Instructor-led training during “the transitional normal”

The Long Road Back from Isolation

After a year of masking mandates, rigorous social distancing and virtual everything, vaccinations are rapidly available to all who want them. And training organizations are ready for their own shot in the arm—specifically, a return to the classroom.

While everyone is anxious to address a year-plus backlog of instructor-led training (ILT), a return to the “old normal” won’t—actually, can’t—happen all at once. For starters, various state and local mandates will remain in place for the foreseeable future. On the learner level, it will be a little while until everyone is physically and emotionally prepared to return to table teams, triads and trust-falls.

This will make for a lengthy transitional period—likely into early 2022—that we’ll call “the transitional normal.” In this e-mail we’ll share what Pro-Active is doing, seeing and hearing as the automotive learning industry begins rounding the final turn of Covid and re-accelerating into the fast lane of classroom training.

How Are We…

This article poses questions and provides considerations related to non-technical Instructor-Led Training, for automotive OEMs and importers to consider and plan for during this upcoming transitional time.

1. Encouraging dealership personnel to board airplanes and fly to instructor-led training classes (and encouraging their managers to permit them)?

– Ensure all aspects of training venues exceed the latest public health standards for safety and hygiene. Communicate this clearly to trainees and dealership management ahead of traveling.

– Offer training “in-market” at locations where a majority of attendees can drive.

– Consider (and fund) creative ways to offer virtual options for certain ILT activities. For example, some participants at an upcoming launch event might shy away from an extended paired street drive, so we professionally videotaped a full-day “competitive drive documentary” (including professional drivers, vehicle SMEs, in-car GoPro cameras, drones and a chase car) that these participants can watch on their iPads…including a challenging test to validate viewing.

– Reduce multi-day programs to shorter durations decreasing “exposure time” for participants.

Pro Tip: Survey dealers on their willingness/desire to board a flight, stay in a hotel, attend in-person training, participate in a group meal, etc. (They may surprise you!)

2. Preparing the ILT classroom environment to ensure hygiene, safety, and a sense of security for trainees and staff?

– Adapt classroom space and seating to effect social distancing. Plan for additional meeting space (perhaps 2x-3x your “previous normal” square footage) as needed to adapt for socially distant theatre seating, 4 vs. 6 participants per table team, etc..

– Provide hygiene amenities in the classroom and for participants(hand sanitizer/gloves on tables, branded face masks, personal “amenity kit” for participants, etc.)

– Temporarily halt organized group dinners in favor of prepaid debit cards, hotel F&B credits, per diem expense allowances, etc. Let participants make their own decisions on after-hours social gatherings.

Pro Tip: Communication is everything here! Tell participants and their managers what you’re doing to make classrooms safe, clearly and well in advance. Help them picture what class will look like, long before they walk into the room.

3. Implementing instruction to accommodate classroom environment changes?

– Adapt curriculum/learning activities as needed to be effective in a “socially distanced” environment.

– Mark areas on the floor with tape and provide other “nudges” for social distancing.
Ensure facilitators and staff model appropriate behaviors.

– Adapt common “active engagement” activities to the new awareness (e.g., a ball toss becomes a “point to the next player.” Pass the charts becomes “send a delegate.” Shout-outs become Kahoot! quizzes. Group puzzles and other tactile exercises might be out of bounds altogether…at least for a while).

– Incorporate more 1:1 coaching (in-person or virtual)post-training to help participants reinforce and apply knowledge/skills learned.

Pro Tip: Give every participant their own marker when they arrive. It’s a nice touch, and one less thing to pass/share/sanitize as class commences.

4. Adapting curriculum/ content?

– Review all ILT curriculum for context, scenarios, and examples that reflect the “transitional normal” retail environment. (For example, instead of “A customer comes into the dealership…” pose more situations like,“A customer has requested you Facetime her to explain…”)

– Consult with Dealer Council and dealerships to understand and provide training on their emerging and ever-evolving best practices, situations and challenges.

– Add/emphasize content on digital-based communications skills.Provide opportunities in class to develop digital messaging and skills that can be immediately applied on the job. For example, teach basic “do’s and don’ts”that raise the quality and professionalism of “selfie videos.”

– Teach skills that help participants successfully conduct in-dealership business with clients in customer-centric, yet lower-contact business environments (e.g., larger circle of “personal space,” no handshakes, simple amenities like handing over a bottle of water, etc.)

Pro Tip: Take this opportunity to turn legacy classroom programs into blended learning journeys.Leverage the unique strengths of web-based training, remote learning, chatbots, virtual sessions and more to focus the classroom on what it’s best at…collaborative, application-based learning.

5. Communicating all aspects of our strategy, plans, and tactics?

– Get all stakeholders (trainees, dealership management, field teams, executive management, etc.) involved early.

– Develop a communications plan—and continuously update/ adapt it to changing conditions. (Hint: with millions of Americans being vaccinated every day, the landscape changes weekly)

– Begin with general announcement to the entire learning network(e.g., “As life begins returning to normal and BigCo University resumes classroom training, here’s what we’re doing to keep everyone safe and healthy...”)

– Prepare program-specific messages as needed (“Regrettably, we have temporarily suspended the Celebration Barbeque at the end of Day 3. We know this is a highlight of Training Program X, however your health and well-being is our primary concern. In its place, we will...”)

Pro Tip: Produce a promotional/explanatory video to inform participants and their managers of what they can expect from the training experience. (“Whiteboard” videos are great for this!)

6. Preparing our training staff/team?

– Recognize that your trainers are “getting out there” again. Seek their input from the front lines. What best (and worst) practices are they seeing?

– Train-the-Trainers on best practices (for safety/hygiene as well as curriculum/ content) and share insights/updates among the group regularly.

Pro Tip: Make it very clear to your facilitators that they are “behavior models.” If they mask, participants will, too. If they’re engaging while remaining at appropriate distance, participants will mirror that.

Transition Planning