New Training Wave: From Tribal to Tech

New Training Wave: From Tribal to Tech

The prevailing training mode has always been monkey see, monkey do. Operational rarities and system behaviors are passed down from generation to generation like old ghost stories. Some, more important than others depending on the trainer’s past experiences. Our training departments today are tasked with breaking this cycle to create a new comprehensive model. A model that taps in to the skills and learning habits of every worker to get full “buy-in”.  I sat down with Bryan Manuel, Learning and Development Leader at Georgia Pacific, to discuss moving training and learning from the aforementioned tribal model to a more efficient, more comprehensive plan that utilizes new technology.

Q: How detailed is the training world for our industry?

A: Quite detailed, but with the right people playing the right roles, significant success and progress can become the hallmark of the learning function. There are 3 primary roles within the training world. Instructional designers whose objective it is to build the content. Trainers who focus on delivery which, in part, is a selling of the value of the training to the trainees. Performance consultants, who look at the training program from more of a high-level analytical approach, act as strategic business partners, and identify gaps and develop improvements.

Q: What is the biggest concern with starting a training program from scratch?

A: Content development. And more content development. We need to design training programs that are marketable. Training must be delivered and sold to those who have relied for a significant amount of time on tribal knowledge.  Designers must consider how the trainer can sell the value of a more formalized system and also create employee ownership. Without the ownership piece, full buy-in cannot be reached.

Q: How does this differ from a mature system?

A: Surprisingly not as much as you would think. In the past, most of the focus was on compliance to the OSHA mandate and passing audits. We instructed our employees to maintain their qualifications and pass the required tests, but failed to develop a production-centered competency model. Without it, a ton of pressure is heaped on the trainer operator and his/her experience. But what if he or she has a bad day? Doesn’t remember to cover everything?  That happens and in the old model that could be detrimental to the development of the trainee. Instead, the production model focuses on operations personnel and the WHY. It sets high-level goals like becoming safer, more efficient, and more reliable. The knowledge and skills then become the WHAT and HOW the organization can attain the goals.

Q: Do you feel like industry is moving in the positive direction?

A: We have to. The old way is unsustainable. As learning professionals we should focus on partnering with the business to improve and develop training capitalizing on individuals unique, competitive advantages. This limits the negative impacts of worker attrition from retirement and a competitive job market.

Q: What role does technology play in moving training in that direction?

A: Technology is a big help, but implementation can be tricky. Older generations of workers are wary of becoming too dependent on tech in lieu of natural mechanical aptitude. In the recent past, I was part of a project, which implemented handheld scanners to conduct/record operator rounds, which was a positive step in providing real-time, trendable data to engineers.  We needed to take the next step (and did) to build instructions for differing levels of deviation. We need to be sure that our systems merge the benefits of tech with the experienced hand of veteran team members.   

Q: How do we improve training for all workers?

A: We must channel how people learn at home in comparison to work. When you want to fix something at the house, where do you go for instruction, better yet, a video procedure? YouTube. Harnessing extremely short video-based trainings (learning industry calls this “micro-learning”) becomes a more familiar, and thereby more usable, experience for the worker. This style is less intimidating and easier to navigate.

Q: How do we get these normally eclectic groups to all learn from the same training?

A: This is part of the responsibility of the instructional designer. They must seek to present and engage the knowledge and skills that workers need and anticipate different learning styles, generational opportunities, and varying degrees of trainee experience.   

Q: How do we determine if we are accomplishing this goal?

A: To engage all employees we must ensure we are actively applying the fundamentals of adult learning theory. Start with the end in mind, what is the problem you’re solving for?  What’s the ROI? or ROE (Return on Expectations)? We accomplish this by engaging the managers and supervisors of the area up front to determine expectations. This gives the supervisor the opportunity to pitch the WHY to his or her team. The learning function then follows up with the same message. This creates triggers for the trainee on specific items to listen for. Following the event, the trainer needs to provide job aids, support the trainees, engage with workers and supervisors, and then reach out to the managers with feedback. That feedback is crucial to determine if the desired metrics for success were met and how we can improve the process going forward.     


In process safety, we are aware of the OSHA mandate to develop our training program to meet all qualifications and best practices. However, the movement to make our systems even better and incorporate common skill sets than everyone can use enhances our plant operations and creates a more efficient, safer environment. The idea that our employees could learn through a company style Youtube is not only ingenious but offers true usage simplicity.

Should you have any additional questions you can contact our team at or reach out to Bryan via LinkedIn. Bryan has a propensity to help people learn outside of the office as well, in 2017 he was a speaker at the TEDxEvansStreet event and will be emceeing the 2018 event.