How to Train Shift Workers: 3 Ideas

Many of us know the importance of corporate training but struggle to get our employees to make the time to complete training. If you need to train shift workers, your managers have the additional challenge of setting aside non-production time during the shift to let employees take the training. A challenge that is, fortunately, completely solvable with a little technology, and a little science.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, or a factory, or as a nurse, you are already all too familiar with shift work. According to the National Health Interview Survey, roughly 27% of all U.S. workers in 2015 worked an alternative shift (as opposed to a regular day shift). About 7% frequently worked a night shift.

You’re also familiar with some of shift work’s more obvious challenges: The disruption of sleep schedules, the odd commute times, the occasional need to cover an employee who shows up late.

One of the “hidden” challenges is how to fit in proper employee training. Most shift work doesn’t exactly afford employees the ability to step away for an hour seminar, or fly somewhere for a three-day corporate training workshop. But skipping out on training is exceedingly costly—a lack of safety training, for example, can cost organizations between $39,780 and $3,570,000 in a given year. A lack of productivity (skills) training can mean an organization misses out on $4,750,000 in profits.

In our current environment as companies are trying to return to work after quarantine, you may have a new audience of shift workers with your office employees. To allow for social distancing among workers in cubicle workspaces, companies are creating alternative schedules and shifts to accommodate these needs.

So how can you train your shift workers without burdening them? How do you squeeze in on-the-job training for shift workers while still helping them to be effective?


Idea #1: Use Microlearning to Fit Their Schedules

Shift workers usually don’t have the time to disengage from their work to attend an hour-long class or a three-hour workshop. Even if they did, there would likely be a disconnect between the learning environment in the classroom and the work environment in which they have to apply what they have learned. (And research has shown that memory works best when the context of learning matches the context in which that learning is used.)

Microlearning is the process of delivering bite-sized content to learners that they can consume all at once and apply the knowledge immediately. Microlearning makes on-the-job training for shift workers feasible, presenting just a few key points right at the point in time when they are needed.

The microlearning courses we develop here at ej4 average 7:12 minutes long, which means that the training will minimize the time away from work. Shift workers can get the training they need without disrupting their work shift or requiring them to take after-hours training. Microlearning turns out to be more engaging, too, and more likely to be applied on the job.


Idea #2: Embrace Mobile Learning Technology

Learners in an office setting can easily complete training courses on their computers. Shift workers have the added challenge of access to training from their workplace.

According to studies by the Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans now have smartphones. If your employees have smartphones—and many likely do—they have the ability, right now, to access critical training content. Many companies also use tablets to run software programs for fulfillment and shipping in a warehouse or proprietary company apps. Mobile technology means your shift workers can access training just as needed.

Mobile learning technology can make things easier on management as well. Imagine, for example, a warehouse manager having his team take out their smartphones and watch a quick video on safety procedures before a shift begins. Could that brief reminder be enough to cut down on accidents in the warehouse? It would certainly help.

Or imagine that a server suddenly has to fill in the hostess position at a restaurant in an emergency. Her manager has her watch a video on the basics of greeting and seating guests appropriately before starting. Wouldn't that employee now be better prepared?

Mobile technology means that training can happen right at the point of need, anytime, anywhere.


Idea #3: Cut Through Noise with Audio and Visual Components

This isn’t an “everybody learns differently so use different formats” suggestion. The reality is that most places where shift workers work are busy, noisy places: Crowded restaurants, hospital floors, factories with lots of machinery running, etc. There are plenty of distractions that can pull away your workers, even if they are hidden away in the break room.

Which means that, for learning to happen, content has to be well-designed to engage adults and the ways in which they learn. Take visual elements, for example. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara determined that adding relevant visuals to words resulted in an 89% advantage of learning outcomes, especially when the learner had less familiarity with a topic. Visuals can also help reinforce voice and text in videos in those noisier environments.

Audio can still play an important role, though. Audio descriptions can greatly enhance understanding when used to describe or explain complex visuals. And audio cues, if used cleverly, can indicate things like a transition to a new concept, or the arrival of an important bullet point on the screen.


Additional Resources

Discovering how to train shift workers in a way that encourages them to learn can be tricky, depending on the work environment. You will have to spend some time finding out what works for your employees. To help you with that discovery process, I recommend:

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