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Training Trends for 2023: An Interview with KPA’s Shawn Smith

Toby Graham

Training Trends for 2023: An Interview with KPA’s Shawn Smith

In this episode of The Safety Meeting, KPA’s Shawn Smith discusses key takeaways of the Annual Training and Content Survey.


Today we’ve brought back KPA’s Product Director of Training, Shawn Smith, to discuss this year’s annual training and content survey. Shawn, you recently wrapped up your annual training and content survey. Can you give us a little background on the survey, explain the details, and then walk us through some of this year’s results? 


So the survey, we put it out around September each year. It goes out to client administrators and the people that manage the program for each of our client’s locations and facilities. It’s typically about 10 questions. We try to make sure that it runs less than 10 minutes of effort for someone to complete, and they’re sort of specifically about training and content.

So they get to the major things we’re looking at considering, developing, improving; talking about content as far as the actual documents, the actual training topics, areas of focus that we cover, but also features of the platforms.

So what would you like to see the learning management system do in the future? What are the things that it does well now? That sort of thing, to help us work with our product team to develop our roadmap, both for training development but as well for learning management system improvements and features. 

This year, what was really great is we had a huge spike in responses. We had 148% up from previous years, especially within our most used platforms. So 1,786 participants, just really great push forward for us to get even more information from our clients and to learn more about how our services are working for them and what they’re looking for. 

So a couple of things I thought were interesting. You know one, not a big surprise, but 10 to 20 minutes is considered the ideal training length compared to less than five minutes, five to 10 minutes, or longer than 20 minutes. But really, the 10 to 20 minutes mark seems to be really the happy place for training someone to take that time to actually, either individually or in groups, take their training and get it accomplished within that amount of time.

Especially when we’re talking about a refresher. Now, there are some longer form trainings that require, by law, require a certain amount of time to get the compliance needed from it. But as far as annual refresher training, the most common training that employees are taking, they really want that to be around 10 to 20 minutes.

And then another thing that was really interesting, many clients, it was about 60/40, prefer individual training for their employees. But at the same time, we had a lot of feature requests around group training. So being able to do classrooms offsite, different approaches to training. So it was interesting that we really sort of getting both as being considered the best way to do training and really getting not exactly 50/50, really going a little more 60/40 towards individual. But good information for us to use as far as choosing the way we develop topics and how we present the information to make sure that it works well for both individual and group-based training.

Got it. So the timing and kind of seeing more people respond that they would like some group training or surprises. And then, was there anything else that was notable about the survey? 

What we really study the most, I’d say, are two things, area focus, which is a major question on the survey, and then specific titles that clients are looking for. And this was the first year that we added “behavior safety”’ as an area of focus, as an option. And it actually was first or second, depending on the platform. So very, very highly rated, and something that  clients are definitely looking for is more behavior-based training, and a behavior-based approach, I think, to many topics.

And also, last year, like I said, we didn’t have it as an area of focus on the survey previously, but we did have it as an individual topic, and it was 12th across the board as an individual topic. So being 12th last year, and then also being an area of focus, really one or two depending on the platform, very, very close to “manager or supervisor”, which was our number one requested area focus last year, and again, this year was very close to one and two between those two topics. 

So what we’re kind of picking up from that is that there’s a lot of focus on how do we better prepare our managers in order to handle safety meetings and handle the things that they need to do on a day-to-day basis with their employees. And then also how can we help employees understand how they can change the way they look at safety or how they do their job in order to do it more safely and avoid injury. 

And then we also had sort of third across the board being “customer service and conflict resolution”, which that’s another kind of newer one that started to really come up lately. So also looking at how employees interact with customers, and what are things they can do to have a better exchange with customers, and leave those situations positively. 

Yeah, that sounds really important. Switching gears a little bit, could you now take us behind the scenes with the KPA training team? What do people not know about your team that you wish they did? 

Well, I mean, first of all, we have an amazing training team here at KPA. And I think it shows in the work that we produce, in the content that we’re putting out, the amount of content, and really the quality of what we produce is reflected by the team that we have.

As far as breaking down the team, there are really like five sub-teams within training– filming, video production, animation, training & development, and quality testing and distribution. And within those groups, we really just have experts in those fields. Most of our members of the team have many years of experience and have been working in heavy industrial training and automotive training for a very long time. 

Our trainings feature video animation, employee interviews, incident recreations, and interactive exercises. All of these things I kind call impact content. We’re really trying to produce training that gets attention; that is not really just like watching a donut factory over and over again, the same old thing.

We want training that really gets their attention, gets them interested, and challenges them a little bit. Gets them to really see. One of the really interesting things, especially when we show incident recreations, is just how fast an incident occurs. And I can tell you over and over again, like, don’t put your hand inside a machine. You could get hurt. But to see that actually happen and to see how quickly it happens, just how shocking it is to have an incident like that from something going from just totally okay, everyday day to not okay. That’s something we can do with media and with visuals and animation. So those are things we really try to do to help get people to see and understand just how quickly it happens, but also how serious these injuries can be.

And then also, I guess the one thing I think most people don’t know is our approach is a little unique. We have degreed, certified safety professionals that are actually involved in the filming and onsite visits for the training that we produce. They’re involved from stage to late stage quality review.

So having that team involved in the production of our training, building experience in these different industries and types of facilities, and the risks that exist there is just invaluable. And it’s a huge part of why I think our training is as good as it is, is because we just have a whole other level of understanding of what our clients are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

That sounds so thorough and so valuable. What best practices do you think people in charge of training for their organization get wrong the most often? 

So when I go to conferences and I meet safety managers, I think the one thing that stands out to me, and I don’t know that it’s necessarily wrong, it’s technically not wrong, because it’s a totally acceptable practice for you to keep track of training on paper and put it in filing cabinets.

It’s sort of a time-tested approach that many people feel comfortable with. But I’m surprised these days that so many still approach running their safety program that way when there are so many benefits to taking your training to a digital format, to having the ability to not only track training, but also track incidents that are occurring, observations that are occurring in a real full EHS system. 

To combine all of that together, there’s so much power in the platforms that exist today that I really recommend that they take a good look. I think many people want to do it, but they’re a little bit concerned about the amount of work that goes into it. It’s really not as much effort as you think, and I think that the rewards way outweigh the amount of time that you’d have to invest in order to get yourself in a position.

And you can start very simply. You can start simply with your learning management system. You could start simply with an SDS or incident management system, and you can build on that, especially if your partner and your provider, you know, have the ability to do multiple of those facets in the same place.

Then you just get huge gains from that, and you start to be able to shift from making decisions based on lagging indicators to leading indicators because you’re keeping this data accessible, and you’re able to use it in real-time. 

Yeah, and this question may actually be quite related to all that you were just commenting on. What are you most excited about regarding the future of training? 

I think the progress that’s being made on platforms and the tools that are available, like I mentioned, to manage training, to manage your EHS program are, it is just amazing. I mean, it’s just continuing to progress, I think, at a pace that’s incredible.

Just a few years ago, I thought it would be incredible if safety managers could take the training we provide and modify it, add in their own information, their own rules. They can do that now. I mean, that’s commonplace. That’s something we can offer that they can actually do right now, where, you know, that was almost like a pipe dream not that long ago.

Also, clients would regularly ask if they could have new hires and temp hires take training on a mobile phone or on a tablet, like the temp-hire office or at home. And they can do that now. And not only can they do it now, but I think it’s almost become the norm. I mean, a lot more training is taken on mobile devices now than on computers. I think it’s nearly 60%. 

So it’s just the progress and the gains just continue to move forward. So that gets me really excited about what the future is. It’s like limitless at this point because you’re not restricted by where you’re at. You’re not restricted by, you know, in many cases, what you have available to you to use for taking the training.

And you have the ability to really make training your own for your company and make it exactly what it needs to be and not try to fit people into a box or make something work that isn’t exactly right for them. 

Limitless. Love that. Is there anything else you want to leave us with today before we end?

I guess just going back to the survey, for all of our clients and customers out there, I’d just say, thank you for participating in the survey. I look forward to seeing what people have to say next year. Like I said, we use this data really to make decisions. That’s a big thing within our team is that we wanna make decisions based on our client feedback.

We’re producing the content that we know you need, and so your participation in the survey is critical for us to continue to do that. So just thank you, and hopefully, we can keep on going and have a great year, and next year have a great survey again. 

Excellent. Well, thank you, Shawn, so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it. 

Thank you. 

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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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