No train no gain

by 19 Aug 2008

The skill of the trainer can make or break almost every L&D initiative. Teresa Russell talks with one group whose training helped topple John Howards government and another whose training has improved the lives of a million people

Most training does not have life or death implications, although some does. For example, OHS initiatives can have a profoundly negative impact on an organisation or an individual if training is ineffective. Organisations must train their trainers properly to avoid any number of negative consequences, ranging from criminal prosecution to wasted time and money. Effective “train the trainer” programs have changed the course of history.

The NSW Nurses’ Association is the trade union representing the legal, industrial and professional interests of nurses and midwives in NSW. It directly employs 130 people in three locations across the state to deliver services to its 51,000 members. When the Howard government introduced WorkChoices legislation, it radically affected the way the NSW Nurses’Association managed its core business.

“Our officers needed to attend a training course to obtain a federal right of entry before they could even access some work sites,” says Robyn Morrison,employee relations co-ordinator at the NSW Nurses’Association. “We needed to inform our members about the effect the new legislation was going to have on people and their employment.”

In 2005, management acknowledged that the flow of information to local members at their worksites was actually face-to-face training and that a core skill its officers needed was an ability to think on their feet while effectively delivering information about WorkChoices and other industrial issues. The goal was to skill up its officers in 2005 and 2006 to effectively communicate to members, thereby stimulating grassroots support for the Your Rights at Work campaign in the run-up to the 2007 federal election.

In another far-reaching example of the impact of train the trainer programs, the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (DADHC),trained its trainers to improve the lives of its clients – more than a million older people, disabled people and their carers living in NSW.

DADHC’s funding comes from both federal and state government sources. It employs 12,500 people across the state to deliver in-home services, programs, respite care and group homes to its clients.

DADHC was formed in 2001 when Home Care Services of NSW – which was an RTO from 1999 to 2007 – amalgamated with several other government departments. Sandra Winley, one of DADHC’s L&D project officers, says that from 1999 to 2007 the organisation trained about 350 workplace assessors and 570 workplace trainers,achieving more than 15,300 units of competency.

In 2007, it voluntarily deregistered its RTO status so it could concentrate on its core business –delivering services to its clients. It now outsources train the trainer programs for its staff.

Choosing providers

Morrison says that the NSW Nurses’ Association approached a number of RTOs about tailoring a Certificate IV in training and assessment to be conducted for 26 participants over two years.

“We chose Pollak Learning for several reasons,”says Morrison. “They demonstrated an understanding of our needs in terms of our objectives and time frames, then customised a course to suit not only group training requirements, but also used industry-specific examples that ensured our people would relate to the course content.

“They also had a good reputation for delivering quality training courses,” she says.

At DADHC, RTO selection has been an issue since only late last year. Finding outsourced RTOs that have the same reach across the whole of NSW is one of the biggest challenges, according to Winley. If the project’s costs exceed $30,000, the work must go out to public tender. “We write thorough specifications and have a transparent selection process,” says Winley.

Participant response

Morrison says that the most difficult part of the training was co-ordinating the participants to attend the group training session. “Many had difficulty prioritising their workload to fit in the training. That’s not unusual with all training,” she says. She also held the course onsite, which she says she would not do next time because it was too easy for participants to get distracted with day-to-day work pressures during breaks.

The Certificate IV in training and assessment took seven days for participants to complete: three modules of face-to-face training, with assessments in between. The course was run over a three-month period.

At DADHC, Winley says that when the organisation was an RTO, each Home Care branch took ownership of its training and assessment programs,making things happen at a local level.

“Participants were keen to have trainers who already knew their roles,” says Winley. “Managers were happy because the training was effective and relevant to them, as well as providing flexibility for shift and weekend workers.”

Measuring effectiveness

Morrison says that the participants became more confident in front of a group of people and that the training had time-saving benefits for the organisation. “Participants presented information about an industrial campaign [Your Rights at Work] and trained others in how to effectively deliver this information to other members,” says Morrison.

“Repeat training wasn’t needed (where it had been in the past), resulting in a far better use of our human resources. There was an initial outlay for training, but in the end it saved us time and money,” she adds.

The real test of effectiveness occurred during the Your Rights at Work campaign that ran prior to last year’s 2007 federal election. “Our members understood the full ramifications of WorkChoices and marched down George Street, attended rallies, picnics and other community events.

“The training stimulated the response of members and motivated them into individual action, such as working on polling booths and doing out-of-hours leaflet drops,” says Morrison, adding that career development and succession planning were both positively effected by the original training.

“Measuring effectiveness comes back to improved client service delivery. An external organisation recently surveyed our clients, who reported a very high level of satisfaction with the service. Our latest WorkCover report showed decreased injury rates among frontline employees, which will result in lower premiums,” says Winley.

At DADHC, workplace trainers have undertaken internal projects to improve the efficacy of on-the-job training, paying particular attention to their own workplace needs such as training weekend and shift working staff. Winley offers this sort of problem-solving as another benefit of train the trainer programs to the organisation.


Morrison says it is important that participants understand the benefits of the attending the training before they go. “Some participants had done other education that they felt would be suitable, but we needed to stress that the training had the potential to decrease their workload and would benefit them and the organisation,” she says.

Winley says that the facilitators must be qualified and experienced in the topic on which they are training. “You have to ensure that the facilitator has empathy and a connection with the people they are training,” she says, adding that, as with all training,you must understand the outcomes you want to achieve before starting out.