour. After that point, employees’ attention starts to wander. Each training session is followed up with a quiz, at the end of which we ask employees to name Tech Air’s four service standards in order (safety, courtesy, quality and efficiency). Trainers then go over the quiz with employees to make sure they understand the material and reinforce it one more time. Quizzes serve the additional purpose of documenting each employee’s training.

Above all, a training program should be flexible. We hold monthly training sessions for production personnel 11 months out of the year—there’s always that one month when something comes up, so it’s nice to have the ability to adjust the schedule. It’s also important to have the flexibility to accommodate timely or pressing topics. When the Department of Transportation came out with its CSA program, it was evident that our drivers needed additional training sessions to understand the new guidelines. Most recently, when it was decided that a refresher on security awareness was needed, we were able to swap it into our training schedule.

Training in Progress
Like anything else, Train the Trainer is one tool among several available to distributors. Bringing in outside vendors and consultants for training sessions can be a perfect supplement to in-house education. We have received very valuable training from our suppliers on such topics as liquid fill and liquid can repairs. GAWDA’s consultants also provide great training on a variety of topics.

At Tech Air, we continue to incorporate new topics into our Train the Trainer program, and ultimately hope to conduct all of our in-house training using this method. For any training program to grow and evolve, it’s important to have honest feedback. As the developer of the program, that means being open and accepting of criticism. I’ve been at it for 20 years, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn. That’s the beauty of this business—there’s always something to learn.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Marilyn Dempsey Meet the Author
Marilyn Dempsey is director of safety and compliance at Tech Air, located in Danbury, Connecticut, and on the Web at www.techair.com.