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5 Reasons Technical Training Fails

Have you ever sent your maintenance mechanics, electricians, or reliability technicians to a training course and found that nothing changed when they came back to the plant? In my nearly 40 years working in hydraulics, I’ve heard this complaint time and again from maintenance, training, and human resource managers. Many companies offer a Basic Hydraulics course, but are they all the same? Is one just as good as another? The answer, of course, is no. While the name might be the same, course content can vary greatly from one program to another. 

Let’s look at five main reasons why technical training fails and what you can do to ensure that the training you select meets the needs of your maintenance department. 

Cover the proper basics. Many basic courses are not designed for the mechanic, electrician, and reliability technician. They cover theory and explain how a component works but rarely how to determine if it is causing the system to malfunction. The maintenance person doesn’t need to know how the component works internally. Their primary interest is how to determine if the particular component is faulty and to get the machine back online as soon as possible. 

A well-designed basic course should first teach the function of each component in the system. If the troubleshooter doesn’t know what the component does in the system, then parts will be continually changed out until the issue is solved. This is expensive in parts cost and machine downtime. 

The course should also cover the easiest and quickest way to troubleshoot the component. Many times this can be done without removing the part from the machine. Making visual, sound, electrical, and temperature tests will often indicate the faulty part. 

The maintenance person needs to how to adjust or set the component, if adjustable. I have seen hydraulic systems that have overheated and shutdown due to one valve being improperly set. A procedure should be provided and taught on how to set the component correctly, once installed. This makes the training manual very valuable as it can be used out in the field.

Focus on the right equipment. The primary business of many companies that conduct training seminars is to sell their components. Therefore the training is usually based on the specific components that they sell. If the company is teaching about Vickers pumps but the plant uses Oilgear pumps, the training will be of little or no value. Training must be on target and relative to the type of equipment that is used in the plant. 

Use the right systems and machinery. Training often fails if it is not designed and taught on the specific systems and machines in the plant. In my 23 years of teaching hydraulics, I’ve found that when teaching a system that the maintenance person works on, I’ve had their attention. Basic training must be followed up with machine-specific training so the maintenance workers can troubleshoot and maintain their systems. This should be a hands-on course where time is spent in the plant allowing students to use what they learned in the classroom. 

Seek out good teachers. Many so-called instructors don’t know how to teach. I think back to my high school and college years and the numerous courses I have attended on AC drives, bearings, power transmission, and hydraulics. Of all those classes and courses, I can count the number of instructors that knew how to teach on one hand. Telling is not teaching. Anyone can read out of a book to the class. A good instructor will spend most of his time looking at the students, walking around the room, varying his voice, using cutaways and animation, and drawing on the easel pad. 

A good instructor will give actual examples, sometimes called war stories, of problems that occur with the various components. One of the stories used in our training tells of a mechanic that shifted a directional valve in a system with a 5,000-gallon accumulator. The end result was that the top of this 50-foot, 5,000-gallon reservoir was blown off, putting a hole in the roof and shutting the plant down for 7 days. Maintenance personnel are not used to sitting at a desk or listening for many hours in a day. Therefore, the quality of the trainer is important to keep students involved and interested. 

Choose instructors with real-world experience. Many instructors are salesmen, engineers, or vocational school teachers who have had no real in-plant experience. To be able to relate to the class most effectively, the instructor needs to have been in the trenches when the plant is down at the cost of $12,000 an hour. After teaching a class in Virginia years ago, I was asked to look at a system where they had changed five pumps over the past week, costing more than $100,000 in lost production. The problem? The check valve downstream of the pump had failed, allowing shock spikes to damage the pump. Had I not seen this happen several years ago at another plant, it would have taken much longer to find the faulty component. 


Training many times gets a bad name because so many courses are ineffective. Whether it is hydraulic, mechanical, electrical, steam, or pneumatic training, keep these five points in mind when selecting training companies for your operation.

ATD Field Editor Melissa Westmoreland is the training and development leader for the lumber division of Georgia-Pacific Corporation in Atlanta, and is responsible for supporting talent development for 16 locations across the United States. Westmoreland has more than 20 years of production, quality, compliance, and T&D experience in food, packaging, and wood products manufacturing. She has developed or supported talent development solutions for operations, leadership, and craft skills. She has been an active member of ATD since 1995. You can email her directly at 
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About the Author
C.A. (Al) Smiley, Jr. earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Mississippi in 1977. After 17 years in the power transmission and hydraulic field, Smiley founded GPM Hydraulic Consulting in October of 1994. Since then, he has taught and designed hydraulic troubleshooting programs for companies throughout the United States and Canada. Smiley also troubleshoots in-plant hydraulic issues, conducts reliability assessments, and does technical writing for GPM’s Machine Specific Hydraulic Troubleshooting manuals. Smiley writes for a number of publications on hydraulic troubleshooting methods. He is married with two boys and two granddaughters, and is a musician and an avid golfer.
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