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Veterinarian Technician October 2008 (Vol 29, No 10)

Management Matters — Creating a Staff Training Program

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    An effective training program is essential to ensure long-term success for your employees. Some practices follow the "parachute method," in which new employees are dropped into the clinic routine and expected to learn the job as they go. However, new employees can quickly become frustrated and quit, causing the practice to lose qualified team members. By creating and implementing a standardized training program, managers can help veterinary staff reach their highest potential while maintaining the quality of patient care and client services.

    Determine Tasks

    Before creating a training program, it is necessary for managers to determine which skills and what knowledge are expected of employees based on their job description (see box ). Although the employee will have demonstrated that he or she is capable of performing the necessary job functions before being hired, each clinic practices a little differently, so providing training for these tasks will be necessary. The best resource for gathering information on job qualifications is existing employees. Ask team members at each level to create a list of what they do each day and what medical knowledge is necessary to complete their tasks. At the end of this process, you will have a basic outline of the skill sets new employees hired into each level will need. Also, by including the existing team in this process, they will become more vested in the training program when it is implemented.

    Select Trainers

    An effective way to train a new employee is to select one team member from each level to be head of training. The new employee will work closely with this individual to learn all tasks necessary for the position. When choosing an educator, it is important to consider not only the level of clinical skills but also his or her abilities as an instructor. Just because someone is an excellent technician does not necessarily mean that he or she has the patience and capability to teach others. Because the educator will be required to put in extra time to both train employees and continue to complete daily responsibilities, it may be appropriate to offer the individual a wage increase. If you manage a large practice or believe that your current employees may not be successful educators, you might consider hiring a training coordinator — a person whose job is dedicated solely to training new and existing employees.

    Create a Schedule

    Next, create a schedule that accommodates the time it takes for training to occur. The reason the "parachute method" is so prevalent in the veterinary profession is the lack of time. Most clinics are extremely busy, and it is difficult for employees to explain each process to new team members while still completing all daily tasks. A good schedule allows the trainer to spend time with the trainee when neither has to be the main person on the floor. In doing so, you'll allow the new employee to learn the job thoroughly, which will create less work and stress for all employees.

    Begin Training

    To encourage cross-training and teamwork, make sure that each new employee starts the training by learning level 4 tasks and responsibilities regardless of his or her job. For example, a newly hired specialized technician would first be trained in the levels 4, 3 and 2 tasks before learning the duties of a level 1 technician. To ensure that he or she is retaining the information, the employee should be tested during training — either by taking a written quiz or performing a demonstration. Many practices have a 90-day introductory period, which provides an ideal time for this training to occur.

    Obtain Feedback

    After the 90-day introductory period, you should meet with the new employee to obtain feedback on his or her training experience. Provide the employee with a survey to find out what went well during the training period and what could be improved. Also interview the current staff to learn how the training program helped them during the transition. You can then use this information to modify the program as needed.

    Developing and implementing a staff training program takes considerable time and patience, and even after it has been completed, your program will remain a work in progress. If you involve your current staff in the process and remain open to suggestions, it will only get better with time — and so will your team.

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