Make a new plan, Stan

Jan. 19, 2005
Senior Editor Diane Dierking suggests that you should look into taking a class in the new year.  Many employers offer tuition reimbursement and often these classes are very helpful.

It’s the beginning of a new year and many of us have made our resolutions. No doubt we are achieving them with varying degrees of success.

It’s also a new year at work, which might mean it’s time for a performance review and making some resolutions of a different kind. As you and your manager form your development plan, you might include a training class or seminar if the company’s budget allows.

You might want to improve your organizational skills or brush up on your technical knowledge of a certain piece of equipment in the plant that seems to be a constant source of headaches. You can choose from plenty of workshops, seminars and hands-on training classes that are offered by various companies and institutions. But which one will best meet your needs?

I asked engineers in various fields to name the best training course they attended. Many of them found classes that taught time-management skills to be the most useful. Others liked courses that helped hone presentation skills, and a few said technical seminars were the best.
 My personal favorite was a seminar about the differences in the ways men and women communicate, and how understanding these dissimilarities can help people better work together.

At the time, I was the only woman in a group of 12 engineers. I found much of the content to be useful. Although the course didn’t influence the way my male coworkers acted, I was able to modify the way in which I responded to them.

One engineer I spoke with recommends a time-management class. Many companies offer such courses to help improve organizational skills, often by using a daily planner.

“The class [I took] was two days long and focused on effective prioritization of tasks and organizational skills, as well as time management,” he says. “I thought it was really useful because up to that point in my life, I had no formal training in any of these areas, and it really helped me become a more efficient and organized person.”

You can also take a class to teach you how to best use your e-mail functions to be more organized; one engineer took such a class online.

“The course teaches you some great methods for organizing your workday and for managing your inbox,” she says. “If you are managing multiple projects, you have to have some organizational guidelines for managing correspondence.”

Another engineer says he attended a workshop to help him improve his presentation skills. I have also been to such a class where the students gave several presentations and were videotaped and critiqued by the instructor and other students.

 “The class gave me a lot more confidence in speaking in front of a group,” he says. “I got a lot of constructive criticism and how-to advice.”

One engineer recently attended a seminar that teaches you how to manage your career. The course was geared specifically for his company.

“The class helps you identify your top skills and then helps you find ways to use them where they are most needed in the organization,” he says. Such courses might provide career guidance by using behavior models and talks given by upper-level management about growth opportunities within the company, as well as career paths of successful employees.
As far as technical courses go, most vendors offer in-depth training on their equipment. The length of such workshops varies, but they might help you improve the efficiency, reliability and/or performance of equipment at your plant. “[The] course [I took] was very hands-on and informative,” says an engineer who attended a vendor-taught workshop.

Once you have decided what type of class you would like to take, you will have to identify a specific course. Your company might have a listing of seminars and workshops that its employees regularly attend. Your manager and colleagues might also be able to recommend a specific course.

Whether you’re looking to improve your time-management skills, learn how to give an effective presentation, or understand how your plant equipment works, including a seminar as part of your development plan might be an effective way to help polish your skills and fulfill your new year’s resolutions.

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