Whether you are cross-training existing employees or getting a new hire up to speed, one thing is certain…how you train your team matters.

In this article we’ll explore a few tips that can make this hefty chore easier, and get your shop moving forward with educated and motivated employees.


Ok, what does that mean?

Simple. It is a ratio for learning and the time you need to budget for someone to grasp the new idea.

70 means that about 70% of the time in training should be doing the work. Your staff member needs time driving the car to learn how to do it. You can talk about it all day and show them pictures of a car…but until they get behind the wheel it is all just theory.

20 means that about 20% of the time in training they are learning from other people. Mentorship and coaching is a good thing. People need that, so make sure you are budgeting the time with an experienced person to show them the ropes.

10 means that about 10% of the time in training is from written materials or videos. You can’t learn to drive a car by reading the owner’s manual or watching a video, but you can learn detailed information that you can use later. Break the functions down and have some material ready.

First Step: Communication

In your shop there are thousands of variables that can affect the outcome of the work that you do for your customers. People can get overwhelmed easily, so the best practice to get started is to break down these complex scenarios into easy to digest chunks.

What are the top ten to twenty things that someone needs to know to do a task? Write them down in the order that they happen.

For this article, let’s use the idea of training someone to manually screen-print a job.

An example ten step checklist for that function could look like this:

  • Read the Work Order.
  • Gather and layout the shirts.
  • Get the inks and squeegees ready.
  • Get the screens and register them on press.
  • Produce a test print.
  • Get the test print approved.
  • Run the job with quality.
  • Double check the Work Order.
  • Break down the job.
  • Start the next order on the schedule.

Are there more to these tasks than these short phrases? You bet. But what we want to do is to even it out to make things easier to understand.

In any role in your shop, you can write a similar checklist. Don’t get too caught up in writing out long detailed descriptions. Just jot down the 30,000-foot view of what they will be doing.

Second Step: People Learn Differently

It would be so much easier if everyone learned the same way. But, that isn’t reality. I’ve trained countless people over the years and what I’ve found is that most everyone learns in four different ways:

Learn by Doing

This type of person needs to physically get their hand dirty and work out the steps. Lectures and watching other people do the work often is boring for them.

So for this type of person if you are teaching them how to manually screen-print, they are going to absorb the lessons faster when they are doing the work. Let them loose!

Thinking About Past Experiences

This type of person has had training in other areas. They like to compare what they have accomplished before to the new idea, and then they can understand the new material faster.

For example, maybe you are moving an embroidery operator over to screen-printing for some training. They may already understand a lot of the concepts such as reading the Work Order and image placement.

For this type of person, learning will involve more discussion. They may ask more questions tha most, so be accepting of their contemplative learning style.

Using Past Experiences

Similar to the person that “thinks” about how they did it before, but this type of person dives in faster. They use a hands-on approach, but with the working knowledge that they have obtained doing other things.

In the same type of idea, this is that embroidery operator that doesn’t ask as many questions, but wants to dig in and try out screen-printing. It looks easier for them, as they have already mastered a lot of the concepts.

They typically will ask fewer questions, and are more of a learn by doing type.

The Experimenter

I love this type of staff member. They want to learn everything!

This type of attitude can go far to drive a better shop culture as they want to absorb information and understanding just about everything that happens in the shop.

While some people in your shop may be content to do only one thing (and to some degree there’s nothing wrong with that), The Experimenter wants to know as much as they can about everything.

These people all end up as great leaders and managers, so if you have an Experimenter on your staff be sure to give them some leadership roles too.

Third Step: Responsibility

Sooner or later people need to step up and work the function they are being trained to do.

People learning will absolutely make mistakes. That’s part of it.

In fact, I don’t know about you, but I learn more from my mistakes than I do when I actually do something correctly.

But what you want to see is that the people in training are taking responsibility for their work, and any mistakes that may occur. As we know it’s going to happen, set them up for learning success by giving them easier things to learn from.

That may seem like a natural idea, but you know some people have been thrown into the line of fire well before they were ready. Has that happened in your shop?

Usually that leads to frustration and unintended hurt feelings. Instead, when I’ve trained people I let them know that they are definitely going to make a mistake somewhere.

It’s coming.

We’ll be working with you to minimize the impact, but it’s ok while you are learning to goof something up. Don’t sweat it.

Then, get them to understand that it is their responsibility to learn how that mistake happened, and how to avoid it in the future. For almost everyone, this works out fine.

However, there is always someone that won’t be able to ever learn how to do something. That’s a skill or mental level that they can’t hit. Move them out of that position when that happens.

Fourth Step: Learning Culture

Guess what? There is no end to learning in this industry.

Anyone that tells you that they know everything and that they are an expert is fooling themselves.

Every single day there is something new to learn. The best shops know this, and have a continuous learning culture that drives their success.

Innovation and new ideas happen when you aren’t afraid to learn something new and dedicate time constantly to bring in new ideas.

If you have ever heard or said, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” when it comes to anything in your shop, then you may have a stagnant learning culture.

Great communication and a constant need for learning must be baked into your shop’s core. There are easier tools to use than ever before. New fabrics and methods to decorate abound.

Don’t paint yourself into a corner with cement-skulled thinking. Be open to new ideas.

Fifth Step: Employee Motivation

When you train an employee you are implicitly stating to them, “We care about you. We want you to grow.

That is a huge motivating factor.

When you take the time to show someone how to do something different, that makes them a more valuable employee. That is career progression.

People get bored easily. This is a repetition filled industry. Imagine what your outlook might be like if all you did was the same task over and over and over?

That monotony is why people quit.

Training can bolster your experiences for your team, and give them a path that will keep them around. Learning is fun. It is the opposite of monotony.

Empower and motivate your team by building that learning culture.