Employee Training Programs: The Transfer Problem
May 13, 2013 by Bill Rosenthal

If you're involved with training programs, you've probably seen the statistic that only 10% of training effort results in behavior change on the job. As it turns out, that statistic is a myth. It originated in a rhetorical question used in a 1982 article (see “The Strange Case of the Transfer of Training Estimate” by Robert Fitzpatrick.

The 10% statistic may be a myth, but that doesn’t mean skills decay isn't a problem for training programs. Anything short of 100% transfer is an indictment.

The transfer of training depends more on post-training variables than anything else. When conditions back on the job inhibit the transfer of new skills from a training program, the skills don’t get transferred.

In an article published last year in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, “The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice,” Eduardo Salas, Scott I. Tannenbaum, Kurt Kraiger, and Kimberly A. Smith-Jentsch performed a meta-analysis of more than 500 research reports to determine what’s been learned over the past few decades about training effectiveness. The article, which is must reading for anyone associated with training programs, distilled massive amounts of research into a few dozen guidelines.

If you’re responsible for the development/and or management of training programs, particularly if you use training from Logical Operations, I hope you will consider their suggestions to ensure the transfer of training:

make sure your training audience has the time and opportunity to practice their new skills
prepare their supervisors to reinforce the new skills and promote their use on the job
use debriefs in which the trainee explains how the new skill has affected on-the-job experiences
provide job aids, libraries, and communities of practice that reinforce the new skills.

Many of these ideas sound like common sense, and they are. But if you think of a training program as a discrete event, it probably won’t occur to you to try to implement them. We need to think of training sessions, not as occasions but as part of a process – the process of performance improvement. A training session is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the improvement. Organizations need to take responsibility, not just for delivering training to employees, but for supporting the training afterward.

To implement those follow-up techniques requires real work, and may even demand a look at organizational structure, or at least a look at the organization’s culture and values. But it’s work that needs to be done to protect the investment in employee training programs.
How about your training programs? Are you facing the problem of the transfer of training? How?