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Are we watering down our training?

Competency-based training was designed in the late 1980's as a way of improving the overall knowledge, skill and attitudes of the Australian workforce. A structure was created that provided several main benefits ...

  1. Training programs could become more consistent in relation to the information being imparted across the country

  2. A step-by-step approach to learning could be developed, and

  3. Participants could easily be assessed against the learning outcomes

The purpose of the competency-based training program was only ever to teach "concrete" skills, such as the performance of a task, and was not meant for more esoteric, creative or abstract learning. BUT, sadly, this last caveat seems to have been forgotten over time and training programs are being developed that could actually dilute learning to a dangerous level in order to have "competent" workers. An example of this is my area of expertise - conflict management and critical incident management.

Competency-based training takes a skill and breaks it down into teachable components. Take the standard example of making a cup of tea. The competencies for that task include filling a kettle to an appropriate level, selecting an appropriate drinking utensil, recognising and selecting a teabag, placing the teabag into the drinking utensil, pouring the boiled water onto the teabag and jiggling the teabag until the desired amount of tea has infused into the water.

But what it can't teach are the subtleties in the art of tea-making!

It doesn't venture to describe the difference between pot tea and teabag tea or how long a cup of tea should be steeped before drinking. It doesn't explain the differences between mass-produced and organic teas or the many blends of flavours now available. It can't describe the way in which tea can be used to assist with the relief of anxiety or the promotion of sleep. It mentions nothing about taste preferences or what to do if the water is too hot and the drinker burns their mouth.

Managing conflict and/or critical incidents (i.e. armed robberies, violent assaults, hostage/siege situations, bomb threats etc.) requires an incredible amount of subtlety. Recognising the different reasons that motivate people's aggression, and is demonstrated by their overall demeanour, their behavioural warning signs or pre-attack indicators, requires far more than the ticking of a box. Given the complex nature of humans this requires abstract thinking in the extreme. Not only that, understanding the vast array of tactical options available for dealing with each situation, applying those options correctly and monitoring their success or failure further deepens the amount of knowledge a person must have.

In addition, when making a cup of tea, the incorrect application of any of the skills will not likely result in your being abused, threatened or accosted. You are safe to fail and use that knowledge in the making of subsequent cups.

In conflict situations each mistake could result in your being assaulted and injured.

So, to wrap up, PLEASE give your trainers the time and funds to explore the topic of conflict management to a much greater depth than the modules require. It doesn't take much effort to read the modules and determine if the information being imparted is truly what is required to manage situations of aggression. Training cannot be just about ticking skill boxes if the end result involves potential violence!!

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