New Year’s Resolutions: Effectively Training the Masses

Each year the training staff in most civil engineering and infrastructure firms along with senior management sit down and discuss how they can train their staff effectively without affecting the bottom line and show a return on investment (ROI). The questions are endless: How? When? Who? What? Let’s see if we can simplify these questions and develop a training plan that is expandable, repeatable, and fits almost any size firm.

Reality of Training Programs

In war, before you enter a battle you create a battle plan. Before a coach enters a big game, he or she develops a game plan. There is a theme—the plan. The plan is the backbone of any successful training program. In this article I will give you some tips on how to create a plan and successfully implement it in your company while showing a better ROI than with traditional training plans.

Traditional training plans in the past used a “let’s throw things on the wall and see what sticks” approach. For example, gathering everyone in a conference room and going through slide after slide of a PowerPoint presentation, hoping that 100 percent of the information presented was digested and will be used in the firm.

However, through countless studies we know that just about 10 percent of that information is retained. Some of the attendees were checking fantasy football, some dozed off because of the monotone presentation. Any way you slice it, this common approach does not show ROI. Do the math. Say you had 20 employees @ $100 an hour billable rate, plus the presenter spent 10 hours creating the presentation, plus lunch, lost billable time, etc. Easily your training—that was retained at 10 percent of the information—just cost your business more than $3,000 dollars. That is not a ROI! That is throwing money out the window.

So how can you create a training plan that can show a ROI and have your staff retain more information?

Making a Plan

There are many schools of thought on the best way to train employees. One of the latest methods that has shown some success is the 70/20/10 Training Model. This model breaks training into three buckets based on how people retain information.

70/20/10 Training Model

  • 70% of training should be on the job
  • 20% of training should be by a mentor
  • 10% of training should be classroom based

The 70/20/10 is a model that can be adapted to any type of training or program. Let’s adapt this to a civil consulting or infrastructure company. Let’s reverse these numbers (10/20/70) and adapt it to a learning format.

  • 10% of training should be overview and introductory
  • 20% of training should be hands on
  • 70% of training should be on the job

As you can see, the above plan turns the 70/20/10 method on its head and shows a timeline of a training plan.

Developing the Plan

Okay, you are now ready to tackle development of your plan. This is the backbone of your training program so I recommend you don’t rush this. You need to take the time and make sure the plan can answer these three questions with a YES!

  • Is it repeatable? Can I document this plan and its contents and recreate as business changes and grows?
  • Is it expandable? Can I expand the training plan as training needs vary and the company grows?
  • Does it fit our company? Does the training plan fit the company structure and its future expansion plans?

Making the plan repeatable is the backbone of the ROI. If you are constantly reinventing the wheel versus modifying the material due to new information you will never show a return on your investment. How do you do this?

  • Gather the training materials you have to date and decide which content is relevant, which content is digestible, and which content should be used as the basis for your plan.
  • Develop tracks or buckets for types of training and put your retrieved information in the appropriate bucket.
    • Technical (Civil 3D, Hydrocad, etc.)
    • Administrative (Office Suite, IT, etc.)
    • Theory (Earthwork, Grading, Hydrology, etc.)
    • Soft Skills (email etiquette, how to deal with coworkers, etc.)
  • Document the training by putting together a syllabus and training descriptions, and make it accessible to all staff.

Example Syllabus:

Civil 3D Technical

  • Overview of Grading in Civil 3D 1 hour (1 class)
  • Grading a commercial site – 2 hours (3 classes)
  • Grading a residential Site – 1 hours (3 classes)
  • Earthwork Calculations – 2 hours (1 class)

Total Hours – 12 hours

Example Description:

Hands on Grading – Building surrounds

Trainer:  Mike Smith

Description: In this class we will show you the basics of civil grading in and around the building to properly drain water away from the building.

Learning Objectives:

  • Grading of sidewalks to provide positive pitch away from the building.
  • Providing area drains at low points where stormwater is trapped

The above will make the plan expandable and will allow you a matrix for adding and modifying the plan as your business changes and grows over time.

This will also be made to fit your company using a flexible guideline to the training approach.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the types of training and typical timelines for execution of the plan.

10% − Overview Training (Month 1)

Okay, you are now ready to tackle development of your plan. You have put together your framework and made sure it can grow with your company.

These are the overview classes (see red text above) that will serve as an introduction to the future hands-on classes. They should be short (under an hour), concise, show the big picture, and create momentum for the future classes. Staff should be coming out of these trainings hungry for the next training. It’s the appetizer to the main course. These should be PowerPoint based or the equivalent and should be overview in nature.

20% − Hands-On Training (Month 2-4)

You now have your staff’s attention and they are eager to learn. Now you start phase II, which is the basis of the learning model. This training phase should be task oriented and conducted in a small class size (4-8 people). This training should be hands on (see green text above) and show real-world examples that can be used in future real-world projects.

70% − On-the-Job Training (Month 5-12)

Studies show that information is lost if not put into practice within 30 days. Therefore, the trainers need to be in contact with the engineers and project managers on implementation of these new techniques on their projects. The explanation of the learning curve and buy-in is essential to the success of the program.

Who Should Do the Training?

This question is not easily answered because each training class requires different experience to effectively teach. I typically like to have the peers of the trainees actually do the training when possible. This creates a feeling of ownership for the trainer and makes learning from your peer easier for the trainee. This “train the trainer” approach also makes the plan expandable and repeatable as mentioned before.

Keeping the Plan Relevant

How do you keep your plan relevant? This requires feedback and honest communication with both trainers and trainees through surveys, questionnaires, and communication between management and staff.


There are myriad ways to train your staff. I hope this plan can help you navigate this path and achieve a return on your investment with increased efficiency and a more knowledgeable staff. Remember, the plan is a living, breathing document and should change as your business needs change.

Kevin Sanders is a Senior Project Manager/CAD Specialist at Samiotes Consultants, Inc. in Massachusetts. He has been in the civil engineering and Infrastructure field for more than 20 years and has developed training programs for several years as well as being a speaker at Autodesk University. Kevin can be reached for comments or questions at

Appears in these Categories