Three Steps to Selecting Great Trainers for the Public Sector

By Wu Wei Neng and Sin Xin Ping

Training is a critical part of every organisation’s staff development ecosystem. Good training can motivate and inspire employees, build culture and esprit de corps, impart essential workplace skills and knowledge, and give people a safe space to reflect, share views and build competency.

Governments worldwide spend billions of dollars collectively on public sector training. How can governments choose the best trainers to conduct courses and workshops for public servants?

Understand your learning goals

Before putting out a tender or a search for trainers, do have a thought about the training outcomes you hope to achieve as well as consider your learning needs and objectives as a government organisation.

Are you aware of the most important skills your organisation requires, but lacks at the current moment? Do you know what outcomes the leaders and managers in your organisation want to achieve in the next couple of years, and what skills and capabilities the staff need to deliver on these outcomes? Is there a training roadmap, or a competency framework, that sets out what competencies and capabilities staff are being appraised or promoted on?

Understanding these will sharpen your sense of where to spend your limited training budget, plan your training roadmap and what an upcoming training programme will need to achieve.

Once you are clear about the needs of your organisation, and the training objectives of your upcoming programme, you are ready to assess potential trainers, using a three-step process.

Step 1: Is the Trainer the Right Person?

The trainer who will be conducting the training is key to the success and value of the entire programme. Prior to meeting a trainer or watching them at work, the most important tool for assessing a prospective new trainer is by examining their CV and associated materials. When looking through a trainer’s CV, it is important to get a sense of both their relevant credentials and knowledge, and their relevant practical experience.

The best trainer is not necessarily the one with the most advanced academic degrees or PhDs on the subject. Credentials may also include certificates and qualifications that are directly relevant to the training scope, such as in Project Management, Financial Budgeting, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Survey Design, or Public Communications.  

Knowledge alone is not enough. It is important to identify trainers with solid practitioner experience, either from working in government, or working closely with government. For instance, if I am looking for a trainer in public finance, does the candidate have a distinguished record of service in the Ministry of Finance, the Accountant-General’s Office, or the finance department in a key Ministry? If so, they will probably have a much better understanding of the context, culture, challenges and tradecraft of government finance, compared to someone with many advanced finance degrees with no government experience.

Training experience is just as important as content knowledge – someone who knows a lot, but who cannot communicate and teach well, may not be the right person for the job. We have found that candidates with adult training and executive training experience tend to fare better than those with only academic or classroom teaching experience with younger students.

Apart from the trainer’s CV, do a quick internet search – does the trainer have any videos of their lectures, presentations or speeches online, and have they written any op-eds or articles? If so, does the trainer speak and write clearly and convincingly, and in an engaging manner?

If there is an opportunity to meet with the prospective trainer, use the opportunity to get a sense of the trainer’s personality. Are they open and engaging? Ask them to provide testimonials from previous trainees, or client references whom you can contact if need be.

Step 2: Does the Proposed Training Programme Cover the Right Scope and Content?

After assessing the potential trainers, provide them with the desired learning objectives of the training programme, and the profile of the target trainees. Then invite the trainers to submit a proposed training programme outline programme, that broadly shows the structure, flow and content of the training they will conduct.

Once you receive this outline training programme, you can assess how well each trainer has understood your organisation’s training needs, and the depth of their expertise in addressing these needs. Do the content sessions address the programme objectives and are they relevant to the trainees? Do they display depth of understanding on the tradecraft of government? Is the flow of the content logical, building up from broader fundamentals to more specialised and advanced topics? Is the amount of time allocated for each area realistic and effective?

This is an iterative process even if you identify a great trainer whose profile checks all the boxes. These boxes do not give you a very promising training design programme, you will need to speak with the trainer to find out why the programme was designed a certain way. With a little feedback and communication, an excellent trainer will be able to tailor the programme to your needs easily.

Step 3: Is the Training Pedagogy Effective and Engaging for the Target Audience ?

If all else checks out, take a good look at the teaching methods the potential trainer intends to use. Is there a good balance between taught sessions and more interactive and engaging activities, discussions and project work? Are there opportunities for trainees to share their own experiences, get feedback, and learn from each other? A good training programme will have a balance of these that is appropriate for the target audience.

If the training is to be conducted online, as is often the case in a COVID-19 stricken world, check whether the trainer has experience in conducting online training, or is prepared and keen to adapt their methods to suit an online training environment. Examples could be more interactive activities, shorter learning loops, classroom tools that sustain trainees’ attention, and the use of different sensory stimulus like videos, diagrams and virtual fieldtrips.

Great Trainers Are Key to Successful Learning

Collectively, we have been designing training programmes and engaging expert trainers for about two decades. In our experience, if a trainer satisfies these three sets of criteria, they generally do well and thrive in training in a public sector environment. Great trainers in turn lead to satisfied trainees and successful learning outcomes. We wish you all the best in your training initiatives!