Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Part-Time Training

I absolutely love getting new employees.  Not only is it an opportunity to meet someone new, but it is a fresh start at teaching new skills, techniques, concepts, and ideas.  That first week on the job is usually euphoric for new staff as they get acquainted with their surroundings.  For a full-time employee, the on-board procedures are relatively routine; chances are you have a couple meetings planned over the course of their first week with some hands-on training here and there.  With part-time employees, those who work 20 hours or less, training can be a little more difficult.

This past month, I received three new hires (all part-time positions) in two different positions and I have been in training mode, to say the least.  Here are some ideas that I've learned over the past month that may help you should you find yourself in a similar position:

Obviously, the biggest hurdle of part-time employees is time constraints.  Unlike your full-time employees (FTE) who can work Monday through Friday for 8 hours, your part-time employees (PTE) are restricted to 20 hours or less and are expected to learn all the same material and at the same rate.  Therefore, successful PTEs are the result of excellent time management skills on the part of the supervisors.

Part-time employees are great for scheduling because they are superheroes who fill in the gaps during short-staffed hours.  For the first several weeks, however, it is critical to schedule your new PTE during well-staffed periods.  Until they have demonstrated or articulated their confidence in being left unattended at the reference desk, you may be doing them a disservice by asking them to swim before they can even tread water.  If nights are busy, for example, then that may not be the best time for learning.  But what if nights are the busiest time and that is the only time the PTE can be scheduled?  Seems like a tough question, but the answer is quite simple: have more people work nights, at least for a few weeks.  It will be a trade off with your staff.  Ask them to work an extra night each week so the new hire can be trained properly.  A well trained staff member will be invaluable after the initial learning period whereas, without a proper learning environment, the new staff member may do more harm than good later on.

Additionally, new staff should be scheduled consecutive days to increase retention rates.  Your new PTE will not learn much if the very first week consists of multiple days off.  For example, if the new staff member works 20 hours in one week, the ideal schedule for the first week will consist of five 4-hour shifts instead of two 7-hour and one 6-hour shift.

Having a routine schedule in place for the first several weeks will certainly help your new staff member get acquainted with the new atmosphere, but it is only the beginning.  Before the first day, there must be a plan.  Ask yourself both of these important questions:

Who is responsible for training? - This is a much more difficult question to answer than meets the eye.  For most organizations, it is not just one person who will be training an individual.  A training manager, a supervisor, and possibly coworkers will have a hand in what the new person learns.  The newest staff member should have a clear idea of who is her "trainer."  Because there is more than one way to skin a cat, having trainers who skin the cat the same way is ideal.  Fleshing out these details before the start date, will give all parties involved a sense of structure to the training.

What does the new employee need to learn? - It is difficult to train if you do not have a clear understanding of the direction you are taking.  Before the start date, every person involved should help build a training timeline set with clear expectations of performance levels.  What will the employee learn the first week on the job? the second?  after the first month?  Thinking about the employee's job description and duties performed by staff in the same position, you should be able to create a training checklist for guidance.

Training plans provide the building blocks for a new employee and ensures that the information builds upon itself without leaving any gaps.  A piecemeal training plan will result in an overwhelmed employee who is unable to meet expectations.

There should never be an end to training but, at some point, the new employee will know enough to fly solo.  After a solid two weeks of consistent training, the newest staff member should be equipped with just enough to be on his own.  Depending on the job, a two week time frame may be too long or too short.  For this reason, communication is everything.  Those involved with the training should consistently be seeking feedback on the PTE's progress.

Progress can be measured in several different ways: quantitatively and qualitatively from the perspective of the supervisor and the perspective of the employee.  When all three of these measurements reflect positive progress, the employee should be ready to take on more responsibility.  None of this can be achieved, however, without communication and consistent follow-up with your new employee.

As with any training, the follow- up is key to their success.  It is an opportunity to ask questions and receive additional help without the pressure.  If you have multiple new hires within the past six months, you may want to host an informal follow-up meeting to give the new staff members a safe place to ask questions and comment on things they've noticed on the job (see ALA Days 3&4, Notre Dame University.)  Those new to an environment are seeing with fresh eyes and may be able to give an outside perspective which
can lead to positive change.

If you can't do everything as described above, the least you can do is let your new PTE know they are welcome.  Provide them support and be a mentor and those small gestures will impact their performance greatly.

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