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Training to the Lowest Common Denominator

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f you have heard it, but how many have thought about the impact this phrase has on our training system? What message does it send when those in a leadership position say we changed what we do because some people cannot meet that standard? What does that say about our standards?

We have created a situation where collectively, we are less than we can be. Keeping us there is the idea that training needs to be geared to those on the lower end of the competency scale. This concept has evolved into courseware that does not challenge average competence and completely bores those considered strong.

Where is the leadership?

I can understand that the unions want their pilots to be protected and to ensure that all get a fair review if they are struggling. But, let's remember the end game here. The results of our actions in training allow our students to operate heavy machinery at high rates of speed, at high altitudes with several hundred people on board. The aim of training is safety, after all.

So is the industry being lead to a better standard, or are those in charge simply managing the status quo? We all know that there has, is and will be a pilot shortage regardless of the virus. We know that every pilot hired by an operator should be given a fair and equal opportunity to learn, practice and demonstrate the required competencies of his job.

There are three reasons why we have migrated to using the lowest common denominator as the trigger in developing courseware; time, money and the lack of confidence in our training system. Rarely do we see the task of building courseware given to a small team of experts. The job generally is given to the Chief Pilot or Senior Instructor. People who have extensive flying experience, but you wouldn't call them experts at developing training. What they lack in courseware development expertise they make up for by getting the job done quickly, keeping their boss happy.

The changes made to the system in this way are done based on the opinion of a few pilots who feel they have the correct information. Of course, this is all subjective data. Some of the data they collected first hand, but most are second and even third hand. The data is also likely to have no context or comparison to identify the training gap. The data also concentrates on what was done poorly by a small number of individuals in a fleet. Seldom is data considered that represents what is being done very well.

Since subjective data relative to the lowest common denominator is used as the only means to drive training, the rest of the pilots on the fleet get frustrated and disheartened with the training system. For them, the training system does not challenge and does not educate. It simply reiterates the same information through the same pattern of delivery.

This cycle of needing to make quick changes, giving the job to the under-qualified individuals who use incomplete data to develop the training, is why we see our system stagnating, unable to cope with the evolving training requirements and technologies. ICAO has provided some leadership by defining pilot competencies differently, adding ways to identify these competencies in action and wrapping them in a nice package. In many cases, however, air operators are ill-equipped to deal with these changes since they are very keen on managing the status quo. Because they believe it works.

ICAO is asking the operators to define the lowest common denominator better. The operators training management team will address this new requirement as they have all other changes. The result will be an apparent clear definition of the lowest common denominator using the same data as they used before.

So how do we break the cycle?

First, we need to be better at collecting data. The data that we collect must support the norms and standards that define the required outcomes. This means that accurate, objective data is used to support the subjective data collected from instructors. A well-defined training objective(s) is used to compare the data to the required outcomes.

The expected outcome for each exercise can be defined, tracked and analyzed. Continuously monitoring training outcomes in each session will identify whenever a student falls below the norm. This will drive early remediation and faster recovery by the student. Constantly tracking the norm will change the focus of the training manager away from the lowest common denominator. The result will be a more standardized graduate that will not overburden the system when he starts his line indoctrination.

Understanding what data needs to be collected, properly analyzing the data, and using the data to drive training is lost on most training departments. So, they stick to what they know and what their regulator will accept until an accident proves them all wrong. The leadership here needs to recognize that the way we trained 20 years ago does not work today. Our methods of collecting and analyzing data are also not driving the training program where it needs to go.

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