How to Train Shift Workers: 3 Ideas

How to Train Shift Workers: 3 Ideas

Many of us know the importance of corporate training but struggle to get our employees to make the time to complete training. If you need to train shift workers, managers have the additional challenge of setting aside non-production time during the shift to let employees take the training. Fortunately, this challenge can be solved with technology and science.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, factory, or as a nurse, you're already all too familiar with shift work. According to the National Health Interview Survey, roughly 27% of all U.S. workers in 2015 worked an alternative shift (as opposed to a regular day shift). About 7% frequently worked a night shift.

You’re also familiar with some of shift work’s more obvious challenges:

One of the “hidden” challenges is how to find time for proper employee training. Most shift work doesn’t allow employees the ability to step away for an hour seminar, or attend a three-day corporate training workshop. But skipping out on training is exceedingly costly—a lack of safety training, for example, can cost organizations between $39,780 and $3,570,000 each year. A lack of productivity (skills) training can mean an organization misses out on $4,750,000 in profits.

Accessing content from anywhere that has an internet connection accommodates individuals with busy schedules. This concept of eLearning can help reduce seat time in instructor-led classes because it provides additional flexibility in scheduling. This can shorten the time that must be devoted to training outside normal shift hours, reducing the need for extra shift coverage and overtime.

What's the best way to train your shift workers without burdening them? How do you include on-the-job training for shift workers while still helping them to be effective?

Idea #1: Microlearning Fits Their Schedules

Shift workers usually don’t have the time to disengage from their work to attend an hour-long class or a three-hour workshop. Even if they did, there would likely be a disconnect between the learning environment in the classroom and the work environment where they apply what they've learned. (And research has shown that memory works best when the context of learning matches the context in which that learning is used.)

Microlearning delivers bite-sized content to learners that they can consume all at once and apply the knowledge immediately. Microlearning makes on-the-job training for shift workers feasible, presenting just a few key points right at the point in time when they are needed.

The microlearning courses we develop here at HSI average 7:12 minutes long, which means that the training will minimize the time away from work. Shift workers can get the training they need without disrupting their work shift or requiring them to take after-hours training. Microlearning turns out to be more engaging, too, and more likely applied on the job.

Idea #2: Mobile Learning Technology

Learners in an office setting can easily complete training courses on their computers. Shift workers have the added challenge of access to training from their workplace.

According to studies by the Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans now have smartphones. If your employees have smartphones—and many likely do—they have the ability, right now, to access critical training content. Many companies also use tablets to run software programs for fulfillment and shipping in a warehouse or proprietary company apps. Mobile technology means your shift workers can access training just as needed.

Mobile learning technology can make things easier for management as well. For example, a warehouse manager has his team take out their smartphones and watch a quick video on safety procedures before a shift begins. Could that brief reminder be enough to cut down on accidents in the warehouse? It would certainly help.

Or imagine that a server suddenly needs to fill in the hostess position at a restaurant in an emergency. The manager has them watch a video on the basics of greeting and seating guests appropriately before starting. Wouldn't that employee now be better prepared?

Mobile technology means that training can happen right at the point of need, anytime, anywhere.

Idea #3: Audio and Visual Components

This isn’t an “everybody learns differently so use different formats” suggestion. The reality is that most places where shift workers are employed can be busy, noisy places - crowded restaurants, hospital floors, factories with machinery running, etc. There are plenty of distractions that can pull your workers away, even if they are hidden in the break room.

For learning to take place, content has to be well-designed to engage adults and the ways in which they learn. Take visual elements, for example. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara determined that adding relevant visuals to words resulted in an 89% advantage in learning outcomes, especially when the learner had less familiarity with a topic. Visuals can also help reinforce voice and text in videos when environments are noisy.

Audio still plays an important role, though. Audio descriptions can greatly enhance understanding when used to describe or explain complex visuals. Audio cues, if used cleverly, can indicate things like a transition to a new concept, or the arrival of an important bullet point on the screen.

Additional Resources

Discovering how to train shift workers in a way that encourages them to learn can be tricky, depending on the work environment. You will have to spend some time finding out what works for your employees. To help you with that discovery process, I recommend:

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