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Creating Compelling Safety Trainings: An Interview with KPA’s Mulango Akpo-Esambe and Shawn Smith

Kat McConnell

Creating Compelling Safety Trainings: An Interview with KPA’s Mulango Akpo-Esambe and Shawn Smith

In this episode of The Safety Meeting, KPA's Mulango Akpo-Esambe (Lead Animator) and Shawn Smith (Product Director of Training and Content) discuss designing engaging and effective safety training materials. Mulango and Shawn provide insight into strategies for training and emerging trends—including immersive experiences, real-world case studies, and gamification.

So let’s jump in. I want to understand how real-world scenarios and examples impact training, retention, and engagement. Can you share some ideas companies can use to incorporate these examples into their training materials?

Yeah, I agree that real-world and relatable content can make a really big positive impact on training. Stronger engagement equals better understanding and use of the information and concepts. There are several different approaches. I have a couple of examples, but there are definitely more. There are just so many ways you can really make content engaging and interesting using real-world scenarios and examples.

The first one we call incident recreations, or case studies: when you walk the learner through incident near misses that have occurred, especially if they are from the same or similar industries, the learner can put themself in those situations and think about how they would have reacted or avoided the incident, which I think can be really powerful.

Another example would be employee stories or interviews. In that case, you can interview somebody who had a close call or even an injury, or a family member or a coworker who was present. And when you hear what happened from somebody who was actually there or directly affected, it can really help engage the learner and it helps them see how real it is. And how an accident or an incident could affect their lives, their coworkers, or their family.

That’s really what we’re trying to do with this type of content: make an impact, help them understand it and feel it so that they can put it to work for them, as well. 

The third example I’ll mention within this group is simplifying concepts and using supporting visuals. Training can be overwhelming. It can be extremely helpful to boil things down to simple acronyms or a few steps and support that information with visuals, like images, videos, diagrams, motion graphics, things that can really help them see it and understand it in a much simpler way. And so we really try to think about that when we’re developing training.

And I think that the important thing is following a process. It can be a simple process, but when you’re creating training, or you’re choosing training that you want to use, you want to understand what it is you’re trying to get across and try to simplify it as much as possible so that it can actually break through.

That’s what we always focus on. 

Those sound like some great ways for companies to be able to bring more sticktoitiveness into their training. And speaking of making these trainings stick, how important is repetition in reinforcing the messages that you’re sharing in your training and promoting these behavioral changes?

I think repetition is very important when trying to convey and reinforce a message or promote a behavioral change. Hearing and seeing key messages repeated in materials just helps learners better understand that information.

Documents, video content, like Shawn said, and incident recreations, I think all of these help employees remember when they are in a future situation. I think when it comes to positive behavior change in the context of safety and compliance, I think it’s major. I think repetition over time can help establish new habits and modify existing habits, even in the context of cultural and organizational change. I think it’s huge.

The last point I’ll make on that is that I think, in general, humans, we forget information over time, and our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. So as more and more information comes to us, and as we live in a world where over time, we just become comfortable in our day-to-day, I think repetition is very important.

And to that point, I think it’s not just repetition for the sake of repetition, but a variation of repetition, meaning having a very strong balance between key points and messages while still maintaining a level of engagement and interest. That combined can really help refresh our memories and keep us focused.

Absolutely. Making sure that those messages are retained is super important. Do you think that there are any specific tactics or timing that can help reinforce key takeaways? 

Just reiterating what I said before, about a variation and a balance between key points and maintaining a level of engagement and interest. I think that there’s no specific timing to it, but I think the variation combined with repetition definitely helps. Having different media — incident reports, interviews, video content, interactives, quizzes — that variation combined with the key points increases the level of engagement.

Those are some great tips to make sure that we get these training messages to stay in people’s minds. That’s just one of the many hurdles you see in keeping these trainings engaging for people and making sure that they actually are impactful. And speaking of hurdles, when it comes to training, I know that so many of KPA’s customers have employees whose first language isn’t English.

What have you seen work well when developing training programs for diverse workforces? 

Yeah, that definitely can be a challenge when you have a lot of different employees within an organization. First, I would focus on simplifying the concepts you’re teaching, and use plain language. Avoid using extremely technical terms that might not be understood by all learners. You’re making sure that you’re keeping it specific to only what needs to be taught, and saying it in a way that can be understood.

Secondly, make instructions as clear and concise as possible. Breaking things down into steps helps a lot, especially in cases where you might have something that you can laminate, or put on the wall, or put it across the whole area that somebody’s working in. Reinforce those simple, repeatable steps that need to be followed, especially when they’re doing things that can be high-risk or extremely dangerous.

You can use visuals to support understanding. Or avoid them if they overcomplicate the explanation. That’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years: I love motion graphics, and I love really good visual explanations of things through simple images. But sometimes, they can get overly complicated. You want to avoid the situation where someone has to spend 10 minutes just trying to understand this image. You want to keep it simple.

And then this was sort of obvious, probably should have been my first tip, honestly: Offer training in multiple languages. If you have a workforce of many employees who speak Spanish as their first language, offer it in Spanish, which helps a lot. I’d still follow those same concepts, try to make things clear and concise, and use plain language, but having it available in the languages that your employees speak. Especially when there’s a large number of employees that speak that language, that can be a really easy way to help make sure your training is being impactful.

Use examples and scenarios that are relevant and relatable to your employees, and provide opportunities for practice and feedback to allow them to confirm their understanding. I think that’s really important. Offering ongoing support and additional information and training. It’s also pretty related to that practice and feedback, but you want to just give them the opportunity to use what they’ve learned. And it’s also really great if you can have a way as the person responsible for the training, to validate and verify that they understood.

We talk about it a lot here, but for me, micro-training is excellent for that. You’ll hear us talk about micro training a lot when you’ve got a long-format topic, for example, something that you have to cover every year that’s required as a refresher training. You often can’t make that too short. It has to cover the things it has to cover. It might be 10 minutes, it might be 15 or 20 minutes. That will be what it is. 

But if you’re seeing that there are issues occurring or warning signs, that’s a great opportunity to use and find content that is shorter. That helps, like Mulango said, in a repeatable way. It lets those employees think about it more and let it process.

And the one other thing I’ll add is for when you’re in a situation where an incident’s going to occur. We’ve seen it time and time again with live incident footage, camera security footage, and that sort of thing. The thing that always stands out to me when I see these incidents occur, from minor to major incidents, is how fast they happen.

It’s so fast, and the way to avoid these situations is to basically have that knowledge at top of mind in order to allow you to avoid it in the first place. Because once it starts, it happens so quickly, it’s very hard to respond to it. So seeing that if you’re putting yourself in a situation where you could be injured or someone else could be injured, training will help you prepare for identifying those situations and avoiding them.

But it can be very difficult when you have to react in those situations for anything to help you because it goes so quickly. That’s why we really recommend preparing your employees on the proper ways to do things, to help them avoid being in those situations in the first place.

All of those are really great tips in terms of making sure that things are accessible and are going to stay top of mind. To circle back to one thing that you said specifically, Shawn, you mentioned accessibility with graphics, and making sure that there are visuals to go along with the training.

Mulango, can you, with your expertise, tell us a little bit more about how companies can use technology to enhance their training programs and make them more accessible and effective for those employees? 

Yeah, I think technology integration is a very interesting topic. I know that there are younger people getting into the workforce, and as older people exit, I think any company that can effectively implement technology in their training has a huge leg up.

To Shawn’s point about micro-content, I think in addition to micro-content, is using it with mobile learning – either in apps or short videos that people can take with them, for people who work remotely or on field-based teams. That is a huge integration of technology within KPA.

We also use course training and video-based training, which are great ways of conveying information. Also, multimedia content, interactive content and quizzes, having incident recreations and near misses, including interviews, and there are other technology integrations that I think are very exciting.

Gamification is one that I think is huge — points, badges, leaderboards, anything that activates the employee to complete a training or just gamifying that, by adding those elements into the training

Also, VR and AR. It’s a newer technology. But we are seeing it more and more, and just the idea of an immersive training experience that is made to simulate real-world scenarios. I think this is all such interesting stuff that could be more accessible, and really effective in trying to help employees.

I know the employee experience is a super important part of all of this, and safety is the most important part. But, like a lot of facets of business, some senior leaders are typically wanting to understand the return on investment and what that looks like to start up or continue a training program.

What are some metrics or methods that businesses can use to measure the ROI of their training programs? 

I think everybody knows incidents and injuries are extremely expensive. It’s not just on the financial side, but also morale and overall safety culture is affected so much when someone’s injured.

So reducing the number of incidents and near misses over time is one metric that I would definitely look at. 

I think it’s a little harder to look at, but safety culture is also very important, and it should be measured. Improvements in employee engagement and satisfaction can make a huge impact on overall safety, and I believe, really drive those numbers down.

It’s also critical to understand where you are right now and set reasonable goals. Understand your learner’s current knowledge and skills, and then utilize training that will help them get to the expected level in a reasonable amount of time.

Quantitative information like training reports and analytics are extremely helpful in understanding where you are with training, and are really good to help to measure that ROI. But, I also recommend some qualitative evaluations, like interviews, focus groups, and case studies, to gain insight into the impact of the training on employee morale, motivation, and the organization’s culture overall.

Can you share some examples of companies that you’ve worked with that have seen huge benefits from their training programs? 

Great question. So over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work with our clients on several initiatives from very small to pretty large. One that we’re currently working on is for a client who has had some serious injuries over the last year that seemed to be related to each other.

They identified that these all seemed pretty related, and they came to us and walked us through those incidents. The incidents were all “line of fire” related. A line of fire injury is an injury that occurs when someone is on the path, or in the path, of a moving object, or there’s a release of hazardous energy, and the employee is struck by that object or energy.

So basically in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s all about awareness. These injuries can be caused by a variety of things, falling objects, flying debris, machinery, or malfunctions.

The client reached out to our team, and we reviewed those incidents. Based on what we reviewed and how they were wanting to approach it, we recommended that they develop a training series specifically on line of fire.

Although that concept is covered well in general training topics, like machine guarding, we felt like they really needed to, number one, help all of the employees understand what it is and how they can identify situations where they might be in the line of fire. So we are producing a series of micro trainings that they’ll be able to use over several months to help drive the key concepts home for their employees.

We’re doing this with video, motion graphics, incident animations, really all the things that we described before, and mixing them up. I think that’s really important. Getting interactive in some places, using interviews in some places, along with the incident recreations; can really help micro content feel like a variety, so you’re not just watching the same thing over and over.

We’re trying to do that within this project as well. I love that Mulango is on this podcast because his team has been super involved in this particular project. On projects where we need to find creative ways to make impactful content, the animation team is a huge help for our overall training development approach, and allows us to really do that.

So far, we’ve released the first of the training topics, and the feedback from the clients’ employees has been extremely positive. They feel like they’re understanding it better and they’re really able to apply it to their day-to-day work, which is the goal. 

That’s some great insight, Shawn, it sounds like it’s a really awesome, innovative time for training. Shawn, we’ve asked you this in the past, so Mulango, it’s your turn: What are you most excited about regarding the future of training? 

Oh man, how much time do we have?

When it comes to future trends, I’ll highlight two sectors that I am very interested in and excited about. VR and AR mixed reality is one that we started dabbling in last year.

For us, specifically in the team that’s working on our VR projects, we really want to push that experience to make it a lot more immersive. We really want people to walk away with an emotional feeling to the experience that becomes more than a talking point. That it contributes to the learning and the retention that’s backed by our training.

An example of that would be if you’re riding a rollercoaster. We don’t want you to have a step-by-step like: “You stand in the line, you get on the rollercoaster, you ride the rollercoaster, and then you get off.” We really want people to leave that training with, yeah, I rode the rollercoaster, and it was “Wow!”

That’s a big thing we’re pushing for on VR and AR and mixed reality. I just see the future looking much more like where the technology is more of a companion, much like a hammer or your wrench. As you’re doing work, you’re getting real-time feedback and information on whatever you’re looking at.

If you’re working underneath a car, or you’re replacing a pipe, or you’re operating on heavy machinery, the tech is just another tool in your kit that‘s helping you complete your task safely.

Then the other big thing is AI and ML, artificial intelligence and machine learning. I see in the future, we’ll have an AR avatar who can easily be accessed and give context or solutions in real time.

But the big thing with AI is where is it getting its information. As long as that input is coming from a credible source, I feel like that’s a huge asset for the future.

When it comes to machine learning, it’s also very exciting to imagine training that can be personalized specifically to an individual’s learning style and their progress. I think that’s huge. You take a training, and the computer knows “Hey, you learned this way, and based on past tests and past knowledge, we can tailor this training to help you specifically learn what you need to for your own safety.”

I think the future looks very interesting when it comes to training and those technologies.

It’s a whole new world for sure, and it’s great to see that there are so many companies that are jumping in on this and making those changes and embracing that technology. You’re a big part of that, making that happen, so thanks!

Before we close out, is there anything that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Yeah, I think based on just what we’ve talked about here, you can tell that we love developing training. Our team has been doing this for a long time. We’re very focused on the safety of our clients’ employees, and on creating content that works for our clients, and that’s really what we’re going to continue to do.

We have given our team the ability to continue to do research, and to take on projects like Mulango just talked about with AR and VR. We’re gonna continue to do that because we see so much value in it, and we want to be a company that can offer advanced, creative, and impactful training and content solutions that you need, when you need them.

So that’s what we’re going to keep doing, and we’re just so happy to continue to do that for our customers. 

Thanks Shawn, I definitely agree with you there. Thank you both for all of your insight when it comes to ways to make training more accessible, ways to make these trainings stick, how we can use trainings in conjunction with technology to make sure that they’re gonna be effective, and giving some insight into how leadership can see some ROI and why these training programs are so important.

So thanks again, Shawn and Mulango. It was great to have you and great to hear your insight. 

Mulango: Yeah. Thanks for having us. 

Shawn: Yeah, thanks a lot.

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Shawn Smith

Shawn has 30 years of training production, programming, and learning management expertise. He leads KPA’s dynamic training and content team, a group of self-proclaimed nerds and individuals who are passionate about keeping your employees safe. He oversees the trifecta of compliant, impactful, and innovative Environmental, Health, and Safety resources at KPA. In his spare time, he is a high school robotics coach in Hershey, PA, pursuing global acclaim and inspiring today’s youth to be themselves.

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