Two Takes on Training

High-quality, ongoing training is a core component of improving productivity and maintaining high-functioning integration teams. Here, we present two perspectives on developing and executing successful training programs. First, Greg Smith, a technical trainer for SMA Solar Academy, details the process of developing a training program. Next, Blake Gleason, director of engineering for Sun Light & Power, shares an integrator’s perspective on staff training.

Creating Quality Training Programs

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar market grew last year by 67%. This growth created an increase in jobs, installations and megawatt-hours injected into the grid. The resulting new workforce needs training to ensure efficient, effective and—most important— safe installation practices. Topics covered can include site surveying, electrical safety, National Electrical Code compliance, permitting, product knowledge and system design.

If you are looking for a training program, you have many resources at your disposal. If you are the one standing in the front of the room, you face several challenges. These include ensuring that the course content is appropriate for the intended audience, utilizing the applicable classroom equipment and learning materials, and speaking confidently during the presentation. However, these challenges can be met through a systematic approach to course development.

Microsoft PowerPoint is the preferred medium for most instructor-led lessons in our industry. Unfortunately, instructors often abuse PowerPoint, either by emphasizing style over substance with too many flashy animations and transitions, by using slides covered entirely by text, or by reading slides word-for-word while facing the screen. These practices can lead to bored attendees who are anxious to leave. Avoiding these mistakes helps to make your presentation more effective and engaging.

Course Development

This article focuses on a modified analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation (ADDIE) method that adds a planning phase. The following course development phases can be applied to any training program to help ensure its success.

Phase 1: Plan. As the saying goes, no one plans to fail, but many fail to plan. During the planning phase, you should identify your resources. To effectively teach a class, how many demonstration inverters, modules, multimeters, ladders, calculators, wire strippers and so on do you need to have available? How large is your training room, and what is your maximum class size? Is the room properly lit? Where should the projector be located? The first step in your course planning is to address basic questions such as these.

Phase 2: Analyze. Who is your target audience? Are they your own employees, people who buy and install your product, or individuals new to the industry? You must determine why training is needed by doing a job task analysis, whereby you describe and record the tasks of the job that you are training on and specify the skills and requirements necessary to perform them. For instance, if you have noticed an increase in the number of accidents on the job site, how can you design a safety program to prevent more from happening? Careful analysis provides key factors that determine your curriculum.

Phase 3: Design. The design phase is perhaps the most important. If this phase fails, your training program will eventually fail. As you design the course, you will need to meet with subjectmatter experts to determine the content, such as NEC requirements, electrical safety, the use of shade analysis tools and how an inverter works. The end product of any brainstorming sessions should be a list of goals or objectives that are not only realistic, attainable and measureable but are also targeted to a specific course design.

Knowledge-based and task-based course design each use their own set of learning goals. (See Diagram 1.) Knowledge-based design focuses on theory and concepts, and utilizes course and topic learning objectives. Course learning objectives (CLOs) are broad learning goals for the entire course. CLOs are driven by topic learning objectives (TLOs), which are more specific goals that accomplish the criteria set forth in the CLOs. TLOs are derived from the job task analysis performed in Phase 2 and are the basic knowledge requirements of the entire course. Task-based design focuses on skill sets and hands-on lessons using terminal objectives and enabling objectives, which follow the same guidelines as CLOs and TLOs, respectively.

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