Opinion: 5 Tips to Make Training Programs Last

A picture of Shawn Smith of KPA

For the RV industry, the past two years have been nothing short of historic. First-time RV sales jumped 170 percent at the start of the pandemic. And as of 2021, manufacturers had broken shipment records for 13 months straight.

But deep into 2022, the RV boom has slowed. One reason why is inflation.

Manufacturing RVs became more expensive, especially with ongoing supply chain disruptions. The sticker price reflects that impact, making consumers hesitant to shell out for a new vehicle. High gas cost also is a factor.

In a slowdown, most dealerships seek ways to cut costs. Two likely casualties: workforce and safety training programs.

Now is not the time to gut those programs. Instead, invest in them. An on-site injury or HR incident can create unexpected costs, cutting into dealerships’ budgets, especially those with less capital on hand.

As HR and environmental health and safety (EHS) managers, you can retool your training programs to prepare for what is ahead. A future-minded approach can keep your workforce safe and engaged through a downturn—and help you stand out once you are on the other side.

Here are five best practices to ready your dealership for the future.

Invest in Mobile-based Training Tools

Today, almost everyone has a smartphone. Your employees likely use theirs throughout the day.

With mobile-based workforce and safety training tools, you can engage employees in a comfortable and accessible environment. Instead of tethering workers to a meeting room or laptop, mobile software enables training on the go, for example, while waiting for a lunch order.

For future-minded managers, training on the go is a big perk. With a more convenient way to complete training modules, most employees will absorb key safety protocols and workplace policies. The result is a safer, healthier workforce and ongoing organizational compliance.

Make sure your mobile-based training software includes:

  • A dedicated native app. Web apps can be clunky and slow to load. A native mobile app optimizes mobile training for each employee’s device.
  • A streamlined user interface. A simple, easy-to-navigate app design can make training less burdensome and boost overall engagement.
  • A digital reference library. Employees should be able to easily find digitized safety protocols and HR documentation.
  • Training reminders. To ensure dealership-wide training compliance, make sure employees can receive push notifications about upcoming training deadlines.
  • Knowledge assessment tools. With regular quizzes during and after modules, you can track and evaluate workers’ training progress.

After selecting the right mobile training technology, you can maximize its impact as follows:

  1. Gradually roll out software. A slow rollout gives you time to test mobile training tools without overwhelming your workforce.
  2. Show employees mobile training technology’s value. To boost adoption, highlight some attractive features making module completion easier, such as mobile training reminders or gamified progress markers.
  3. Collect regular feedback. Survey employees about their mobile training experience to keep them engaged and better meet their needs.

Make Training Easy to Retain and Recall

Many employees are used to lengthy and generic workforce and safety training sessions. These info dumps might feel efficient, but they make retaining information difficult.

Retention is a problem for HR and EHS managers. When employees do not fully absorb training material, they are at higher risk of preventable incidents, such as slipping on a coolant spill or making offensive comments.

Such events can physically and emotionally harm workers. They also can tank morale and workplace satisfaction. For dealerships, the clear financial costs result in lost productivity, expensive workers’ compensation claims and increased employee attrition.

To avoid these costs, make each training module stick. Here is what I recommend:

  1. Keep things bite-sized where possible. According to Miller’s Law, our short-term memories can hold only seven chunks of information at a time. Translation: Do not give employees too much information at once, or they will struggle to remember everything. Instead, provide brief training modules whenever possible—and focus on a single topic to maximize retention.
  2. Mix up your training media. Everyone processes information differently. Make sure to include various audio, video and text modules. Do not forget hands-on training.
  3. Focus on industry-specific material. Employees can relate to and are more engaged in scenarios they will see on the floor. Tailor your training material to account for common dealership safety and workforce risks, such as poor hazard communication and gender-based harassment.
  4. Harness repetition’s power. Repetition is the glue of knowledge retention. Apply the principle to each training module by repeating key takeaways throughout. To further help employees retain lessons learned, consider taking a “spaced learning” approach by revisiting bite-sized training chunks a few times over several weeks.

Advocate for Peer-to-Peer Support

The right training method can instill a lasting safety and inclusion culture throughout your dealership. However, not every approach has to be top-down. With peer-to-peer support structures, employees can learn from each other.

Which support models should you consider? Start by creating a new worker mentorship program.

Think about training from an employee’s perspective. Being lectured by a higher-up about safety goggles’ value is one thing. Having an older mechanic tell you how some oil almost splashed into her eye and nearly led to an ER visit is quite different. Pairing experienced workers with new hires adds a new dimension to the learning experience and can preserve on-the-job knowledge.

Alongside mentorship programs, your workforce could benefit from employee resource groups (ERGs). Working at a dealership can isolate marginalized employees, and isolation can push folks away. ERGs connect employees from common backgrounds to foster a community.

The effect is like having a mentor: employees can learn from each other in a safe environment. With buy-in from the top, they will feel supported by their employer. The result is a more inclusive dealership where employees will want to stay.

Update Your Tech Stack

As you level up your workforce and safety training, having the right back-end management software/system is important.

Many dealerships, however, do not have one. Instead, they rely on paper-based systems and legacy software to manage their training programs. An outdated system makes processing incident reports, completing OSHA and EEOC forms, and tracking each employee’s training progress more difficult.

Back-end inefficiencies have serious consequences. Slow incident report processing can result in unresolved safety risks, putting your workers in harm’s way. If you are under a federal audit or investigation, outdated training logs may indicate negligence and warrant hefty fines.

With updated EHS and HR software, you can boost your back-end efficiency and mitigate your long-term risk. Make sure your platforms include:

  • Customizable audit, inspection and incident management forms.
  • A digital library with auto-updated safety regulations and HR policies.
  • Digital storage for personnel files and automotive safety data sheets.
  • Dashboards, reporting and analytics tools to track online training progress.

Get Executive Buy-In

I have recommended several best practices so far, and some might require an executive’s sign-off. Securing the signature can be challenging.

Many executives do not see workforce and safety training as direct revenue generators. Especially in slow periods, prioritizing a sales and marketing refresh often is an easy choice over a training program investment.

With the right strategy, you can get your dealership’s executives on board. Here is what I recommend:

  1. Leverage productivity data. Productivity matters to every business leader because productivity directly translates to revenue. In 2020, nonfatal injuries kept workers away for an average of 12 days each. To make the case for future-proof training investments, investigate your own dealership’s injury data so you can gauge safety’s productivity impact.
  2. Highlight the financial and compliance benefits. A poorly trained workforce can put your federal safety compliance at risk, resulting in steep fines. In your conversation, note how every investment in training can mitigate your company’s risk and help to avoid fines and payouts.
  3. Come to the table with concrete suggestions. Recommending EHS or HR tech? Use the guidelines I suggested to identify a few platforms and recommend one for adoption. If you are suggesting a mentorship program or ERG, look to other dealerships or companies for examples of real-world ROI.

With executive support for your proposals, workforce and safety training will not be short-term spending but long-term investments.

Every Small Change Goes a Long Way

When you implement these five best practices, you can retool your workforce and safety training programs for the future. Ultimately, you will build a supportive and safety-minded culture lasting through market peaks and valleys.

Remember, though, the process is a marathon, not a sprint. Be careful and attentive as you roll out new software and adjust your training approach. Patient implementation will lay the ground-work for lasting program success. With every small change, you will be one step closer to a future-proofed safety culture at your dealership.

Shawn Smith is the product director of training for KPA, an EHS and workforce compliance software and services provider for midsize businesses. KPA solutions help clients identify, remedy and prevent workplace safety and compliance problems.

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