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Understanding the Learning Continuum

39ab6100-96bb-4c42-a5f0-a0b58bc38e7cI don’t believe that any parent would allow a teenager to drive on a freeway without practice to develop the required skills. Learning to drive needs to be introduced in steps: first, a large parking lot, then maybe some side streets.  Once that seems easy, start driving on some busier streets and then eventually head onto the freeway.  Along the way, the driver exhibits understanding before progressing onto the next step.  The final demonstration is a written and practical test at the local DMV.

Not all operator training needs to be as structured as learning to drive.  But, we can agree that it takes time to learn the skills necessary to perform a task efficiently.  And before moving onto the next task, the student needs to demonstrate a certain level of competency.

A Gordon Training International employee, Noel Burch introduced the “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill” in the 1970s. These four stages are:
Stage 1: Unconsciously Incompetent – I don’t know what I don’t know
Stage 2: Consciously Incompetent – I know what I don’t know
Stage 3: Consciously Competent – I know what to do but still need to think about it
Stage 4: Unconsciously Competent – I know what to do it and don’t need to think about it

Unfortunately, many manufacturers label operators as trained or not trained.  However, being aware of these four stages can help develop a Skills Matrix for your plant and your employees.   Defining Stage 1 and Stage 4 is relatively easy, but, how do you define when an operator is at Stage 2 and 3? What is your criteria for determining when an operator moves from Stage 1 to Stage 2? How about from Stage 2 to Stage 3?

Adapting these four levels to a Skills Matrix for your employees could include the following criteria:
Stage 1: Minimal Understanding – must have constant supervision
Stage 2: Some Understanding – can work independently but supervisor must check work periodically
Stage 3: Fully Trained – can work independently
Stage 4: Trainer – able to train others how to do the task

Utilizing these 4 stages within your Skills Matrix can highlight areas and operators within your organization which would benefit from additional training.  It can also be used as a tool during employee reviews.

As you look at your operator training program, where do you fall on the continuum?  If you aren’t at level 4, what do you need to do in order to get there?

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to