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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Handling difficult trainees: The latecomer

On the first day of my first job, I reported promptly to work and was greeted by a HR representative. She gave me a bunch of forms and applications to fill up. Once I was done, she took me on a tour of the office and introduced me to personnel from various teams like finance, IT, facilities etc. All this took about two hours and finally I was taken to my cubicle. I learnt that my manager was not in town, so I asked the HR representative what to do for the rest of the day. She said there was an in-house training class going on and suggested I spend the rest of the day attending it.

So I grabbed a notebook and pen and went to the designated room. I opened the door and stepped in hesitantly. The trainer gave me a quizzical look and asked how he might help me. I introduced myself as a new hire and told him that I was going to attend the training for the rest of the day. Politely but firmly, the trainer told me that the course had started full steam, and I would not be able to get anything out of it by joining in the middle. If anything, I would be a little confused and overwhelmed. As if to soften the hurt, the trainer added diplomatically that I was welcome to join the next course to be offered a month later. I returned to my cube, rather irritated. Years passed, and I became a trainer myself. I could now empathise with trainers who have to put up with latecomers.

Latecomers pose several problems to a training class including the following:

  • Disrupting the flow of the trainer’s delivery by stepping into the classroom. In some training rooms the entrance is conveniently located such that a trainee can slip in/out discreetly. However, even in such cases, the trainer’s attention is diverted.

  • Coming late can be interpreted as a sign that the trainee does not take the training class seriously. This can irritate the trainer.

  • In some training sessions, the content may be such that each succeeding part of the content builds on the earlier part(s). So the latecomer could be completely lost in understanding the content. If the latecomer asks a lot of questions to catch up, it might distract/delay the rest of the trainees.

  • The trainer may have to spend some time to settle the latecomer into the class – like handing out manuals, stationery, etc. and this can result in a waste of time for the others.

My thoughts on handling latecomers:

  • I try to set apart the first 30 minutes of class for an activity like knowledge review, quizzes, introduction etc. This acts a buffer to accommodate latecomers. 

  • As far as possible, try to make the content modular –with each module being self-contained. This way, a trainee who misses one or more modules can still get something from the sessions that he/she attends. Having said that, however, I need to concede that not all training sessions can be designed this way.

  • If you feel that a latecomer is so late that he/she is not going to get anything by attending only a part of the training, don’t hesitate to point this out to the latecomer. Tell him/her that attending the rest of the sessions might simply be a waste of time for everyone.

  • If a trainee is so late that his/her learning is seriously compromised, and if the latecomer insists on sitting through the rest of the training, keep a note of the latecomer’s name and the time of entry. Make sure it is on record. Notify the latecomer’s manager by email if needed. This way, the trainer is covered in case the latecomer makes any complaints about the effectiveness of training.

  • Sometimes, there could be a case of a sincere trainee showing late for genuine reasons. In such cases, try to help the trainee as far as possible without wasting the time of the rest of the class.

In summary, trainees could be late for a variety of reasons – personal and professional. Trainers should orient themselves mentally to accept this as part of their work and not take it as a personal affront. Getting irritated by latecomers does not help anyone. Latecomers have to be managed professionally. 

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