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How Should Trainers Be Trained?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When you are preparing to travel by air it may be comforting to know that your pilot has hundreds of hours in training and thousands of flight hours. When you sign the release to have major surgery the same is true, years of training and thousands of
operations under their belt.

Now enter the world of forklift training. How would you feel if your son or daughter was trained to operate a forklift by someone that had never driven a forklift, by someone that trains once every few years or by a trainer with less than one day of formal instruction? Although things have gotten better since I entered the industry in 1991, there is vast room for improvement with regard to how we train trainers. Rather than get into a fight with others in the industry over the meaning of words like “training, certification, Train-the-Trainer, knowledge, education, experience, etc.” I would like to address what I consider to be the real issue.

Bottom line, does the trainer have a solid understanding of all the standards involved, can they actually operate the equipment on which they are training, are they skilled enough to spot and fix safety problems, are they able to do a coherent presentation which keeps people involved, are they fully committed to safety, are they enforcing what they train and are they having an impact in their workplace?

Here are some problems I see in our industry:

  1. Anyone can be a forklift trainer. Since OSHA is pretty vague on the trainer’s requirements, that may be true in theory, but a forklift dealership or end user with a sub standard trainer can cost them millions in a lawsuit and put their customers or operators/pedestrians at risk. There are some great trainers out there, but unfortunately there are many more which are poorly trained, receive little on going support and who are just not getting the job done. Trainers who don’t know the standards well, who train on equipment beyond their expertise, who shortcut operator training time wise and those who walk by operators violating the rules, saying nothing, are a real problem. If you give me a good trainer candidate with the right background, experience and motivation; I can turn them into a solid trainer, without those basics they will not be successful. Trainers need to be carefully selected for the traits they possess, picking just anyone that has the time or who knows how to operate a forklift would be a real mistake, regardless of whether OSHA would issue a citation or not.
  2. What kind of training did your trainer receive? Back to the airline pilot or doctor, do you want the one that had the bare minimum “quickie” training or the guy who took the time to get it down cold? Some companies promote “do it yourself kits” or trainers classes that are little more than a partial day of actual instruction. It would take a good training company that long to complete an operator training program, no less educating a trainer, who has no three year re-evaluation requirement like forklift operators, and who might train operators for decades with no additional instruction. Self study is possible, but most folks are not willing to put in the amount of work needed to do it correctly and completely. Cheap and fast might be great if you are looking to buy an old Camaro, but if you are training a trainer, they should not be your primary concern. Quality and quantity of instruction are important, if you are getting the OSHA standard read back to you, the instruction provides little value.
  3. How impartial is your trainer? I talked to a dealer trainer last year, who would train hundreds, if not thousands, of operators each year and he said only a few don’t pass his course. Forklift operator training typically won’t have the failure rate of a Navy seal trainee (about 75%), but we typically see about a 3-5% rate over time due to all kinds of issues. The trainer’s job is as much to not certify unqualified operators as it is to certify those who are, maybe more so. The trainer is the last line of defense to ensure someone who is not qualified is not put on a forklift. They need to take that job very seriously. Trainers who can’t be impartial because of pressure to pass operators or because a customer expects everyone to pass, should not be trainers. Likewise, end user trainers who can’t honestly evaluate their co-workers present a similar problem situation.
  4. How much does your trainer train? One lesson I have learned from golf is that you must practice regularly for your skills to stay sharp. If you play golf once a year, how sharp is your play going to be? If you play multiple times a week, how sharp will you be? The same can be said for forklift trainers, you either use it or you get rusty. Many end users suffer this problem if they don’t have huge numbers of operators, even some dealerships don’t get their trainers enough reps to stay well oiled and current.

The moral of this story is to look deeper than the letter of the law and see if your trainer really knows the way, shows the way and goes the way or if they are just going through the motions for the sake of minimum compliance?

Forklift Training Systems is a leading provider of forklift safety training and materials. They offer cost effective training kits for class 1-6 trucks, in English and Spanish, with discounts for dealers. Forklift Training Systems can be contacted at 740/763-4978 or You can visit them on the web at

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