Taking Risks as a Trainer

Risk taking is becoming a core skill for the 21st Century. If we are a ‘risk society’ that focuses on the future and dealing with uncertainty and insecurity, then the Public Safety Sector that faces this daily should provide some great examples of risk takers!

We are in an industry where we can see historically how research, trial and error and innovation has led to changes in the way we do things. We all love finding out about innovative equipment, technology and ways to train and learn in the emergency services with endless conference sessions dedicated to sharing the ideas of others.

It is often said that if you keep doing what you have always done… you will get what you have always gotten. Our society has developed an understanding that risk is integral to innovation and that advances are dependent on experimentation. It is acknowledged that taking risks can be demanding on resources and effort, but the rewards can be great when it leads to success.

So when it comes to actually making the leap, why are so many of us trainers reluctant to take more risks and try new things?  (Hint: probably similar to why our learners are also nervous about trying new things!!)

Why don’t we?

Research would suggest that maybe one or more of the following is influencing our decision to try:

  1. As humans we don’t want to fail, and we want to avoid criticism.
    A feature built into our brains! Elbert Hubbard said, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Yet this is obviously not the way to discover innovative or improved ways to train and work. This is the way to be stale, boring and complacent. If we are encouraging the right culture in our training and organisation, then we should not be afraid of trying something.
  2. We like to think we are “masters” of what we already do… and maybe we haven’t yet embraced a growth mindset.
    When we try something new, high probability is we will not be perfect and things will go wrong. This is a bit of a hit to our self-image. Maybe we need to remember what Kim Collins said – “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. Rather than thinking about revealing a weakness, you embrace a chance to grow.
  3. We lack confidence in ourselves – we don’t think we have the skills or knowledge to do something new or innovative.
    Yet as Carl Jung said, “Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.” Talking with anyone who has ever made a discovery or developed an innovative technique or piece of equipment will tell you about how they used partial ideas, guesses, trial and error to eventually develop their knowledge and skills to create something that worked. You just have to get started and try… multiple times.

How could we?

Here are some suggestions that may encourage you to try and take a little bit more risk:

  • Make a conscious effort to change your attitude
    Override your natural instinct to stay quiet or just do what you have always done. Try delivering a different topic or course. Look for opportunities where you can try an activity a little bit differently, or put into action that idea you have been brewing in the back of your mind. If it doesn’t work out, reflect and try again.
  • Observe and reflect – when you are not the trainer
    Anybody who pays attention can see things that can be improved. A little tweak to a process or a change to the way we explain things could improve things for everyone. Watching other people train or do tasks on the job or at an assessment is a great opportunity to gather data and consider changes to your training.
  • Ask others
    Just because you are the trainer does not mean new ideas need to come from you. Maybe one of your learners or another person in your organisation has an idea or a possible innovation. You can help support it and test it. As a start to taking more risks, try including questions in your training such as ‘How else can we do this?’ or ‘Today we are going to do this but what will happen if we change this one thing?’

Remember that this type of risk-taking is a chosen and often learned behavior. (It is not something to be managed and minimalized or avoided.)  We can find the balance between working outside our comfort zones and still retain good judgment about what is safe and best for our learners.


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.

Episode 2 – What Do You Think About the East/West Divide? – Greg Newton

About our Guest:

In this episode we are talking to Greg Newton – Deputy Commissioner NSW SES. Having initially trained as a History and English high school teacher, Greg has previously worked as an Executive Teacher in ACT schools before being employed at a senior level in the ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety. Since the age of 17 he also served as a NSW SES volunteer with the Queanbeyan SES Unit, with five years as a Local Controller. During his 23 years as a volunteer, Greg was involved in most of the major emergency operations the Service responded to, notably the 1999 Sydney Hailstorm, Thredbo Landslide, Canberra Bushfires and the 2007 Hunter Storms. He was also deployed to support Victoria after the 2009 bushfires.

In 2010 Greg joined the staff of NSW SES as an Assistant Commissioner and was appointed Deputy Commissioner in May 2015. As Assistant Commissioner he filled the roles of Director East and Director West, giving him an excellent appreciation of the challenges faced by emergency service volunteers in all areas of the state. This combination of both volunteer and staff experience, as well as education and government experience gives him a well rounded view of the sector.

Key questions for this episode:
  • In your opinion, is there really such as thing as the East/West divide for people working in Emergency Services?
  • What do you see as the differences for members and trainers working in different areas of the state? Are learners the same? Are needs and issues that different?
  • What hurdles have you seen overcome to deliver great training or assessments?
  • What is something you would like people to appreciate more about members working in different areas to themselves?
Connect with Greg Newton:


What Can Trainers Learn From Social Media and Online Marketing?

I guess it’s not too hard to believe that you can now get a degree in Social Media and Online Marketing. Personally, I am heading down the self directed learning route for this one, but the more I learn the more I find  in common between marketing online and training learners. I have now read lot of acronyms, tried to understand various complex processes and considered multiple views on the best way to engage an audience. (See – sounds like the training sector already!)

So let me share just a couple of ideas from the social media and the online sector, and my takeaways for trainers and online learning managers.


Image Source

1. Market Research

Online world: They say don’t bother spending money or investing lots of effort until you have a clear picture of the audience you want, and what they want from you! Do the quick quizzes, polls, user interviews, user surveys, focus groups, field observations and trials. You can always pose a question online and get people to DM* you, or open it up to a AMA* scenario to see what people are thinking about. Once you have the picture clear of what people actually need and what you have to offer, then you can clearly target and advertise to your audience.
*DM = Direct Message, AMA = Ask Me Anything,

Training world: I think market research is just another industry’s term for training needs analysis, learner needs survey and training evaluation… although they seem to have a lot more cool ways to collect the data. Maybe there is something we should be learning from that.


Like I need to remind you, but don’t forget the importance of real training needs analysis (the actual people component, not the % of people completed part). Working out how people are really connecting and accessing training (as opposed to the official way they could be doing it) is also valuable. Yes there is stuff on a page on the intranet, but the real conversation is happening on that closed Facebook group! Save energy and align things to make a system that really works in your real world, or at least make it easy to link the two worlds together.

2. SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

Online world: There is high competition in the online world to be the highest rank webpage for user searchers. Being topped rank means easier to find, and therefore more internet traffic and audience to your site. There are some really clever online tools that will even analyse what keywords people are using to try and find something. SEO is getting smarter now – its not just about keywords, its also about usability and user experience on the site. This includes responsive design for the ever increasing percentage of mobile users. I like this visual to explain it easily.

Training world: If learners can’t access training or find the content easily, they will give up trying. How often have you heard someone say that the system is too hard to access? Or they can’t find the learner guide online? People may click to visit your site, but the bounce rate will be high if its too hard to move further in than the front page. In the physical world it still holds true. Think about the layout and structure of printed materials – is it easy to read and find things? Visuals matter now more than ever. Practical or visual versions of information are preferable and more often referred to and remembered.


We need to be reviewing the layout and structure of our online learning modules and especially the login point and layout of our Learning Management Systems and intranets to make sure it is easy to read, easy to navigate and gets to the point. Oh, and extra points if it works effectively on mobile devices. We need to add a Graphic Designer Badge to our trainer toolbox, or find someone who can do it for us. Look at training materials with fresh eyes and give it a face lift.

3. Power of Community

Online world: Social media is a place to make connections, maintain relationships, influence purchasing and remain in people’s mind. Ideally it isn’t just about your own content, its about sharing other information that supports your ideas and audience. It’s a way to add value and get more people following you – so when you put out your own content there is a bigger audience to see it… not to mention that having people attracts more people!

Training world: Training has an increasing online presence and there is an explosion of online Communities of Practice. Social Media is now more commonly the way that learners are contacting trainers and others to ask questions, check information and stay up to date. Outside of social media, we often seem to spend time writing newsletters, writing training updates and organising professional development workshops. We also try to develop community within training groups – use of collaborative and cooperative learning activities help strengthen this.


The power of the click to follow someone on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is amazing. You instantly have a way to connect and keep people posted about things. Connect with other peoples connections – ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ spread the word extremely quickly! Using a Call to Action is also a great way online to start interactions from social media and link it to other things you have going on. Giveaways work well: one click to download a quick guide on support learners with special needs, or a one page cheat sheet on how to put together a piece of new equipment? Yes please! Whether you are online or not, finding ways for learners and trainers to collaborate and work cooperatively should definitely be a part of your ongoing methods.

I will be continuing my exploration into this world, keeping a glossary handy. I am sure I will find many other similarities which will hopefully help the marketing stuff stick as it connects with the training stuff that already fills my brain, and hopefully pick up a few new ideas that will help my training as well as my marketing!