Remember to put the “I” in training

Robert Apelgren

Would work be better with more respect and involvement in the success of the business? Training is just the answer to help. Let us walk down the road to excellence in developing your own personal training plan. Once you know what you want to do, it is easy to jump in. The roadblock to jumping in is often our own feelings of doubt or lack of understanding of what we are really looking for. I believe in teaching, instruction and coaching to achieve excellence in reliability and maintenance. The individuals in the company are the foundation of the team. In this article, we will discuss how to find your way through improvement by finding the right training for yourself. I will provide some simple steps to identifying training options and interests that will benefit you and your organization.

“Why do I do what I do?” Ask yourself this question. Are you in your profession for the money, achievement, learning, travel, camaraderie, or a combination of these? Knowing the answer provides a good base for the career decisions you make. Far too often, we fail to ask ourselves this important question and just take opportunities that come to us. Stop waiting for the opportunities and make the opportunities. The training and interests we invest in directly affect the course of our careers. This is the first step in taking the control of your ship and not letting the winds blow you about aimlessly.

After you have determined why you are in the profession, take a few minutes to picture where you want to be and the reasons to be there. Do not only look at the next promotional level, but where you ultimately want to be. Also, list the responsibilities and reasons for your pictured place in your career. Understanding the responsibilities of the position will help you determine if the position is really worth the effort. Many people regret the positions they have attained and make the comment that they should have stayed where they were. This is especially true of crossing into management from a technical position. The reasons you want to attain this level may give you some insight on some of your inner desires and needs. Once you are set on the position, this will be your long-range goal. The goal will provide direction for your decisions, and the benefits of success will fuel the motivation for achievement.

After you have identified your long-range goal, list the steps of career progression to achieve that goal. Each step is a short-term goal that helps keep the focus on the progression to where you want to be. Similar to the long-range goal, you must list all the responsibilities and benefits for each level to help in the preparation for success. The list of responsibilities will help identify the skills needed for each level. The benefits for each level will help sustain the motivation through your progression and take the fullest advantage of the different benefits while they are available.

A skills assessment is the next step in progressing in career excellence. List all of the skills you possess that relate to your job and future positions that are on your goals list. The skills should include interpersonal skills and communication that can become more widely used skill sets as you progress into higher positions. In addition, list all of the skills needed for each short-term goal and the long-term goal, including requirements like certifications, time or degrees. Apply a weighting system to each skill that helps show your level of experience and knowledge in that skill. For example, you can use low, medium or high, or a numbering system. This weighting system and skills list will help you to identify weaker areas and determine the training requirements necessary to prepare for the future.

 Once you have determined the skills needed for your future goals and the current skills you possess, perform a gap analysis for your training needs. Cross-reference all of your current skills to the skills needed for each level of progression (short-term goals) to your long-term goal. List all of the skills you do not possess or need improvement and prioritize them based on the career progression from the first short-term goal to the long-term goal. There are two things to do after you have cross-referenced your skills and the needed skills. First, mark each skill needed as a required or optional skill. Second, find similar skills that require the same training and eliminate all of the repetitive occurrences except the earliest chronological occurrence on the list.

You can obtain training from many different sources to gain the skills needed to achieve your goals. Different venues include college/universities, on-the-job training (OJT), self-study (books, computer, etc.) and seminars/workshops. Each of the different sources has different benefits and time requirements. The best choices are often the venues that match your preferred style of learning. Every person learns differently and it is important to try to match your learning style with the venue to gain the most benefit out of the training. Beyond that, it falls to convenience and time.

Colleges and universities have an abundance of different degree and certificate programs that help prepare you for entering the workforce. Attending a college does not always have to be with the intent of completing a degree. In some cases, you may just want to take a few specific courses for areas of spot improvement. For example, you might take a class on spreadsheets or other computer courses to improve your computer proficiency. Colleges have the possible benefits of tuition assistance, schedule-friendly class times and accreditation. Online classes have made colleges even more popular and accessible. The drawback is often finding classes in the technical areas that are very specific.

OJT is a very popular source for training and, most of the time, has a smaller impact on the personal schedule than other types of training. This type of training is normally performed under the supervision of an experienced person in that area. The main benefit of OJT is the aspect of actually performing the job and learning by trial and error. Another benefit is being able to still earn a paycheck while you are learning. Often, the earnings are at a lower rate than a skilled professional but increase with time. A drawback of OJT is the training is dependent on the schedule and knowledge of the professional performing the training supervision.

Self-study is another very popular form of training; it is often done on the computer or with books. Cost and time are some of the most common reasons for using this route of training. The cost associated with self-study is normally reserved to the direct materials related to the course of study. The time benefit is normally not associated with the overall time reduction but the flexibility of being able to put it away for a while when time is a constraint. Actual performance of the skill is sometimes not possible with self-study and becomes the main problem of gaining experience.

The final training venues are seminars or workshops. Workshops are usually very specific in scope and provide a lot of information in a short time. In addition, the instructors for the workshops are mostly experienced professionals in the course of study and provide experience-based tips and advice. The two issues that are the most prevalent with seminars and workshops are cost and time. Professional courses can carry a high rate because the instructors are usually very experienced professionals in their field and because of the cost of travel. The time for these courses is normally during the day on workweeks, which requires time away from work for the students.

For each skill requirement, identify the training method and an estimated time and cost for completion. A training plan can be developed at this point by taking the list of skill requirements and training method and mapping them out on a timeline associated with your goals based on availability of time and cost. At this point, you will want to map them out in the shortest possible time to get a picture of how long it will take at a minimum to achieve your goals. Keep in mind that as time goes along, the schedule might change and you will have to adjust this timetable. The training plan will be a key part in your movement up the career ladder.

After the training plan is complete, it is time to jump in and start. Schedule the time into your calendar and make it a priority. In addition, the monetary resources need to be allocated or acquired to start the training. Money can come from many different places, including student loans and tuition assistance; sometimes your company will even pay for it. It is common for companies today to have education reimbursement programs that pay for the classes or split the costs with the commitment from the participant to remain at the company for a specified period. Even if the company does not have a program, it does not mean that you cannot go to your manager and request help for your education. A well-written plan can sometimes sway the decision in your favor. In the event that it is not accepted, the plan will demonstrate the dedication to develop professionally and might open doors that make your progression up the career ladder easier. In any case, start the training as soon as possible to keep the motivation from the development of the plan.

The final step of the process is the sustainment of the plan. This is the point where many professionals fall off the horse. You need to track your progression through the training plan and your goals. Tracking the progression will give you many benefits, but we will note three at this time. First, you will be able to make continuous adjustments to the plan and quickly be able to see where you are at in relation to the timeline and goals. Second, the motivation is easier to maintain if you are seeing progress and achievements that reduce the list of skills training and goals. Finally, the sustainment process helps you remain focused on your goals, giving you something to weigh all decisions against to reduce unnecessary distractions.

Another helpful hint is to find a mentor or coach and develop a system of accountability. A mentor can be someone in your immediate organizational structure or a person in a similar field who can provide insight to the direction of your plan. We recommend that the mentor be an immediate supervisor or manager. The selection of someone in your leadership structure will help with removing some of the barriers and making it easier to acquire the necessary training. These organizational leaders can sometimes provide valuable insight into climbing the ladder of professional excellence. In any case, it is important to keep your supervisors informed of your goals at some level because they are your performance evaluators, and your training plan can help you stand out.

A system of accountability is no more than a mentor or yourself asking the simple question, “Am I doing what I planned to do?” This question normally has more impact when it is coming from someone else because you are in the spotlight. We often do not hold ourselves accountable and, therefore, we end up letting the plan fail. There is no purpose in having a plan if you are not going to ensure that it is carried out. The real picture is the end goal and the feeling that comes with climbing that mountain. A system of accountability is just another tool to help you get there.

Your success with training as an individual will benefit the team and the organization. It is always better to choose your own path than let situations or others choose for you. Develop a plan and use it to the fullest. Also, remember to track your progression and update the plan often. In addition, one final note is to become a mentor for someone, if possible, in order to share your experience and knowledge with developing an individual training plan.

About the author: 
Robert Apelgren received his bachelor of science degree in industrial technology from Roger Williams University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. Apelgren is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP) and a member of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) Best Practices and Standards Committees. He is also certified NAVAIR RCM Level III and Instructor, and NAVSEA RCM Level II. In addition, he has 15 years of maintenance experience as a technician, supervisor, coordinator, consultant and instructor. He can be contacted via e-mail at

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