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Train the Trainer: an International Perspective for HRDs and Training Professionals

21 Jul 2019
Jane Rexworthy, Executive Director, People 1st International

What are the some of the challenges for HR professionals who are responsible for international train the trainer programmes? Here are key observations and recommendations, based on our experience of delivering International skills solutions and professional development programs in more than 30 countries across the world. CONTRIBUTOR Jane Rexworthy, Executive Director of People 1st International

Finding the trainers
A key goal of almost all the projects we have been involved in is building local capability – in other words, transferring expertise and leaving a long-term legacy. So identifying local trainers is obviously of vital importance.  

It’s also critical to identify and source people who are committed to the learning journey. When working internationally, we find that it’s not unusual to find trainers who are not always prepared for the amount of work and preparation that they will be required to do. As such, it is essential to let them know what’s expected of them in advance, including the expectations around their own personal engagement and involvement.

Managing Change
Another issue that we have found is that some trainees already have engrained patterns and ways of doing things, and this needs to be handled sensitively from a cultural perspective.

We have recently been involved in an initiative led by the Philippine Constructors Association (PCA) to develop and deliver a management-level training and development programme as part of the country’s ambitious $180 billion ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure programme.  A significant component of this is the establishment of a programme to help build the capacity and capability of PCA trainers, who in turn will upskill trainers in private construction firms.

For our team setting up the programme on the ground, it was vital to grasp the differences in communication and learning styles and to acknowledge and value the prior experience that individuals had accumulated. But at the same time, they also needed to demonstrate how things could be done differently moving forward and how this would benefit the industry as a whole.

This approach can help to avoid scenarios where an individual may feel demotivated or gain the perception that a foreigner is trying to get them to change an approach which they thought worked well.

Prepare, prepare, prepare
It’s vital to start with scoping work to identify the skills and challenges the organisation is facing and this should be undertaken well in advance. There is often more than meets the eye when it comes to the amount of preparation required for an international project. For example, a project we undertook in the UAE involved training existing trainers alongside new trainers and introducing both to new methods and philosophies. So it was important for us to make the existing trainers feel valued whilst encouraging them to adopt new methodology to their delivery.

Delivering training to people who can have very different learning styles as well as varying levels of learning and experience demands a wide array of skills on the part of the trainer. It is therefore important to adopt an approach that allows the trainees to develop their new skills through blended learning and enabling individuals to learn at their own pace. An important factor in this is having the right processes and tools in place to evaluate learning outcomes.

The initial scoping exercise provides the groundwork for a strategic plan to be put in place with potential challenges identified in advance. It also helps to ensure that the design and delivery of the programme will deliver consistent results, regardless of these variables.

Local champions
Finding ‘local champions’ is an important success factor in any program and something to look out for from the outset. And you don’t want to rely on one person. Sometimes these people will be suggested to you by the individuals or departments you are working with on the ground.

In a recent training programme in Azerbaijan, we had a good idea of who these champions would be before the project kicked off, because we had already worked with some of the Azeri trainers during the scoping phase. And when the project did start, it became obvious who the natural leaders were by their own behaviour as well as how other people respected or deferring to them. These individuals became ambassadors for the programme and they were instrumental in getting buy-in from their colleagues.

Cultural differences
Working internationally brings the importance of dealing with cultural differences to the fore. For example, some cultures are less welcoming of the sort of direct feedback that would be the norm in an Anglo-Saxon culture, particularly in industries such as construction, which tend to be masculine, forthright and ‘straight to the point’.

Our work in the Philippines found that such an approach would not be effective as cultural norms and learning styles demand a less direct and more diplomatic approach to constructive criticism. So when training trainers in other parts of the world, ensure that you understand both national culture and the culture of the particular industry or sector – both essential elements in people feeling invigorated by the training and enjoying the programme.

In parts of Africa, our training starts with a prayer for the day to go well for all the delegates and to give thanks for the opportunity. In the Middle East, allowing appropriate breaks for going to pray is equally as important. Building these aspects into the training demonstrates awareness of the culture.

Don’t have pre-conceived ideas – be flexible
With any programme that is intended to build local capability, what determines its ultimate success isn’t the effectiveness of the initial master training, but how effectively the essential messages are disseminated down to where things need to happen. And often the greatest need for training is in the hardest-to-reach places.

That’s why it is important to evaluate at the planning stage the most effective communication and delivery methods for a training intervention in that country. When we began a project in Panama, for example, it quickly became clear that many of the instructors we would be working with had much further to travel (or much more difficult journeys from remote areas) than we had initially envisaged. Our first thought was to adapt the program to use more distance and e-learning – but this was met with resistance because it was not the relatively formal, classroom-based format they were familiar with. So we used this dilemma as part of the training itself in order to demonstrate that they would face similar challenges themselves and got them to think about their approach to adapting training to meet the requirements of delegates.

Organisational development
When working internationally on train the trainer programmes, we often find that whilst most organisations have a recruitment-focused infrastructure in place, this isn’t always the case when it comes to the skills agenda. This can mean starting from scratch and helping to put in place foundational building blocks when it comes to the design and development of training frameworks.

This will also impact how the learning is delivered and the quality and consistency of this delivery. The design and development of the training programme also needs to encourage active participation and sharing, as this learning culture is not always in place. Another critical component in any programme is how to contextualise the content to include relevant data, sector information and real-life experiences and examples. In a recent Tourism project in the UAE, we spent a large amount of time with experts in the local tourism sector to gather the most up-to-date information and stories. Then as part of the programme, we provided the trainees with the tools and processes to update this regularly on an ongoing basis.

Scale can be also daunting. In a project in Panama we had over 50 delegates on the training. For this number of people we needed five trainers who were able to work with the delegates in smaller groups throughout the programme.

International train the trainer programmes can be more complex to evaluate if the trainers have different levels of expertise. An effective approach is to develop and scope out the learning outcomes and objectives well in advance, as well as defining how these should be designed and delivered.

Whilst head offices are usually based in urban areas, some of our international work takes place in more rural and harder to reach locations. In these instances, it’s important to agree with the HR department objectives and assessment measures that are appropriate both culturally and geographically.

In another South American project, we were mindful that the majority of training would take place in rural locations and therefore it was important that the assessment processes could be undertaken through local trainers and managers. It was also important to make sure that the regional senior managers were aware of the training taking place and the learning outcomes desired so that they could continue to support the delegates who had undertaken the training.

For this programme, we also conducted a major ROI study on the impact of training for managers and their teams and found that the optimal approach is to train both the managers and their teams. In other words, the evaluation indicated that by offering training to both groups, the overall results were better than just training the trainers.

Legal framework support
It’s not unusual to be asked to provide advice on legal frameworks in relation to a training and development programme, so ensure that you have access to the relevant expertise. In Croatia, where we were helping to coach and train mentors for a student internship programme, we also found that some employers were deterred from taking on interns due to local employment law and red tape. So we worked with Croatian lawyers to draw up a standard internship contract that drew together international best practice as well as national regulations and enabled a wide range of employers of all sizes to get involved in the programme.

Plan for the future
A sustainable, longer-term approach is key to the success of any international programme once your part is complete. In Croatia, the train the trainer approach was adopted because it met the critical capability-building remit of the project. By building local capability, training for mentors could be offered across the country by our client well after our own involvement had ended.  Similarly, in the Philippines project, this was achieved by their adoption of a training academy model to help meet the future management skill needs of the construction sector.

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