Delivering onsite training: Preparation is key

If your organization facilitates onsite training classes for customers, there are a few things you need to consider before sending your precious commodity—your trainer—on the road.

Instructors often make trips to teach at company locations. Customers may have several reasons why they prefer onsite training. Just to name a few:
  • They may want to train their people on their own computer system.
  • They may feel keeping their employees onsite will reduce truancy and improve application retention.
  • The training site may be too far away, making travel time a consideration.

Whatever the reason, there are steps and precautions instructors need to take to ensure successful onsite classes.

Show me the way
Maps, directions, and detours—clarify up-front whose responsibility it is to assemble these items. Make sure the instructors get them and go over the directions before traveling—and make sure you have all the information necessary. While most maps are now accessible on the Internet, you may still want to call your local AAA office to keep abreast of any traffic disruptions, such as detours, speed traps, and construction. The instructors should have a detailed map of the building where they’re training, if possible. Sometimes, getting to the building is easy, but finding a way in or locating the right person is hard. With security being an issue in office buildings, make sure your customer has alerted the security personnel to avoid an embarrassing situation. Get a contact name that can be called that morning for confirmation. Review any items that you feel may not be clear with the customer. If you don't, a late arrival by the instructor will set a terrible tone for that day.

I can see for miles
Make sure the instructor keeps track of his or her mileage so he or she can be reimbursed for it. Your company should pay for the mileage both ways, no question about it. This may be negotiated into the training cost already, so be sure to inquire about it ahead of time.

Traveling with computers
Your company may have to provide computers if the customer doesn’t have a training room or extra computers. This is done quite often, and there are computer models similar to laptops that are excellent for this purpose. If the instructor must take computers, remember these “must-have” items:
  • Power cables—Nothing says "DOH!" like having computers but no power cable to fire those puppies up. Make sure instructors have a couple of extra power cords in their emergency kits—just in case.
  • Power strips—Not having a power strip is almost as bad as not having cables. Always keep an extra one of them around for good measure.
  • Extension cords—I know you think I'm stuck on a theme here, but outlet logistics can cause problems. And when the instructor has to cover, it may throw him or her off for the day, especially if the class is a tough one. Just make sure there are extras of everything. You can't go wrong.

Working computers
You've got enough computers for the site, but do they boot up? If the computers don't work, why keep them? Problem hard drives, logic boards, RAM, and screen malfunctions can cause havoc when instructors are at onsite classes. Windows is bad enough to troubleshoot, but for application instructors, it may be worse. So make sure the portable computers your instructors take are in top shape. Let them take an extra one—just in case. Again, first impressions are killers. It’s a matter of making sure your instructors have all the tools they need to do their jobs.

Turn the page
Most companies have some sort of booklet, CD, or manual that the student follows during the course. First, make sure they are the correct items. I've seen an instructor show up for an onsite class to teach Excel only to hand out Word manuals. Oops! Second, make sure the instructor has the correct number of items. Don’t forget the correct version as well. You'll want to give the instructor a couple extra manuals for those just-in-case instances. FYI: A nice way to help sales is to have an extra computer and manual set up and ready just in case the customer wants to add an additional person at the last moment. Have you ever experienced that one before?

Practice makes perfect
Some classes require practice or exercise files to be placed on the student's computer before the class. If the files are not preinstalled on the computers, make sure the instructors have the necessary CD-ROMs or floppies to install them. A good idea is to have the instructor take a hub to allow faster installation of practice files.

One man's trash
Some organizations have instructors teach in a less-than-satisfactory environment. I was sent to teach at a tobacco company. I don't smoke and am mildly allergic to it, but I had to teach in the company lunchroom where smoking was permitted. I couldn’t do anything about this and had to endure the day trapped in a small room with no ventilation while about 20 students puffed away. I wound up with a severe headache and reeking of smoke; the computers had ashes in their keyboards, and they reeked too. In fact, they had to be aired out before the next onsite class. When I asked the salesman why he didn't tell them there was no smoking near the computers, he responded by saying he never thought about it. Other places may hold similar perils: noise, dirt, dust, traffic. These can distract the instructor and students and should be discussed prior to the instructor arriving.

The success of your company’s training, for the most part, depends on the instructor and how well the organization and trainer prepare beforehand. Make your preparations ahead of time so your instructors can concentrate on the job of training and not worry about the rest.

Schoun Regan is a consultant to training firms and travels across North America educating people for Complete Mac Seminars . If you'd like to comment on this article or add to his list of things to do before teaching an onsite class, please post your comments below or write to Schoun .

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