Training – The Summit and the Steps

I spoke to an Autodesk specialist recently and he introduced the concept of “the summit and the stairs”, which has set me thinking about a range of things. Specifically, how should we be facing implementation of a software and in particular training our users?

Software training has always been a contentious issue, right back to early releases of AutoCAD. If you believe the marketing blurb, the software is so easy to pick up, you don’t need training at all. But if you are more realistic you’ll realise that at some point you have to stop working and invest in more detailed training.

So the real question is: when should you consider training. In my experience, the sooner you get good training, the less time you spend staring at the screen at 4 a.m.
There is an argument - which I agree with - that says you should dabble with the software before you get trained so that you have a good set of questions which the training should answer, although you should also be aware of the breakeven point between dabbling and struggling.

The cost of training is also a big blocker to most users ever getting trained. I have worked both as a sole trader and for large groups of companies, and I have found it’s normally harder to get a training budget at large companies than it is at smaller ones. Why is that? Because the person approving the cost gets further away from seeing the need the larger the company gets. Or at least it was that way until I joined Capita Symonds, who already had in place a huge investment in training and development around BIM, and where training is mandatory whether you like it or not.

If you are one of those that has undergone good quality training, you will know the benefits outweigh the costs. The main trouble is getting hold of good quality trainers and training companies. Furthermore, the best training companies in the world do not always have a relevant trainer from my discipline: MEP. For instance, I worked for a huge company a few years ago, and they put all their training and support through one Autodesk reseller. When I went to them for AutoCAD MEP training, the closest they could get to an engineering-qualified trainer was a former fork-lift truck driver who spent most of the three days ignoring the core subject and showing how to render in AutoCAD instead. The trainer simply was not trained to be relevant in all disciplines, and frankly this is not as rare as you would think.

If you take this a step further into BIM (and all that that implies) you simply cannot take a good AutoCAD trainer and up-skill him to become a Revit trainer. Revit needs to be trained by engineers and architects, not super caddies. The problem is that architects and engineers tend to be busy architecting and engineering, and not many make the jump to be software trainers.

I guess it also has to be said here that there’s no point sending CAD users to Revit courses expecting them to become architects or engineers. It takes three days to train someone to use Revit, it takes three years to get through the basics to be called a trainee engineer or an architect, and most can’t be seen as qualified until after a four-year degree. 

Facts of Life
If you are a company thinking of getting your staff trained, you should be considering the following:
I. You can’t train Caddies to be engineers and architects by teaching them Revit – they need separate training over many years to do that.
II. You can’t train engineers and architects to be Revit users by simply buying a book (well you can, but you will never achieve your return on that £19.99 investment).
III. You cannot get good value for money by training with the cheapest bidder – this has never worked in my experience.
IV. Even if you go to the biggest and best training company/reseller, you cannot guarantee good and relevant training.
V. Even if you go to the biggest and best training company, chances are that they will follow the Autodesk AOTC training format – see below.
Taking the first steps..

We have come to the decision of doing some training and are choosing the right people to do some training. But who exactly do we choose? The answer here is surprisingly simple, but very few companies in my experience consider anything but the cheapest price.

If I was buying a car, I would do some research. I would take a good look around at what car to buy, to see if it suited me. I would also go to reputable garages and see how they fit in with my requirements. Most importantly I would ask colleagues I trust for their opinion. I would also take a test drive. Oh, and finally, if I saw a car at half the price of a similar car at a garage next door, I would start to ask myself why. Obvious isn’t it? But why don’t we do this with training?

Ask around – ask AUGI. Send one person to try the training before you commit to training tens of people. Visit the company. DO NOT BUY THE CHEAPEST TRAINING YOU CAN FIND!

Autodesk Official Training
I have to admit to having some sympathy with Autodesk here, in that they have to cover all angles and maintain a certain level of training at approved training centres. (Yes, you are right, there is a “but” coming.)

But.  Having to cover all angles means having to train and learn every part of the software. We all know that we only ever use at most 50% of any software day to day, so why try to learn all of it in three days?

Having to cover all angles means having very limited time to cover aspects that might be crucial to your work.

AOTC training therefore has to reach the “summit” in three days, giving you very little time to consider each step carefully.

So what are the answers?
Who – get good quality training from someone who has been referred to you.
When – only train when you have a use for the trained staff – you will retain, on average, one third of all training given, one day after being trained. After six months of not using the software, this is pretty much zero.
What – get a team of “champions” to do the AOTC training, and then ask them to produce a customized course from that which will cover only the salient points your company needs. Most good training companies will provide a customized course, or you could do this in-house.
Where – depends on your company. Some prefer to get out of the office and have no distractions. Bear in mind that you may be trained alongside other companies. Some prefer to have the trainer come to them so that they can demonstrate company workflows better.  Expect to pay more for this.
Why – you simply must get trained and you must invest in upgrade training for every software upgrade. If you follow the above rules each training session will give a good return on your investment.

And Finally..
You know those questionnaires that you get asked to fill out at the end of training, to see what you thought? You absolutely must fill them in honestly. The training company and Autodesk use these as a guide to improving the training offered. It’s your only chance to make a difference.

Gary Ross
Associate Director – BIM Innovation
Capita Symonds

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