Training: Close the gap between current and required skills

Close the gap between current and required skills

Brandon BattlesBy Brandon Battles

Experienced managers cope with many of the same problems that new managers do. Obtaining the necessary skills to become an effective manager is an ongoing process that never ends.
Letters in AMT's Tech Forum routinely cite the problems that managers face in the field every day. For example, as a manager you may have handled such things as budgeting and maintenance scheduling without a great deal of difficulty. But you may not have been ready when you encountered your first disruptive employee. Learning to deal with people is a must as a manager. Striving to improve that and other skills is an ongoing process.
Another factor that continually challenges the manager is the always-changing work environment. You may be prepared for today, but that does not guarantee success tomorrow. Consider the increasing role of computers. If you are still doing your budget on paper, you have missed an enormously effective tool. Think of all of the other areas in your operation where computers assist you with your management tasks and then compare that to 10 years ago. An eye-opening exercise, isn't it? An even more eye-opening question is, have we made as much progress as our competition? Tomorrow's success may depend on your answer to that question.
Think of other areas that have changed relevant to your operation over the last several years. Does your competition offer more services? Have the laws changed that govern your operation? Have the laws changed with respect to employees? Have your customers' needs changed?
Due to the differing and changing situations both within and outside your organization, the skills that will make you a successful manager are also changing. This ever-changing environment makes a demand on successful managers - a demand for training. Not just initial training, but continual training.
At this point you may be thinking, OK, if you're so smart just tell me what training to get and let's be done with it. It's not that easy. There is no generally accepted path or curriculum that I can suggest. A training course that is relevant to one manager in one company may not be relevant to another.
By examining the various types of training that I have encountered during my almost 25 years of experience, perhaps I can offer something valuable. Please view these suggested training methods as food for thought.

Read periodicals
The results of a survey I gave in two classes I teach reveal that maintenance folks primarily read aviation technical information. While that information is certainly crucial, information from outside of the industry can also be useful. Other pertinent subjects include computers, the Internet, trends, vibration monitoring, etc.
Business periodicals offer a broader view, are plentiful, easy to locate, and can provide useful information on changes in the economy, the legal system, tax laws, employee issues, and a variety of management techniques.

Read books
Rather than extol all of the virtues of books, I would like to introduce you to the author that I have found the most useful in management issues - Peter Drucker. He has written many books since the 1950s. His ideas and principles about management are still applicable today. The lasting relevance says a great deal about the foundation of his message. If you don't get a chance to check out any of his books, he also appears in business periodicals on a regular basis.

Attend community college courses
These colleges are inexpensive and offer flexible schedules. Pursuing a degree is not necessary. You can take specific classes that directly relate to your current job such as management, marketing, finance, or human resources. Classes can last an entire semester or they may be condensed into a shorter time frame. Sometimes you don't even have to attend class. The Internet or other distance learning programs allow you to complete training at your convenience.
Many years ago as I plied my trade in a woodworking shop, I began to take accounting courses. One class per semester for a year's time convinced me to change careers (again) and enroll full time as an accounting student. Though I don't use this skill directly it provides an excellent background for collecting operating cost information at Conklin & de Decker.

Complete continuing education
My accounting profession demands this type of training. It allows me to explore subjects that I was or am not familiar with that are applicable to our company. Courses have included budgeting, software training, corporation taxation, and Internet software training. Continuing education may not be applicable to your current position, but when given the opportunity take it.

Attend seminars
Rather than risk offending any of the industry's associations by not mentioning them by name, let's just say that the associations I am most familiar with offer excellent seminars on a variety of subjects.
Seminars of interest can also occur outside of our industry. For example, our company is wrestling with the subject of employee benefits. Rather than have a knee jerk reaction, we decided to learn as much about the subject in general so we would make an informed decision. A one-day seminar did not answer all of our questions, but it did answer many of them and pointed us in the right direction. Additionally it kept our time commitment to a minimum while allowing us to focus on our company's primary objectives.
One of the best seminars I ever attended did not seem to have a direct benefit to my job. Sponsored by a trade association for its committee chairmen, the seminar focused on how people receive, process, and communicate information differently. I use what I learned from that seminar every day as I work with people both within our company and those in the industry.

Attend trade show forums
If you're lucky enough to attend trade shows, the exhibit hall is not the only source of information. Normally seminars are taking place at the same time. For a small investment of time, you can gain a great deal of information. And if you review the schedules carefully enough, you will notice interesting subjects that cover more than just technical issues.

Visit other organizations
Visit organizations in and out of aviation. Chances are you are not the first person that has encountered your problems. Networking is extremely important. Learn how your peers have handled certain situations and issues. Because you work in the industry it may be difficult to get the chance to visit a competitor and for good reason, but you may have the opportunity to visit operators that are peripheral to our industry or are completely different.
Visiting maintenance facilities has been one of the greatest sources of knowledge as it relates to my career.

Visit other managers
The courses that I teach are a great networking forum for managers. While course content is important, the interaction between attendees is just as important. Maintenance managers gain a great deal from visiting with their peers. If you can't visit you can certainly pick up the phone and talk about various issues.

Food for thought
Use these ideas as they are intended, as food for thought as you consider your next training session. Remember this about training: It can come in a variety of formats and it should occur frequently. It is applicable to the new manager as well as the experienced one. It is necessary because it helps you help your organization cope with an ever-changing environment and to apply its limited resources efficiently and effectively. Enjoy that next opportunity; you will probably learn something interesting!

Brandon Battles is a partner with Conklin & de Decker. He has spent more than 15 years in aviation working with maintenance organizations in areas of cost collection and analysis, systems review, inventory analysis, and management training.