How to improve OHS learning transfer on the job

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 27 May, 2022 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

While employers make significant investments in WHS-related training, employees do not always apply newly acquired learnings to working on the job, according to recent research.

One of the biggest issues in HR, learning, and development is the effectiveness of employee training.

All stakeholders, from organisations who pay, trainers who deliver, and employees who learn, expect training to be effective because it can be a considerable waste of money, time and effort if learned knowledge, skills, and abilities are not applied on the job.

“Our research investigated training transfer in two different settings: managers learning safety leadership training, and non-managers learning task-based safety training,” said Thanh Tung Pham, who recently completed RMIT’s Doctorate by Research program and his PhD thesis, The transfer of training among Australian construction workers participating in occupational health and safety training.

“Non-managers consider the approval (or disapproval) of using learned OHS training content from their co-workers in their local workgroups as the main reason for performing (or not performing) transfer action,” he said.

“It becomes problematic when learned skills and knowledge and established work practices are in conflict or lack consistency. In that case, non-managers may follow normative ways of doing things if they realise that their co-workers, especially senior workers, disallow or discourage new ways of working.”

It is important to look at OHS training, as training transfer will not occur if learning is unsuccessful, according to Pham, who said construction workers are not interested in a one-way instructional approach in which trainers simply disseminate knowledge to them and expect them to receive and absorb knowledge.

“Construction workers would like to play a more active role in their learning by exploring and personally making sense of the knowledge. Also, construction workers can learn easier when they receive engaging visual training materials instead of text-based materials,” he said.

While OHS training is essential, Pham said its effectiveness needs to be considered: “it is unrealistic to assume that improved safety performance will automatically appear after training. Learning is not the endpoint,” explained Pham, who said trainees need to further build a solid bridge between knowledge and action. OHS professionals can definitely support that process.

One central idea arising from Pham’s research is that OHS training needs to be designed for training transfer.

“Generic training content is not sufficient. It is hard for trainees to perceive its usefulness and relevance. It is hard for trainees to use it,” he said.

“We should tailor training content to fit trainees’ needs. When possible, OHS professionals and supervisors should collaborate with trainers and provide inputs related to what trainees need to know when working in their specific tasks and environments.”

The next issue of OHS Professional magazine will include a feature article on Thanh Tung Pham’s PhD thesis, The transfer of training among Australian construction workers participating in occupational health and safety training, with recommendations on how to improve learning transfer on the job for OHS professionals.