Saturday, March 07, 2015

25 Stories About Work - Training and Learning on the Job

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

The Midwest, early 1990's

When I started out as an auditor I actually had to attend a 2 week class to learn how to create audit work papers.  This was my first "real" job out of college and I was very motivated to do well.

Looking back, the "teachers" were mainly auditors with a few years of experience.   This worked out fine because they were still immersed in the details while the top executives had long since forgotten about the details of day to day existence.

I shared a room on their "campus" with another first year auditor.  I was astonished when he brought two pairs of work shoes (wingtips) - he said if you switched every day, your shoes lasted longer.  I never had considered something like that.

The training was very stressful and I had "dreams" about how to create work papers.  Many of the other students had been interns previously so this was old hat to them but for me it was difficult because it was meticulous and seemingly pointless work.

At various points we went into formal classes on specific industries; I was in the regulated practice so I attended a one week course on how utilities set their rates and recover their costs. The class was good and I will never forget when I walked up the guy teaching it afterwards and introduced myself and said my name and he said
"Who gives a f&ck about who you are?"
It was a good lesson because from his perspective (and the client's perspective) that we were just low level auditors there to do a job and we should put our heads down, fill out the paperwork, go through the same tests as last year, and get the heck out (and on to the next job).

That was about it for training for me; the accounting firm that I was with took all the costs of employee training for all of the offices, averaged it together, and charged a standard rate back to each office based on days attended.  Thus foreign auditors came over all the time because it was essentially subsidized, and although I attended the Chicago office (and training was in Chicago) we never went again because if the Chicago employees never attended the training then their office wouldn't be charged back the average rate per day.  The partners took this sort of thing seriously because it impacted their profitability and take home pay.

In all my years with all my other employers I don't think I took more than a week or so combined training over the next 20+ years.  All I learned was either on the job, at night, or on weekends.  This included industries, programming, operations research, financial metrics, and everything else.  All of my training has always been self directed and on my own time.

On the other hand, if you remember, Motorola was written up for having a cohesive corporate training campus.  There was some sort of Harvard Case Review and many companies seemed envious of the type of training and immersion that Motorola was able to provide.

Another good friend of mine worked for one of the Bell companies and they had a similar comprehensive training program for new staff.  These sorts of experiences are formative and you can respect the power and vision of a company that (once) seemed to think in terms of decades and invest in employees on that sort of basis.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way for companies to approach training but it certainly seems that the long term programs for firms like Motorola, the Bell companies, and the big audit firms is definitely the exception and not the rule.  Employees are going to have to be self directed (like me) if they want to get ahead.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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