How to Improve Employee “Retention” with Training Simulation

September 13th, 2021

As the world “exits” the COVID-19 pandemic, companies in all sectors are struggling to hire (or re-hire) employees, from construction [Dodge Data & Analytics 2020] to logistics [DC Velocity 2021]. And that’s why HR departments are increasingly working with colleagues in Operations and in Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) to improve recruiting efforts.

Sadly, the need is all the more important because employee turnover is increasing. For example, warehousing “churn” at some companies is now almost 60%, according to [Yale 2020].

More generally, there’s an employee “turnover” crisis, as these (pre COVID-19) statistics from the construction industry [Dawalt 2019] make clear:

“According to one recent study, six out of ten employees last year quit or were fired or let go. All the more reason to consider investing more wisely in the people you hire, and in their advancement opportunities.”

About the Training Retention Problem

If attracting new people is already challenging [Schoppman and Burger 2016], training people properly can be even more difficult.

Indeed, some Simlog customers have reported that most trainees (up to 90%!) don’t “work out” for these three reasons:

  • they drop out before the training ends, because the work wasn’t what they thought it would be
  • they’re obliged to leave before the training ends, because they’re not learning well enough
  • after the training ends, they’re not doing well enough

In each case, the training investment is “lost”. If only you could had chosen a “better” person at the start, before the training began!

The Problem is Trainee Selection

The fact is, you need aptitude and attitude to succeed at heavy equipment operations. And that’s why you want to be able to

  • choose people to train who are truly “ready” to learn
  • train those people better, in a way that helps them develop the necessary self-confidence

Fortunately, simulation can help on both counts to ensure that training candidates have enough

to be sure that they will

  • have the “ability” to do well
  • continue to improve (without supervision) to reach the desired level of performance

Note that performance evaluation is now truly objective because everyone faces the very same training scenarios, and everyone’s simulated work is “scored” in exactly the same way.

About “Testing” for Attitude and Aptitude

In previous posts, we’ve reviewed the subject of simulator-based pre-screening for operator aptittude, so here we’ll look more closely at attitude.

Consider this observation by a leading training consultant [Klatt 1999]:

“There’s no easy way to develop personal discipline … or take the initiative to accomplish something when you’d much rather be doing something else.   And that’s why most of us are unwilling to “pay the price”… and so we quit before we’re successful.”

The fact is, developing any new skill requires hour-after-hour, day-after-day, concentration and effort. Then after enough concentration and effort, simulation results will start to look like target values, and that means it’s time to “graduate” to real heavy equipment.

Stated the other way around, when simulation results are not improving, or not improving enough (despite having enough “aptitude”), it’s concentration and effort that are lacking. And so perhaps paradoxically, you want that person to give up and drop out before you make any additional training investment.

After Proper Selection, Proper Training

But even when someone has enough attitude and aptitude, you still need to train them properly. And that’s because the consequences of improper training are costly (equipment is damaged, merchandise is lost, people are injured, etc.), sometimes tragic.

Indeed, according to some Simlog customers, newly-trained operators are responsible for two-thirds of equipment-related “incidents”, and three-quarters of those incidents occur within their first six months of work.

Luckily, the importance of simulation for training is now well recognized.

The Bottom Line

The fact is, you need attitude and aptitude and the right kind of training to address the employee “retention” problem.

And once you understand that what you really have is a trainee selection problem, followed by a trainee preparation problem, it’s easy to see that simulation can help on both counts, to ensure that the people you’re training

  • have the “ability” to do well
  • will continue to improve (without supervision) to reach the desired level of performance

at the simulator first, where they will (slowly but surely) develop the right habits.

And as [Schoppman and Burger 2016] point out, although technology can “threaten, inspire, and empower”, it can also provide a “competitive advantage” when it comes to workforce development.

Here’s how one Simlog customer summarized things for us, a municipality that “grows their own” heavy equipment operators by training people who already doing other kinds of work:

“For city employees with no prior [heavy equipment operating] experience, the biggest hurdle is to convince them that there is nothing wrong the simulator, and that others have been able to meet and even exceed the [simulator] benchmarks.

“Of course, there are those who just quit, and that’s one of our biggest benefits, to focus on training resources on just those people with the right attitude and aptitude.”

And that’s why we say that “The best employers have the best employees.” Because when you’re that kind of employer, you won’t have a “retention” problem.

References

[DC Velocity 2021] “Labor shortage hits supply chain hard”, DC Velocity magazine, May 12, 2021.  (https://www.dcvelocity.com/articles/50782-labor-shortage-hits-supply-chain-hard)

[Dodge Data & Analytics 2020] “Construction Starts to Recover in 2021“, Dodge Data & Analytics, December 10, 2020. (http://rockproducts.com/2020/12/10/construction-starts-to-recover-in-2021/)

[Klatt 1999] B. Klatt, “The Ultimate Training Handbook”, McGraw-Hill, 1999.

[Dawalt 2019] T. Dawalt, “Three Underlying Issues That Hiring More People Won’t Fix”, Construction Business Owner Magazine, January 9, 2019 (https://www.constructionbusinessowner.com/management/workforce-management/skilled-workforce-delusion)

[Schoppman and Burger 2016] G. Schoppman, C. Burger, “The Influence of Technology on Workforce Development”, Construction Business Owner magazine Webinar Series, 2020.

[Yale 2020] “Getting the Most out of Warehouse Labor”, Yale Material Handling, 2020.