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Most read articles
|1006 PD: Milker training strategies: Translating theory into practice|
|Archives - Past Articles|
|Monday, 02 October 2006 11:13|
If you manage other people on your dairy, then you are a trainer. Whether you are an effective trainer or not is another question. Effective managers put people into a position to succeed. Ineffective managers set people up for failure, and then complain they can’t find good help anymore. The success or failure of a dairy business depends on the skill, confidence and motivation of the people that perform the milking process. The skill, confidence and motivation of those same people depends on how well their manager trains them.
This [article] is intended for managers who want to succeed by translating theory into practice through training.
Improve consistency with skillful workers
Consistent milking increases labor efficiency and can improve animal performance. Danish research demonstrated cows milked with standard operating procedures (SOPs) produced more milk and milk components than cows milked in a more variable way. Consistent use of good milking procedures is achieved by establishing a standardized milking routine. Training is then used to ensure all milkers actually perform the routine in the same way every time.
If a standardized milking routine and an effective training program are not in place, it is almost certain milking practices will vary from one person to the next. This variation means at some milkings the dairy’s resources are being used less efficiently, cows are subjected to unexpected treatment, the opportunity for disease transmission is increased and cows likely produce less milk and milk components.
Training increases confidence
Training can be a motivational tool
Managers should encourage their labor team to have a feeling of ownership in their work. A great way to do that is to ask employees to constantly look for ways to improve work processes. A recent demographic survey of milkers in Pennsylvania uncovered some interesting facts. When milkers were asked if management requested their suggestions about improving milk quality, 31 percent indicated they were always asked and 40 percent indicated they were sometimes asked. When asked if they get to participate in making decisions about improving milk quality, 44 percent always participate and 32 percent sometimes participate.
This data indicates most managers do try to involve frontline milkers in efforts to improve milk quality. We can infer from this that milkers have some say in improving the work procedures they use.
On-farm training is critical to successfully incorporating new practices. There is no way to determine if a practice is working without having confidence the practice is consistently used. Managers need to help employees understand this concept. Employees will then appreciate training not only as a means for improving milkers’ skills but also as a means for implementing the ideas and decisions they helped to make.
The challenge for the manager is to select a method that is appropriate both for the material to be learned and for the learners. While training provided by experts and in off-farm settings is certainly valuable and a fertile source of ideas for improvement, it cannot take the place of on-farm training. Because you have the vision and can provide the leadership, you are the one most likely to succeed at delivering the training. Your focus as a manager on profitability and productivity makes you the ideal candidate to design and deliver training to a single employee at a critical juncture when new knowledge or skills are required.
Successful dairy managers need to train workers in the specific practices used at their farm. To do this, dairy managers need a training strategy. Effective learning takes place when the training strategy is well-matched with the material. Different strategies will work to teach procedures, abstract ideas, thought processes or concepts. To explore all training strategies is beyond the scope of this [article]. We will focus on the behavioral strategy because it is effective for teaching procedures or work routines. This strategy should be used on every dairy farm.
The behavioral strategy
Step 1: Establish behavioral objectives
For example, after completing basic milker training with the parlor manager at Blue Sky Dairy and practicing for six milkings with a qualified milker, the learner will demonstrate to the parlor manager the ability to precisely follow the milking SOPs and attach milkers to properly cleaned and prepped cows.
The above behavioral objective states what training and practice must take place and who will perform it. It also describes what the learner will be able to do when the training is completed to satisfaction. The parlor manager and the learner will have a good idea of what is expected before the training begins.
Step 2: Task analysis
Write down the tasks and arrange them in the most logical order. This is known as task analysis, and it is basically the same process one uses to organize the steps in SOPs.
Step 3: Determine present skill level
The trainer should emphasize certain jobs such as milking need to be done according to the dairy’s procedure and why that is important. A new worker, regardless of experience, will need basic training in order to follow the SOPs of his new position. If he has previous experience, he will simply catch on quickly. On the other hand, unnecessary training for a qualified worker is frustrating and a waste of time.
Step 4: Explain and demonstrate
People learn in different ways, so it is critical the trainer involve as many of the learner’s senses as possible. Explain verbally how the procedure is done and how it fits into the farm’s overall plan. Show the written SOP to the learner and give him or her an opportunity to read and understand it. Physically show the learner how to best perform the procedure. Emphasize key points as you demonstrate. Ask the learner if he or she has any questions about what he or she has heard, read and seen.
Step 5: Practice and observe
Step 6: Feedback
Your primary role is to identify correct behavior and reward it with positive reinforcement; in that way you will lead the learner toward excellence. The learner will accept your positive feedback and feel you are interested in his or her growth and development as an employee. To be a successful trainer, you must identify correct behavior and reward it.
Effective trainers respond to those parts of the procedure the learner did incorrectly by explaining and demonstrating them again. Give reasons why the procedure is the best way to complete the work. Use negative reinforcement to emphasize the impact and consequences of incorrect behavior.
Always balance negative reinforcement with positive. (Because negative comments are heavier than positive ones to the learner, you need to use more positive comments to make them balance.) Patiently work through the procedure with the learner and demonstrate the problem areas again.
Trainers should be aware they are always providing feedback, whether they intend to or not. Your body language can be a very strong source of feedback, especially facial expressions. Also, when you do not comment or express emotion about an action, you are providing feedback to the learner in the form of extinction. It is perfectly reasonable for the learner to interpret your lack of a response as an indication the behavior he or she is currently practicing is unimportant, and he or she may stop the behavior, good or bad. Provide positive or negative feedback to the learner if the behavior is indeed important.
When the learner can complete the procedure at an acceptable level, basic training is complete. Take time to congratulate the learner and praise his or her efforts; try to specifically praise parts of the procedure he or she does particularly well. Let him or her know you are available to answer questions and that you will continue to coach him or her. The learner should complete basic training with a solid understanding of the procedure, confidence in his or her ability to perform and good feelings about his or her job and the support of management.
A few notes about negative reinforcement
In the dairy setting, the trainer might point out how inadequately cleaning teats will lead to poor milk quality, mastitis problems for the cow and decreased profitability. Then the trainer might indicate how improper cleaning hurts the business and lets down the dairy’s team of workers.
The following example should help to illustrate the difference between punishment (a negative act likely to lead to hard feelings) and negative reinforcement (the clarification of negative consequences resulting from incorrect behavior). Joe is a new employee at the farm. Sarah, the parlor supervisor, trained him in the milking procedure two weeks ago. After his training, Joe milked 10 times with other qualified milkers. Today he is milking alone for the second time when Sarah comes in to provide some coaching. Sarah observes Joe trying to work too quickly and as a result not getting the cows clean. Sarah is having a frustrating day.
Sarah leaves and Joe keeps milking. He starts cleaning the cows better and stops worrying about milking as fast as the others. He has confidence in himself and a good attitude about his job and his manager.
Trainers should understand most people have a natural desire to please their employer and be successful in their job. It is the manager’s responsibility to put employees in a position to succeed. An employee in a position to succeed will know how and why procedures must be correctly performed. His manager will also provide feedback to let him or her know good efforts are recognized and appreciated.
Adapting training for learning styles
One of the underlying reasons for this problem is that people have different learning styles. Individuals develop preferences for learning information in specific ways. It is not clear exactly how these preferences develop, but they are related to personality, values, family background, experience and many other influences.
Individuals are not likely to have one preferred learning style they use for all types of information. Most people will use some combination of different learning styles. It is usually not practical for trainers to match material exactly with the preferred learning style of every learner.
It is important to note that trainers also have a preferred learning style. Trainers are likely to teach material using the learning style they prefer. The trainer’s learning style may not match that of the learner, thus causing difficulty for the learner.
Researchers use many different theories to categorize the different learning style preferences. Some theories deal with the functions of the brain and others with the affect personality type has on learning. Perhaps the most useful format for the purposes of practical trainers defines learners as watchers, readers, doers or sensors.
•Watchers prefer to be shown and learn best when the content or task is demonstration.
There is a strong possibility you will recognize your own preferred style in the list above. If so, this is the first step toward understanding and using learning styles. Be aware of your own style and your tendency to use it when training others. Then, recognize that other people may have a different preference for learning. Sensitivity to this issue will make you a better trainer. The behavioral learning strategy, as described earlier, targets a combination of learning style preferences. Using the training loop as illustrated in Diagram 1* provides at least partial instruction in the preferred learning styles of watchers and doers. If you provide written SOPs, then you greatly benefit Readers.
Serialist learners tend to learn things in an organized, step-by-step fashion. They need to see how each part of a process builds on another in a logical fashion. In contrast, Holist thinkers need to see the big picture. The individual pieces hold no meaning for a Holist without seeing the idea as a whole.
In order to accommodate both cognitive styles, it is a good practice for trainers to begin by sharing the big picture with the learner. Describe how the process to be learned fits into the overall operation of the business. This will give the Holist learner an opportunity to see how everything fits together before getting to the detailed business of mastering the individual tasks. Serialist learners will not be disadvantaged by your description of the big picture, but it will probably not have much meaning to them until you teach them the detailed tasks in proper order.
Chances are the most productive organizations are well-tuned in terms of the way in which employees fit their jobs. Motivated employees work for a purpose, know what the results will be, believe their contributions are valued and appear to have in mind the big picture of how their work helps carry out the mission of the company.
A high-producing herd of cows doesn’t just happen for no particular reason. It is the result of hard work and good management. In the same way, a motivated workforce doesn’t just happen. A motivated workforce isn’t the result of luck in hiring. Those farms that have a team of dedicated and satisfied workers are the result of hard work and good management.
Training is one of the primary techniques used by managers to put people into a position for success. Motivation comes from within an individual, but managers create the conditions for motivation. Satisfied workers, increased profits and consistent, high-quality production are the rewards for dairy managers who adopt rational training practices and value their employees. PD
References omitted due to space but are available upon request.
Diagram omitted but is available upon request to
—From Penn State Dairy Alliance website
Richard Stup, Senior Extension Associate, Penn State Dairy Alliance