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Lessons from the Department of Motor Vehicles

When teaching our children to drive, we take it very seriously. So why are we so flippant with business training?

15 December 2007

I don’t know if you follow the Zits comic strip, but it’s one of the comics I check out daily in our local paper. I became interested in it this summer, because the comic started focusing on the challenges parents face when their children are learning to drive, and at the same time my (then) 15-year-old son was getting his permit.

I have taught a number of children to drive so I’m no newcomer to the driver training space. Even after all that practice, it can be stressful at best, and sometimes harrowing. But the process – when well done – is an excellent model for training. Students are required to gain a certain number of hours behind the wheel, accompanied and instructed by a responsible adult. In many states the students are required to keep a training log of hours, whether those hours were done at night or during daylight, and how long they drove each session. Once they pass their test they are given a provisional drivers’ license, which gives them privileges to drive, but with restrictions. Here is the Zits strip from today:

All of this makes sense, right? Not only do we want to protect all of the other drivers on the road, but we want to protect our children. When training is this close to home, we take it very seriously.

So why are we so flippant with business training? We bring a new employee in, we throw them into a job with somewhere south of an hour of orientation, and we expect them to be successful. This isn’t good for the driver or the other drivers on the road. In the case of the new employee, they have probably left another job to join the company. Failure to provide them with excellent training can lead to job loss and economic hardship that would not have occurred had they been properly assimilated. Other employees suffer because their new colleague is not as efficient or effective as they need them to be. Nobody’s interests are served.

Assuming even a highly trained or long-experienced professional will not require training is also unfair. So much of learning to do a job well is learning the culture and practices of the company – and those things vary dramatically from organization to organization. Just learning the acronyms requires a pocket handbook that to my knowledge no company ever provides.

US voluntary turnover rates are at 23.4%, and involuntary turnover adds another 10-12%. That means that companies are losing 33 – 45% of their employees annually. The cost of finding and assimilating new employees to the point of full contribution is frequently figured at two years of their full starting salary. There’s not much business knowledge I would take from most State Departments of Transportation, but I think the driver training model might be a good one to emulate.

(c) 2007, Andrea M. Hill

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