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Reduce training frustrations with 4-step process

Poorly trained employees can lead to wrecked equipment at best, and can end in frustration and high turnover.

When I was learning to operate equipment on the family farm, the on-the-job training was brief and, according to many other family members, nonexistent.

If we were lucky we were given a full pass of the field and some instruction on the use of the implement. Then Dad would let let us show him we wouldn't wreck anything on another pass as we ran the equipment and he sat in the buddie seat. Then out the door he jumped, mentioning we could call on the two-way radio if we had a question.

While the training was a bit haphazard and tended towards the overwhelming, it actually covered most of four ways people learn, abiet in a highly abbreviated form. Maybe Dad was on to something?

Training new employees has always been a challenge and many farms are reaching outside traditional rurual areas in order to find talent. Many of your talented hires have no expertise or knowledge of farming. That's OK, as long as they get the right kind of training that is natural to them. Poorly trained employees can lead to wrecked equipment at best, and can end in employee frustration and high work force turnover. Each of the outcomes cost money and time.

Since the early ‘70's educators realized that students do not all learn the same way. Great teachers now modify their instruction to match the learning style of the student.  You can do the same with your employees.

There are four main learning styles, and most people learn better in one of the styles.

1. Visual Learners – They learn by seeing. They often interrupt, are fast talkers and use phrases the evoke visual images, such as, "I can see how this works now."

2. Audio Learners – They learn by hearing. They tend to speak slowly and tend to be good at listening. They learn by hearing and then repeating back what they learned, such as, “I hear what you are saying."

3. Reading Learners – Prefer to learn by reading and writing. They enjoy manuals and other text-based materials.

4. Active Doer Learners (Kinesthetic) – Tend to use all their senses in learning. They like a hand-on approach and learn through doing the task. They like to learn by trial and error.

It is often not readily apparent how your employees best learn so it is often quickest to train a new employee with a four step process:

1. Have them read the pertinent areas of a Standard Operating Procedure, training manual or other written material if available and applicable.

2. Tell them how to do the job while being as descriptive as possible.

3. Physically show them how to do the job.

4. Have them show you how to do the job.  

The rate of success increases dramatically because according to professor and researcher S.F. Reif (1993) people retain:

-10% of what they read

-20% of what they hear

-30% of what they see

-50% of what they see and hear

-70% of what they say

-90% of what they say and do

Look back over the four learning styles and the corresponding four steps. Notice how each learning style is covered with a fairly quick training session? What learning style is natural to you?

Whether by design or accident, the training I received on the farm from Dad covered most of the bases. The only thing missing was reading the procedure manual, but it really didn't matter. When I learned to drive a tractor I was too young to understand the manual anyway.

Tim Schaefer founded Encore Consultants to provide specialized advising and coaching to farm families and agribusiness at the crossroads of change.  With over 20 years of experience advising farmers, Tim was an early pioneer of peer advisory groups for agriculture as a way for successful farmers to gain knowledge, ideas and skills from each other in a non-competitive environment. Tim can be reached at

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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