How to Effectively Teach a Trainee

Training someone may seem fairly straightforward in theory, but if you want that training to actually stick, you have to give it more careful consideration

How to Effectively Teach a Trainee

Bo DeAngelo, master plumber and manager of technical training at Viega.

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If you’ve been in the trades for a while, you’ve probably been asked to take someone under your wing and teach them a skill, show them how to perform a particular task or even how to use a new piece of equipment.

Whether that’s something you enjoy or do grudgingly, it’s in the best interests of everyone — you, the trainee and your employer — that you do it well. But doing a good job of instructing takes more than just saying, “Here, watch me.”

Here are six things to keep in mind when you’re passing along your hard-earned wisdom:

1. Determine the best way to teach your trainee.

Everyone learns differently. A lucky few only have to see something demonstrated once to get it. Others can learn everything they need to know from verbal instructions. Some can pick it up from a manual. Others require a hands-on session.

In my experience, it’s best to use a combination of visual, auditory and kinesthetic instruction. There’s no one right or wrong way, but it saves time and energy if you can determine how your trainee learns best.

Don’t be afraid to ask trainees how they pick up things fastest. They might not know exactly, but they should be able to give you a sense of what has worked best for them in the past. As you work together, you’ll see evidence of what method is having the most success.

Of course, that works for the instructors, too. Some are more comfortable demonstrating something than offering instructions. Some prefer more of a textbook approach. Find a technique that works for both of you.

2. Keep it simple.

When you’re an expert at something it’s easy to assume others know more than they do about that subject, whether it’s the lingo, basic techniques or other bits of knowledge you take for granted. Assess your trainee’s level of knowledge and be sure to teach at that level. Remember that trainees might be reluctant to ask questions or admit they don’t know something for fear of looking stupid. Make sure they feel comfortable speaking up or asking you to explain something a second time. When in doubt, check in with the trainee frequently to see if they’re following you.

3. Give the “why,” not only the “how.”

It’s not enough just to show someone how to do something. Explain the reason why it’s done that way, whether it’s for efficiency, safety or some other reason. The “why” usually comes after the student has learned the basics. Knowing “why” will reinforce the correct approach and decrease the chances the trainee will try to find a “better” way on their own.

4. Use other sources.

You’re instructing on the job so you don’t have immediate access to a PowerPoint or manual, but the student can and should learn in their off hours, as well. Encourage your trainees to supplement the training you provide with other sources of knowledge, such as manufacturers’ trainings, videos and manuals, trade associations and schools, etc. Knowledge they gain on their own has a tendency to stick with them.

5. Push your trainee.

As your trainee progresses, give them the opportunity to start solving problems on their own and putting to work the things you’ve taught them. This will let them see the payoff to all the training and encourage them to continue learning. Encourage critical thinking and problem solving.

6. Be patient.

You weren’t born knowing how to install a hot-water tank or snake a sewer line. Someone had to show you and correct your mistakes. Teaching someone else is a chance to repay the favor. 

Keeping these steps in mind will help bring along the next generation of tradespeople and maybe even allow you to retire someday.

About the Author

Bo DeAngelo is a master plumber and manager of technical training at Viega.


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