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H. James Harrington

Health Care

Continuous Training Should be a Personal and Organizational Goal

It’s an investment in your future.

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 06:00

The world is changing so fast today that it is almost impossible to keep up with the latest trends in your own profession. If you are not spending at least two hours per day updating yourself in your chosen profession, you probably are behind the current state of the art. It has been estimated that more than 50 percent of the medical doctors are not using or even informed about the latest developments in their field. When my father went looking for work, if you had a certificate for completing grade school and you were more than 12 years old, you were in a commanding position. When I went looking for a job, you needed a high school diploma; and if you had a college degree, you were on the fast track. When my son went looking for a job (18 years ago), he needed a bachelor’s degree to get a good job and a master’s degree made him a preferred employee. Today a master’s degree is required to get you even a good job; to get on the fast track, you need to have a doctorate. Currently some people with a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts are forced to become taxi drivers.

The average student is taking five years to get a bachelor of science degree that is obsolete in four years if he does not continue his education. The truth of the situation is that subjects that are being taught in our universities are three to eight years behind the times. When a new technology is being developed, it takes one to two years to be sure that it works and to collect data to validate the results. It takes a year to write a book on the subject and another year or two to get it published. It takes a year to get the subject on the university course list and another year to schedule and conduct classes. That means that it's a minimum of six years before the first class gets trained on the new technology and two years before the student gets a job where she can use the new technology. Take for example, my book Business Process Improvement. I started working on the technology at IBM in 1984. I refined it and proved it out over the next three years at IBM. I used it as a consultant from 1987 to 1989. I started writing the manuscript in 1988 and turned it into McGraw-Hill in 1989. It was published in 1991 and the subject was being taught in universities in 1993, almost 10 years from the development of the technology to the classroom.

In the book Handbook on Teaching Undergraduate Science Courses (Thomson Custom Publishing, 1999), written by Gordon E. Uno, he reported that students learn and retain information as follows:

  • 10 percent of what they read
  • 20 percent of what they hear
  • 30 percent of what they see
  • 50 percent of what they see and hear
  • 60 percent of what they write
  • 70 percent of what they discuss
  • 80 percent of what they experience


Gordon presents some very interesting data, if it is factual, and I have no reason to doubt him. Our school systems are all based upon on what we read, hear, and see; we get little or no experience. Maybe the trend to spending more and more of our full-time life in school is a bad trend. My dad went to school for eight years, I went to school for 12 years, and my son went for 19 years. Today a person who obtains a doctorate degree will spend an average of 20 years full time going to school. If my son retires at 55 as he wants to, his work life will be 31 years of an 85 year life span, less than 50 percent. We are going to school more years and retiring earlier and living longer. As a result, we have less time as a wage earner and less time to save money to pay back the cost of our education and for our retirement.

When I went through my wage earning years, I earned enough money so my wife didn’t have to work and I put away enough money so that I could live comfortably during my retirement—I am now 81. But today to live comfortably, two people have to work and even then they are spending all they earn and even more as their credit card debt continues to grow. Saving for retirement is not a priority for most people in the United States.

Based upon Gordon’s data, we need to change the trend of putting more and more of our productive life in school full time and focus on getting our creative people out into the workplace earlier in their life. Next we need to move those who are doing higher level education into the workplace and have them provide an ongoing part-time educational experience for all the employees where the education is directly related to their job assignment.

It is time that organizations accept responsibility to provide ongoing part-time learning experience for all of their employees. Minimum acceptable practice is to provide, during working hours, 20 hours of training per year for nonexempt employees, 40 hours per year for exempt employees, and 60 hours per year for managers. This is probably adequate but only in regard to the employee’s present responsibilities in her job position. There must be more ongoing training. Require employees to take an equal of amount of professional training on their own time with the employer paying for the training (includes books and tuition). Employees will have to pay for training only when their points for the training are equivalent to less than a C grade. Training during working hours are related to the employee’s present assignment, while the off-hour classes are directed at preparing the person for future growth within his profession. In addition, more cross training and job rotation within the organization provides the individual with a learning experience that could reduce the amount of people that hop from job to another, relocating every few years.

The excellence of our human capital is the only thing that sets organizations apart. It is therefore extremely important that we invest in selecting the very best people when we are hiring employees and then invest in maintaining and growing their capabilities. Training our employees is an excellent investment, not a cost.



About The Author

H. James Harrington’s picture

H. James Harrington

H. James Harrington is CEO of Harrington Management Systems, which specializes in total quality management (TQM), Six Sigma, lean, strategic planning, business process improvement, design of experiments, executive management mentoring, preparing complete operating manuals, organizational change management, ISO 9000, ISO 14000, and TRIZ. Harrington is a prolific author, having written hundreds of technical reports, magazine articles, and more than 35 books. He has more than 55 years of experience as a quality professional. Harrington is a past president of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the International Academy for Quality (IAQ).