Technical vs. Management and Human Relations Training:  Some Musings

A TRDEV-L member posted a question regarding a potential career change.  I responded at length, so much at length that my post was rejected with the suggestion that I make it available in some other fashion.  So for the brave, the foolhardy, or the curious, here it is:

Subj: Career Choice - Full Posting

Date: 10/19/99 9:50:22 PM Eastern Daylight Time

From: alextrainer@YAHOO.COM (richard jz)

Sender: TRDEV-L@LISTS.PSU.EDU (Training and Development List)

Reply-to: alextrainer@YAHOO.COM (richard jz)


When sending my last message, I accidently sent it before I was done writing it. So here is the full version.

I have been offered a job to work for a company that sells an Internet-based learning management systems/database. It is supposedly a leader in the field and is pre-IPO. I would be given some stock options. I would provide training to companies who purchased the system with about 50% travel.

For the past 6 years, I have taught MSOffice courses for 2 companies; one to external companies and currently to internal employees. My current job has recently expanded to include soft skills training. I have also written my first Training Strategy for the company. For the next year or so, there is no plans to hire any staff to help me; am the sole trainer, but I may be promoted to a Training Manager like position from my current Training Specialist title (maybe). Travel is every so often in this job.

I like to do all types of training, but enjoy computer training alot and think that is where the future and money is.

While the job will offer about $10000 more per year, I wonder if getting experience with one company's software will really help me long-term. I know the more in-depth experience with database software will help, since I don't have that at my current job.  

And I know I have to explore the opportunities for promotion (e.g. consultant) within this new firm, but would like to hear others advice, especially from people who did do this switch and how it impacted their career and future. Will it make me more competitive to work as a Senior Training or Training Manager in other companies? Is this change worth it given what you know. (BTW, I know I have to sort out my priorites and such, but like to get feedback.)

Thanks in advance.


My thoughts:

Subj: Re: Career Choice - Full Posting--(long reply)
Date: 10/20/99 9:54:19 AM Eastern Daylight Time

I'm posting this to the list as well as replying directly to alextrainer because I hope my comments might stir a few pots (grin).

In a message dated 10/19/99 9:50:22 PM Eastern Daylight Time, alextrainer@YAHOO.COM writes:

> While the job will offer about $10000 more per year, I
> wonder if getting experience with one company's
> software will really help me long-term. I know the
> more in-depth experience with database software will
> help, since I don't have that at my current job.

My experience may help:

I recently moved from a job specializing in management training, some OD interventions, and similar stuff to a job designing and delivering training in proprietary software (access control software and its related hardware). Three years ago, I would have never predicted that an electrical multimeter would have been one of the tools I use regularly--indeed, I would not have predicted that I would use one at all except to make sure the battery on my boat was properly charged before a weekend outing. The move was easy because I had been designing training for this company on a contract basis for a couple of years and already knew the products and the people. (You can visit my website for a little more information on my background and on this transition.)

I have not found this to be at all restrictive. Learning about Checkpoint's apps has led me to learn a lot more about computers in general. I have had to become familiar with aspects of Win 98 (and I was good at Windows as an amateur) and Win NT 4.0 (about which I knew nothing) that I never would have learned otherwise.

I have also confirmed what I always believed: good training is good training. The same techniques that, early in my career, I used to train waiters to wait tables and, later in my career, I used to train managers to assess discipline, work now to train technicians to install, configure, and troubleshoot access control systems. Indeed, applying my tool kit in a new environment has increased my skill at using these tools.

Another thing to consider is that, because of the ubiquity of Windows platforms, the underlying logic of computer programs tends to be similar, even though the interfaces and layout may be different. Crystal Reports and MS Access look different; each has its strengths and weaknesses compared to the other, but a database is still a database (just as a manager in the railroad industry and one in the software industry work in different environments, but ultimately must have the same organizational, planning, and people skills to get their staffs to perform at a high level, though the technical product knowledge they need to evaluate that performance may be different).


It seems to me that the fundamental difference between the two jobs, as you describe them, is that your current position is giving you the opportunity to get some experience in human relations training (which is not rocket science by any means, despite the hype). Looking back on my experience, I see two aspects to human relations training that straight technical training does not offer:


1. Designing meaningful learning experiences in human relations training tends to be more difficult. If I want my trainees to learn how configure Threshold 95, I can give them a computer, a set of specs, and some controller panels and say, "This is what I want. Make it so." And they do. Then I can hook up the system to a door, present an access card, and see whether the door unlocks or not; I can hook up a motion detector, trip it, and see whether the alarm siren goes off; and so on.

It is truly first hand training with what they see in the field. They see the relevance of the training and transfer of learning is easy because in class they are doing exactly what they must do in the field. The main differences are that they have a trainer, rather than a customer, breathing down their necks and that lunches are catered.

In contrast, management and human relations training makes great use of simulations. Participants are removed from the actual working environment, so I would use role plays, case studies, and structured experiences; I would then design experiences to help participants see the relevance of the training experience to their day-to-day jobs, to increase the likelihood that, on the job, they will use the new skill or approach, rather than to continue to rely on what Ferd Fournies calls "Theory YST" (Yell, scream, and threaten).

Evaluation of success is consequently more difficult (and this is why evaluation so talked about as regards human relations training) because it often must be done, if done at all, using indirect measures--it generally is not feasible because of cost and good taste to observe a manager conducting a performance coaching session and evaluate it directly before and after a performance management class.


2. I find motivating students to learn is no problem in technical skills. They may begrudge the time and the travel, but they KNOW that they have to be able to install components and configure software to do their jobs. If they are already experienced with the product, they come to training with questions from their field experience that they want answered. If they have no experience, they know they are ignorant and want to be knowledgeable.

In contrast, a good part of the introduction to any management or human relations type of training tends to be consumed in creating a "need to know" on the part of the participants and establishing either credibility or credentials (they aren't the same thing) on the part of the instructors. Persons who have been doing a job for a while, and doing it well enough to get a promotion or two, often are reluctant to concede that this whippersnapper from HRD or some outside consulting outfit has anything to show them. (And I admit, it does take a certain amount of chutzpah to stand up in front of a group of passenger conductors with 30 years service working with the public and try to convince them that there is a better way to collect that extra fare than threatening the customer with arrest in the third sentence!)

(Aside: Ironically, I have found that those least in need of human relations training tend to be the ones most receptive to it. They are the folks who constantly consider whether there might be a better way, who know that they have made mistakes, and who are open to new approaches. Because working with people is not rocket science (it's basically simple, though NOT EASY), they are also the ones who are most likely also to have adopted whatever techniques you are teaching, though they might not have the theory or terminology that you are using.)

Good luck in making your choice.

Frank Bell
Technical Trainer
Checkpoint Systems (
101 Wolf Drive
Thorofare, N. J. 08086

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