This is the transcript of episode 1.
Click here to visit the full episode page and listen to the interview.
Thank you, Mark for inviting me to your podcast. By way of introduction, I run a training company, Trinity Facilitation Consultancy based out of Cape Town but with national and international clients. We’ve had a pretty amazing eighteen months since we first started.
I’d love to know how you personally became involved in the training business. It’s a passion we both share, so what is your story?
Well when I left school I thought I knew everything about everything and I chanced my arm applying for an albeit junior role as a trainer for Xerox, I’d had no previous experience but my (over)confidence meant I applied anyway and I got the job.
When I first started I had to learn all about the product line and once I’d done that I then was sent out to different companies to train their people on the printers.
It was just so interesting, going into all these different companies, meeting all these different people and training them. I just fell in love with training. Now, sixteen years later, I have a training company of my very own.
In terms of the company, how many trainers do you typically have on your books?
Okay. So unlike traditional companies, I’ve used the “Uber-concept”. Essentially, I keep trainers on my books. They’re not employees but I find them contracts and take a cut of 10% from their fees.
I currently have 22 trainers on my books with varying skills and experience. I find that’s important. It means I can offer a broad range of trainers to my clients, and assign trainers to them with specific backgrounds and skillsets.
What kinds of companies or industries do you typically work with? What’s the typical profile of companies that would come to you looking for trainers?
Here in Cape Town, call centers are big business, and I have a selection of trainers who specialise in call center training. I wouldn’t say I have every speciality covered yet, we try and cover the major markets and we are forecast to expand our trainer pool both in terms of size and speciality.
I’m busy approaching institutions in the banking sector at the moment, it’s not easy because they look for trainers with strong financial backgrounds rather than simply training backgrounds but I do thankfully have one trainer on the books who worked for one of the four major banks here in South Africa. He is my ‘foot in the door’.
What kinds of programs would your trainers deliver? When one of your trainers goes into the bank or retail company, what typically are the needs those trainers meet and have to deliver on?
Well a typical trainer would start by conducting a needs analysis with the client. This is very important, to make sure that the trainer is on the same page as the company and delivering the right message to the trainees.
Our trainers don’t just offer training on how to use products but rather we look at training soft skills such as customer service.
We’ve recently launched an accreditation process and part of that means that instead of simply delivering the training for a few days or weeks and walking away, we actually work with the client in an organic way to ensure that their training needs are met.
They would need to be able to train on soft-skills; customer service – you know having been working with Vodafone in the UK where everything works and customer service is absolutely amazing I’ve got to see all that and bring that knowledge back to South Africa.
A typical trainer would go in and conduct a needs analysis, this is very important to me to make sure they currently work with their trainees to deliver the same message as the customer requires.
One of the great things that we’ve just launched is an accreditation process, I’ve seen really great growth in people. My training doesn’t just consist of going into the classroom and then walking away, we train the company on our products.
It is trademarked so they can’t go and sell it to anybody else. We have a month’s creative learning and then we come back and do an accreditation process.
That’s a fantastic idea. You’re one of the few people I’ve come across who has a formal accreditation process for prospective trainers.
On that basis could you give me an idea whether certain qualifications or experience has to be in place before someone makes the grade? If someone comes along to your company what makes them stand out from other prospective trainers?
First and foremost I look for passion in my trainers. I know that isn’t really substantial, it’s not something they can convey through their resume or experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I look for their experience as well. I want to know how long they’ve been in the training game.
It’s a balance though because it’s better to have someone with a finance degree to bring those skills to training within a bank or financial institution than someone with a lot of training experience but no financial skills.
When someone first joins my company they are placed on a rigorous training program to become trainers, so in some ways their previous experience and skills aren’t relevant, it’s about the person.
Just to give you an example, I’ve got one guy on the books who had very little experience (six months in a call center) but he was just so passionate about training, about teaching people how to grow that I took him on anyway.
I’ve taken him under my wing and we’re channelling his passion and growing him into one day being an extremely effective trainer.
If anyone wants to become a training consultant from scratch, such as the person you’ve just mentioned – they’ve got passion, they’ve got an interest and somehow, they believe they’ve a calling as a trainer or training consultant – where should they start?
If you’re going to go into training within your current company the best advice I can give is that you find out about the product/services you’re offering, find out everything about it that you can, and then speak with existing staff to gain an understanding of what is really needed from people within the company.
If you do this, when a training position becomes available in your company, you’ll be able to apply and stand out from external candidates.
Why? Because you’ve got real-world knowledge. What you must understand though is, contrary to common perceptions, training as a career isn’t easy street.
It’s a lengthy, arduous process that consumes a lot of time and energy. To be a good trainer you need to bring your life experiences, bring part of who you are into the role to really engage with your trainees.
If you don’t, you’ll easily lose credibility with the trainee and end up lost in a sea of information you can no longer impart to others.
Is that something that someone could do relatively early on in their life? Could someone become a training consultant fresh out of school or do you think it requires a minimum amount of experience?
To a degree there has to be a minimum amount of experience. I now I was lucky. I was very blessed to start at 19 in the training game but back then it was a very different ball game.
We weren’t interested in the person only the product. It was about training on the ABC’s and 123’s, and signing off that you’d delivered what you’d been told to.
Now we’re all about facilitating individual growth, and I don’t think you can expect to help others grow without having done some growing yourself!
Again I was lucky, a lot of guys going into training think it’s going to be easy street and don’t take themselves seriously, they don’t present themselves well and let me tell you if they don’t present themselves well at interview they’re not going to present themselves well in front of 45 trainees in a classroom either.
I know we’re going towards a more casual office environment and more and more offices are allowing so called Casual Fridays to creep to every day of the week, but it is really important for a trainer to present themselves in a way that some might consider old fashioned. In order to ensure that the trainer is respected as a teacher and not as a peer.
There are lots of people in the workplace who need that dynamic in order to learn well. And it’s not just about presenting well with clothing choices but also about presenting well in front of people.
While it is better to answer a question you don’t know by saying “I don’t know but I will find out” you will quickly lose the respect and faith of your trainees if every question they ask that’s remotely off topic is met with a similar answer.
Apologies, I digress, to answer your question the most important thing that you must have to become a trainer is to be great at what you want to teach. You need to understand your field inside out and have a passion to teach people all about it.
If you’ve just begun to think about getting into training or want to get better at training you already do then I would strongly suggest that you team up with an existing training consultant, like me, and just go and sit down in the classroom or on YouTube etc and just watch a great trainer at work.
Try and internalise what they’re doing and use it as an opportunity to ask questions, especially if they do things in a way that is different to you or that perhaps seems incongruous to how you would train someone. In order to teach and train others you need to be willing to be taught and trained yourself.
Do you find there’s a typical sweet spot, a typical age, that believes they’re the person to become a trainer with your company? What’s your impression of the pool of 22 candidates you have?
Currently my trainers’ ages range from 23 to about 35. I think it’s important to have a broader range of experience. By way of an example I have a great 22-year-old customer service trainer and the fact is that they’re going into call centers etc and they’re training similar aged “millennial” individuals.
They’re millennial’s speaking to millennials and in that environment, it works perfectly. However places like banks and other financial institutions need a different approach.
Even though it might still be millennials being trained, there is an expectation that the trainer will be experienced, they’ll be older, they’ll command respect.
The simplest way to achieve that is to send someone that little bit older, someone from generation X, making sure they’re dressed well like I said before so that they present in an authoritative way and accept that the trainer has knowledge to impart.
If you don’t do that, well there’s not going to be any repeat business from the client. I’ve spent a lot of time studying those generational differences and how they fit in with commercial expectations, I do think it’s important for anyone going into training to understand these differences exist and work them into their training delivery.
Can you think of a trainer in your experience whose never done a Train The Trainer and gone onto become a trainer?
I have actually. I had one particular candidate who hadn’t done Train The Trainer but she had gone to an art school. Her training in acting and drama meant she was able to command a room and could really deliver training well, to her a classroom was no different to a stage. It was her platform to deliver and engage with the audience.
Just for the sake of people who’ve not encountered the term “Train The Trainer” before, sometimes abbreviated to TTT or Train The Trainer, what actually is a Train The Trainer program and what are its goals?
A “Train The Trainer” program is to teach you how to be a facilitator. You will be trained through a very hands on learning process where you will be taught how train and then given some training objectives to teach back to the trainer and your fellow class members.
I said earlier that when we first started we were given a book to learn and then deliver everything from the book, nothing more and nothing less, but times have now changed. Training is about involving people and working with them to help them grow.
A TTT trains us on how to do that side of training, how we can involve people and engage with them to ensure that the training is delivered in an appropriate and effective way.
If someone undertakes a Train The Trainer program with my company, we will look after them and work with them until they are good enough to pass the course.
So a Train The Trainer program classically covers things like adult learning theory, it covers things like how to stand before a group of people and pick up on the signals that tell you whether someone is actually learning followed, of course, by the techniques to establish whether learning has occurred, whether knowledge has been transferred to people. Is that the kind of thing that you walk your new trainers through?
That is absolutely correct. We have a new accreditation process which is part of the SAQA, the South African Qualification Association. There are three different levels. Level I is your basic training, someone who is very green and needs an introduction to training.
After level I you would progress to level II where you would begin to handle training to small groups of people. It’s important that you learn how to deal with each individual in the classroom as well as the class as a whole.
You need to be able to measure the different engagement levels around the room and then engage with those people differently but still confined within the same space and time. There’s an art to it!
After this you would progress to level III where you would now be looking at training an even larger group of people, again honing those skills in how to deliver the same training to people with a range of engagement and ability levels.
Once a person has attained a level they have achieved points or credits with SAQA that they can transfer to other courses and build upon to either become a stronger trainer or even to just build up their portfolio to pursue other avenues of employment.
So your accreditation process isn’t just addressed on satisfying the needs of your company but helping somebody who becomes a trainer with you to attain a nationally recognised standard?
That is absolutely correct. Out of the 22 trainers, I have 15 that are now qualified as trainers. We are working with them now on something called ODETP.
That sounds very long but it literally is “How do you Open?”; “How do you Design?”; “How do you Educate?”; and finally, “How do you move Theory from one Person to the next and make sure they understand?”.
This is in addition to the SAQA qualification but it’s something that most companies in South Africa are looking for these days, both the SAQA qualification and ODETP (Opening Design Education and Theory).
When you said moving on, does that mean they’re leaving your team or are they staying in the company and just moving up?
Personal growth is very important to me and I’ll never hold somebody back from an opportunity to grow. Within my network I try to make sure I have new trainees all the time.
At present I have 10 trainers that are green, but I know that in time they’ll get more experience and the most experienced ones will move on to other roles, particularly where they’ve found work in-house with other companies.
It’s important to keep replenishing that talent, someone grows in my company but then, rightfully, seeks fresh challenges elsewhere, and I have my initially green trainers then take the reins in their place.
It’s all part of my urge to grow people, after all that’s what training is all about.
I will say if you go into consultancy like mine that you make sure you’ve got 10 new trainers all the time so that you can continuously mature and grow.
As you know I’ve taken the Uber-concept for my company, it’s low overheads for me and my trainers get amazing flexibility.
They’re able to work from home, they’re able to take time off to be with their children, but one day they may find that they no longer need flexi-time or they may prefer a more traditional 9 to 5 in an office so they move on. I found some consultancies aren’t like that, they try and keep hold of their trainers as long as possible but that just creates discord.
If someone isn’t happy or their work situation is no longer suitable there’s no point trying to keep them in your business, especially this business. If a trainer is unhappy for whatever reason they’re not going to be effective when they go and train other people, it’s not going to work.
The trainees will pick up immediately that this person doesn’t want to be there and the training won’t be effective. That’s not how I want my company to be perceived by any of my clients, and it’s not what I want to do to any of my trainers. They’re free to move onwards and upwards whenever they wish.
No that’s true absolutely, you want someone who is fully conscious, in the room, they’re on message, they’re on brand and they’re representing you. On that topic, I’m just curious, can we go back a little to the star qualities of a great trainer.
I’m thinking of putting myself in the shoes of people perhaps listening to this program and thinking “I want to come to someone like Ryan and I really want to give that person the impression that I’m passionate about training and I want to become a trainer.
What would make me stand out in the application process? Even before that application process how would I bring myself to the attention of someone like Ryan Varga so that Ryan says, “yes I’m worth pursuing” and invites me in to have a conversation?”. What is the actual process from scratch?
Well for me I never interview a person in an office environment, we always go for a coffee. There’s a reason for that. I want that person to be relaxed, if they’re relaxed they’re more likely to give more information about themselves which is important for me to get to know them and understand why they want to be a trainer. I need to make sure they’re not after the job because they think it’s easy.
My first question is always “why do you want to be a trainer?” and my second question is always about “when you’re not training in the classroom, what are you going to be doing to improve yourself?”. Based on those answers we can then move on with the interview process.
The first interview is finding out about the candidate, understanding what their goals are. If someone says to me their goal is to become a trainer and one day be in my position then I know that they’re serious and that their heart lies in training.
After the interview, I usually conduct a training scenario where I’ll give the person a training objective and then we’ll meet in the boardroom with a group of my trainers and see what that person can do. I can then measure what we’re working with, how effective you are and what needs working on. I can tell a lot from these sessions about a person.
I can see by their faces and their body language that they might not be where they want to be with training, but they’re still passionate about training. I will always try and give constructive feedback, even if the candidate isn’t successful with their job application.
I’ll give them as many directions as I can. It might be that while they delivered the material they didn’t engage with the trainees. I’ll try and explain how they might be able to do that in the future. I’m always open to someone coming back and trying again.
Once someone has been offered a job as a trainer they will then begin the SAQA accreditation we spoke of earlier. We’ll put the new trainer with an existing trainer so that they can see for themselves how things are done, they’ll shadow them and work on any feedback from the interview training scenario.
After a month I’ll then ask them to train me again in a new scenario. It’s part of our quality system. If I find that the person’s quality has declined from their interview to being in the role then it’s obvious they don’t want to be a trainer.
It might be that they never really want to be a trainer, or it might be they’ve discovered it isn’t for them. Training isn’t for everyone and that’s okay.
What are the star qualities of a natural trainer? A great trainer. Someone who instinctively has the passion and the skills and the mindset to successfully stand up in front of people and consistently deliver great learning?
Well for me the first thing I look for is how you present yourself. There’s a very relaxed attitude around Capetown offices and we’ve had candidates come in for interview wearing a t-shirt and shorts which for me isn’t great.
It feels very lax and says to me that you don’t think the interview is that important. The second thing I look at is body language. Mirroring is very important to me, if you mirror me I know that means I’m important to you.
How does that translate to training a room of 45 different people? Well it doesn’t, you couldn’t possibly mirror 45 different people but it does show me that this job is important to you and that your capable of mirroring which can be an essential skill for trainers.
The third thing I look at is how you sell yourself. If you’re confident enough to say to me, “I can do this and let me show you how” then absolutely I’m interested. The one thing I don’t look for is knowledge. Knowledge can be trained. It’s not that hard to train someone and give them knowledge.
I need to see that you’re passionate about training and can engage with the material and your audience. I like to hear things like “I can do”, “I have done”, “I’m proud of what I did here”, “I’ve been in this business X amount of time and in that time, I grew people” – when I hear that you get a green light from me immediately.
If someone is obviously tenacious and vivacious, I can see they want to move forward with training. I have many years’ experience of sales training and one thing has remained with me and that’s to look for somebody with a lot of heart.
It sounds silly but a lot of heart is important to me because when you show that to me I know you’ll show it to my client.
Where do you think people as trainers, or as some kind of training professional, can keep themselves up to date and in demand?
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world. The only way you’ll learn and get better is to start. Start listening to podcasts about training. They will keep you up to date. There are a lot of really good videos on YouTube as well.
The TED talks are absolutely amazing and my suggestion is go through and watch how they’re presented and how they come across. Write down notes for yourself. When you do start training, take on board any reviews or feedback you get. Remember life is a learning process, and training is as much a learning process for the trainer as the trainee.
Don’t take criticism to heart but learn from it. If somebody says that you spoke too fast then try and moderate your speech in your next training session. If you are told that the training was too long, too slow or boring then find a way to make it more interesting.
Normally if you someone says your training’s too long you’re not involving them. Sometimes that’s about the trainer and sometimes the trainee, but the point is you’ll learn as you go. There are training courses right across the world if you want to go the university route but if you’re in a situation where that route is closed to you but you know you want to be a trainer then please go and watch videos, read as much as you can and if you’re able to, speak to trainers.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The problem is, I find, that a lot of people when they go into training think they’re doing the right thing. They don’t know they don’t know. They’ll learn in time that they don’t know everything, even after 16 years I still don’t know everything! But I am always willing to learn more.
Where can people find out more about your training company and more about you personally online?
Right now you can find me as Ryan Varga on LinkedIn – you’ll see I’m at Trinity Facilitation Consultancy. I’m still busy building my website which is in its infancy stage, so for now please visit LinkedIn, ask as many questions as you want.
Once my website is up and running I plan on having a suite of different information on there to help you. My goal is to put more training tips and guidance out there and my plan is to build that into part of my website but that is for the future.
For now feel free to contact me on LinkedIn and I’ll do my best to guide you.