In the world of organizational development and training the use of subject matter experts (SMEs) is a recourse to help training and development departments facilitate the multitude of courses that they desire to offer their organization’s employees. While these individuals may be SMEs in their particular job areas, they oftentimes lack the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to be effective classroom trainers.
So what is a training department to do when the staff that they have to work with is not enough to carry the workload of classes, or does not have the KSAs to teach particular courses? Well, besides outsourcing, which can be costly and time-consuming when it comes to scheduling, the use of SMEs to assist in training is a viable solution; and, if a train the trainer program is established and well developed, it can be a rewarding experience for both the training department as well as the SMEs.
The best SMEs to recruit for possible training and development duties are those who volunteer to do so. Their motivation to take on the extra responsibilities and time involved in class preparation will give them an edge over those who may be told to take on a training role. In addition to making an open call for trainers, the training leader may also want to ask management for referrals of other employees who might fit the bill, but who might otherwise be too hesitant to volunteer on their own.
After a group of volunteers has been assembled, an initial meeting should be held in which the training leader should:
• Explain the duties and responsibilities of becoming a SME trainer;
• Describe what kind of train the trainer program the SMEs will go through in order to learn the needed KSAs to be effective facilitators of training classes;
• Discuss amongst the volunteers each of their specific areas in which they have expertise and are interested in teaching;
• Discuss possible training courses that they, as employees, feel would be beneficial to offer within the organization; in addition, discuss those that the training department has already identified as wanting to offer.
A few days should be given to volunteers to think about and discuss with their supervisor the time and commitment involved with becoming a member of the training team. If their supervisor approves and the person is certain that they want to take on the challenge in addition to their regular job duties, then the next step is to put them through a rigorous and detailed train the trainer program.
The train the trainer program should consist of in depth training to teach the SMEs how to:
• Research and develop a course with good, relevant content;
• Organize the course content in a clear and meaningful way;
• Relate the course to the work needs of the employees in the class;
• Establish their credibility as a trainer;
• Manage classroom activities, discussions, and time effectively;
• Incorporate and use visual and auditory aids effectively;
• Present the course in an engaging and effective manner.
The train the trainer program should include as many speeches as possible that gradually build in length of time, so that trainees can gain experience presenting in front of an audience.
The training leader should work closely with each new trainer as they prepare their first class. When his or her course development is complete, practice sessions should be required of the SME in preparation for the real thing. The training leader should sit in on these sessions to give helpful feedback and guidance.
On the day of the actual class, the training leader should be in the classroom to observe how it goes. It would be best to keep the class size relatively small, so as to give the new trainer time to “settle in” to their new role. After the class is done, a brief written and verbal evaluation should be used to help the trainer for the next time that same course is offered.
It is important that new trainers teach their course a number of times within a relatively short period of time, so as to build on each class experience. After awhile, they will start to feel more comfortable and confident in their new role as a trainer.
The rewards of building a training team from scratch can be gratifying for both the training leader and the SMEs who take on the challenge of becoming trainers. Along the way, the leader should be a coach and mentor, as well as a nurturer of each individual’s personal growth as a public speaker. Fostering a sense of pride in doing something that most people fear (public speaking) can make these new trainers feel special— and deservedly so—after all, their commitment and service on top of maintaining their regular job duties is to be commended. Developing this sense of distinctiveness, pride, and value contributes greatly to nurturing a cohesive team spirit. With proper planning and a well-developed train the trainer program, a new training team consisting of SMEs is an ideal solution for training departments in need of additional training facilitators. To do so capitalizes on existing resources and reaps numerous benefits to all involved.