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A Must-Do Before Training Begins: Assessing Readiness

— by Rebecca Mazin

Human resourcesManagementTraining

Trainers will often identify whether an individual has completed level one of a technical program before moving to level two — but just as often they fail to go back to basics of cataloging employee knowledge before training begins.  Big mistake — here’s a personal tale that explains why.

My first day in the driver’s seat of the family Ford began in front of our house with my dad on the passenger side. He turned to me and said, “Start the car.” I replied, “I don’t know how to start the car.” Dad raised his voice and announced, “What the hell have you been doing in the car for 17 years? Your brothers all knew how to drive when I taught them!” We switched places and dad drove us to the high school parking lot where he proceeded to yell at me for the next three hours of instruction. I didn’t drive with my father again until after I got my license.

Years later the memory is still pretty sharp. The raised voice, the curse word I was not allowed to utter and the rebuke from my father were all uncharacteristic. Dad did not frequently yell for emphasis or discipline but when he did it was most likely to be directed toward my three older brothers. But then again, they knew how to drive. They taught themselves, or each other, backing in and out of our driveway.

My personal tale is a favorite example when I work with managers who perform new employee training or fine tune the skills of experienced employees. I have other stories of the consequences of failing to assess readiness for training, but this one always hits the mark.

Words Around the World

In our multi-cultural workforce errors abound when we assume the employee from Bangkok has the same working vocabulary as the one from Burbank. Differences exist within our borders across country and even county lines. Add jargon to cultural differences and you can really confuse. Retail supervisors have told me about horrified looks on employees’ faces when they instruct them that the first step in the job is to, “get the gun.” The pricing gun puts labels on products, no bullets required. We slip into jargon as easily as the second cup of coffee without realizing that it’s a whole new world of words for the newcomer.

Where is the Refrigerator?

We all bring unique experiences and perspective to the workplace — most formed by how and where we grew up, were educated and have worked. In high school I was excited to begin employment in a restaurant where I could earn tips and more than minimum wage. I spent 20 minutes one day looking for the milk that the chef asked me to get. He told me it was in “the walk-in.” I didn’t think to ask where the refrigerator was; I didn’t want to look dumb.

At a hotel where I was the HR Director we hired a recently arrived immigrant from the Far East to help maintain the little bit of landscaping in front of the property. He lived in an apartment not far from work. On day one, the new employee was instructed to cut the bushes. He cut them off — there were a few inches of stumps left when he was done.

Remember: Review work history, check vocabulary, interview an employee, demonstrate outcomes and provide a glossary before training schedules are filled.

> More on e-learning on the Mindflash blog.

Rebecca Mazin is the owner of Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y. She does consulting, management training, and writing to create solutions for human resources issues. Co-author of The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals, Mazin is also the author of The HR Answer Blog on and The Employee Benefits Answer Book (Pfeiffer).

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