By Mamusha Lemma
Training is often criticized for not making a significant impact on improving performance. Many training managers are increasingly concerned about how to ensure the transfer of learned skills and knowledge from a training context to the work environment. The challenge arises from how training is traditionally planned and implemented. In most cases, training is conducted as a standalone activity, with little focus on skill transfer strategies, which determines the success of training programs. But when training is properly designed and implemented, with an appropriate follow-up strategy, it can significantly influence performance at an individual, organizational and system level.
Farmers often face several constraints in applying knowledge and skills gained from training such as inadequate technical support from development agents, lack of market incentives to enter into new businesses, and shortage of finance to buy agricultural inputs. Coaching and mentoring can be an effective strategy to address such knowledge and skills application constraints.
In this article, we describe how the Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project uses coaching and mentoring as a learning transfer strategy to enhance new skills and knowledge application.
As a learning relationship which helps value chain actors and service providers take charge of their own value chain development, coaching and mentoring can be applied in various forms: alone, in combination with trainings or study tours, or in combination with practical demonstrations. The sequence and combination of learning activities depends on need.
A study tour followed by coaching and mentoring is best when new practices are introduced in an area. The study tour inspires value chain actors to try out the new practice, while coaching and mentoring ensures users gain practical knowledge and skills in implementing the new practice. In most cases, the LIVES team starts with coaching and mentoring of producers to introduce improved livestock management practices and new varieties of irrigated commodities and development agents are actively engaged from the start to ensure continuity of support provided to producers. Once producers gain practical knowledge and experience, a training is organized to equip them with specialized skills and knowledge. Starting with training and following-up with coaching and mentoring is effective when trainees have some level of experience and have challenges in implementation.
Coaching and mentoring is an integral element of the training cycle. Training events are effective when user needs and their context of work are adequately assessed. This helps identify opportunities to apply the training, which allows design and application of appropriate learning transfer strategies throughout the training.
Pre-training coaching and mentoring is often necessary to assist trainees assess their work situation, identify their performance challenges and learning needs, develop personal learning goals, evaluate their intention to apply learning and conduct an environmental scan for learning transfer.
During training, coaching and mentoring involves discussions on how trainees relate the learning with their work requirements and exercises on how they can apply their learning. Learning logs and reflection diaries and action plan are key tools in the process. Post-training coaching and mentoring involves problem-solving, goal setting, work plan development and facilitation of support systems to encourage and support trainees to effectively apply trained knowledge and skills in the work environment.
LIVES uses context-specific learning events to transfer knowledge and skills to value chain actors and service providers. Currently, the project is experimenting with adaptive training and coaching approaches and methods. As implementation unfolds and learning progresses, then repeated ideas, concepts and elements will become apparent to build evidence to take LIVES training and coaching approaches and methods to scale.