Generational Loss in Training


Most, if not all, emergency services in Australia work on a ‘Train the Trainer’ model for developing the people who will be leading training and assessment events for members. This model has proven highly effective in many ways.

  • Cost control: subsequent groups of trainers and assessors can be trained and mentored ‘in house’ by more experienced members of the training team.
  • Content contextualisation:  the material can be shared and discussed in a way that takes into consideration the agency and the location where the training and assessment is occuring.
  • Availability: this model works for the geographically dispersed nature of an agency across the state as regional or local Learning and Development people can often organise and run trainer development sessions, and then send the trainers back to their areas to carry on.

There is however a known (although maybe not well documented) issue with our approach: There is generational loss in the quality of our trainers and assessors.

Generation loss: Anything that reduces the quality of the representation when copying, and would cause further reduction in quality on making a copy of the copy, can be considered a form of generation loss.

Source: Wikipedia


Let’s track the development of trainers and assessors over several generations to see how this occurs.

Generation One: The Source

The initial group of trainers and assessors are usually gain their knowledge from ‘the source’, whether this be an external expert or at a State level workshop. Sometimes they are the Subject Matter Experts who develop the course! This generation of trainers and assessors have a full explanation of the whats and whys. They understand the reasons behind the rules, and appreciate why different activities and equipment are included in training and assessment material. The consistency of trainers and assessors who go back and deliver material across the state is comparatively high to subsequent generations.

Generation Two: The Disciples

The next generation of trainers and assessors often observe and are mentored by this first generation who learnt from the source. They may not fully appreciate all the whys, but they have a pretty good picture of what the content should look like. In delivery, the consistency of their training can still be quite high – although if questioned the reasoning for why things are done may not be so clear.

Generation Three and beyond: The Followers

The following generations of trainers and assessors seem to lose a little bit of knowledge and skill in each subsequent generation. Without refreshing knowledge and skills from ‘the source’ we start to see things like:

  • Rules, statements and methods not found in the materials and not present in the initial generation of training. (We know those idiosyncrasies that units/branches/stations seem to develop.) To see a good experiment that shows how this happens in action, check out this video. Its actually on social conformity, but its very funny and gets the same idea across!
  • Skipped or skimmed over activities and topics that are considered to be less important or ‘something we just have to do, but we don’t really use it’.
  • Trainers and assessors who know that something should be done, but can’t explain the reason behind the rules or the techniques.
  • Loss of finesse, and not knowing the tips/tricks when completing skills and tasks that make it high quality.

Reducing Generational Loss in Training

You may think that having state level developed standardised session plans and assessment documentation would eliminate this issue, but you are wrong.

I have yet to see any documentation that includes enough detailed information that can explain to trainers and assessors exactly why everything is in there, or how they should be doing something. This is because we assume a level of technical expertise and understanding from our trainers and assessors and we rely on the ‘train the trainer’ model to get this information across to them before we let them loose on the membership unsupervised. (See above for reasons why this isn’t foolproof).

It may be obvious, but worth stressing the importance of exposing trainers and assessors to ‘the source’. If state level workshops are an excellent way to do this but if they are not an option, having a video library or further supporting documentation that explains things for trainers and assessors is a very good idea.

Moderation of trainers and assessors is also needed. We need to eliminate silos of practice and be mixing people from different locations and from different generations of trainers and assessors is a key way to expose inconsistencies of understanding and practice, not to mention a requirement for maintaining our standards as Registered Training Organisations.

All trainers and assessors are individuals – we will never eliminate inconsistencies, but we can definitely do more to ensure the quality of our training is not watered down over the generations.

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