A trainer's rant a la Dennis Miller

Sometimes the little things get to be too much and a rant is the result. TechRepublic columnist Bruce Maples lets off some steam by pointing out the problems with training centers, managers, and salespeople.

Ever since Dennis Miller made the Monday Night Football broadcast team, I’ve been thinking about rants. Just look what ranting has gotten Miller: fame, fortune, HBO specials, and now the chance to follow in the footsteps of Dandy Don, Howard, and Boomer.

Then yesterday, as I was browsing the highbrow books at the local megabookstore, I found a book by my Car Talk buddies called In Our Humble Opinion: Car Talk's Click and Clack Rant and Rave. And I thought, "What is this? Has ranting become the way to a better life?" That thought was quickly followed by, "I can do that." I mean, Miller isn’t the only one who can rant, you know. I’ve been known to toss a few major-league ones myself.

So, submitted for your approval, here’s a rant from the trainer’s perspective. Granted, that’s a pretty broad place to start, but I’ve tried to pick the best (and easiest) targets. See if you agree. Oh, and, uh, ABC: Have your people call my people.

The sales process
If you think about it, the training center is the first link in the training chain. And all too often, it’s a weak link. Start with the sales folks. Why do training centers believe that timeworn shibboleth, “Sales is sales.” Here’s a bulletin, guys: Selling technical training is not the same as selling medical supplies. The goal is not to sell the most expensive classes to everyone who will buy:

“I need a course on Visual Basic.”
“Our advanced course starts in two weeks and costs $5,000. Just the thing for you.”
“I’ve never done any programming.”
“Well, it says here that you need two years' experience, but I’m sure you can just pick it up the first night.”

Why have sales folks never heard the word prerequisites? Or the axiom, "Don’t promise more than you can deliver?"

“I got the Outlook course outline you sent me, and I don’t see anything about Exchange Server.”
“Well, it’s not really a course on Exchange, but I’m sure the instructor can throw something in.”
“Has she ever taught Exchange?”
“No, she only teaches desktop stuff. But Outlook works with Exchange, so she’s sure to know something about it, right?”

We shouldn’t be too hard on the salespeople, though, because they have to deal with a group that gives new meaning to the term don’t have a clue: managers. Do any of these classic comments sound familiar?
  • “Well, we’re interested in the NT Admin class, but I can’t have my people out for all that time. Can you cover the five days of material in, say, two?”
  • “I’d like to have the Using Word class at our place, but we don’t have any extra computers. We’ll just meet in the conference room and have everyone talk through the exercises, okay?”
  • “We don’t want to pay for all that courseware. We’ll just buy one and copy it 50 times.”
  • “Yes, we want you to teach a two-day custom class on an obscure product, but I don’t see why we should pay you to write the courseware.”

And my favorite:
  • “Can’t you teach them while they’re working?”

  • It’s time for class
    The next step in the process can be equally ridiculous. You’ve done your negotiating, the class is sold and the schedule set, which means the fun is just beginning. Tell me something—why do training centers forget about setup time? It’s not like setup is a rare, unusual activity. Do they actually think that the Setup Fairy will just auto-magically load all the necessary software during the night?

    As a contract trainer, there’s nothing I like to hear more than, “You’ll need to set up the room on Sunday by yourself, but we’re not going to pay you for it.” Or this, “What? No, we don’t have the software. We thought you’d bring 12 copies of Oracle 8 with you.”

    The scariest words, though, may be these: “We’ve got a kid that comes in after school and does all our setups. Just e-mail what you need to”

    And let’s not even talk about the equipment in the classroom. I’ve always thought it was really creative to teach networking classes on non-networked computers, or to run an NT class in a room full of Macs. I especially liked the graphics class with mice that didn’t work; Photoshop work calls for the mouse so rarely.

    My favorite, though, is the projection equipment. Where did the idea come from that a 19-inch TV is good demo equipment for a Visual Basic class of 20 people? I tried lowering the resolution to make the code larger, but I couldn’t find a CGA driver for Windows 98.

    Of course, real projectors present their own problems. When you turn out all the lights and still can’t tell if the projector is on, you know you’ve got a winner.

    And for all you training center folks who order courseware: I realize you want to order as late as possible so as not to be stuck with extra material, but ordering the morning that class starts is probably a little too late.

    The Dilbert rule
    You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said anything about the reason we do all of this: students. (You thought I was going to say money, didn’t you? Admit it.) I decided not to rant about students for two reasons—one, it’s too easy; and two, I’m about out of space, so the “joys of our lives” will have to wait until another column.

    I do want to say something about the Dilbert rule, though. That rule is this: In most satire (which ranting is somewhat related to), there is humor by exaggeration, but also a grain of truth. If you read Dilbert and laugh because you see an exaggerated version of situations and people you know, then you’ve got a good grasp of reality. If you read Dilbert and see no connection to reality anywhere, and especially not to where you work, then you may be closer to one of the Dilbert characters than you realize.

    The same applies to this rant. It is a rant, true; but it is also based to some extent in reality. If you read this and get angry, you’re not getting it. If you read this and just laugh, you’re also not getting it. But if you read this, laugh, and then think, “Hmmm… I wonder if anything we do could be a part of the next rant,” and you then do what it takes to avoid being ranted about, you are exhibiting the correct response.

    Oh, and by the way, tell ABC:
    I’m available every Monday night.

    Bruce Maples is an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant living in Louisville, KY.

    Are there everyday irritations that push you closer and closer to the edge? What’s the last straw for you? To share your own training rant, write to Bruce here.

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