'Insufficient training' not an easy excuse
In an automotive factory many years ago, after about five minutes
of “training,” the author of this blog was put to work operating an
That very first day, as he was operating the machine, he looked down
and noticed that one of the long, freshly cut ribbons of steel spinning
out of the lathe had begun to curl around his ankle like a snake.
Seconds after he shook his foot free, the steel ribbon whipped back onto
the mandrel and — in a flash — was reeled up back onto the lathe. Had
it continued to wrap around his ankle, it probably would have sliced off
the author’s foot like a band-saw.
Clearly a case of insufficient training.
Which brings us to the question: Has a lack of training ever gotten you into trouble?
Here’s what the federal government says: “Employees should be
provided effective education and training in cases in which such
education and training would result in better organizational and
That’s Merit Principle No. 7.
But the Merit Systems Protection Board says more: “As jobs evolve,
agencies should invest in the training necessary to assure their
employees possess the skills to adapt and excel — even, and perhaps
especially, in hard budgetary times.” And ideally, as cited above, that
training is meant to boost two things: The overall performance of the
organization and the employee’s individual performance.
But when it comes to removal or demotion based on
performance, training can become a sticky wicket if an employee claims
that too little or improper training is at the root of his or her
In fact, MSPB says, “it would be a rare case in which an employee
could not show that additional or different training might have led to
some improvement in her performance, even though at a prohibited cost to
the agency, considering the benefit derived.”
Meaning: Without some boundaries on what constitutes an appropriate
level of training, employees could almost always use “lack of training”
as a sort of get-out-jail-free card when it comes to performance
deficiencies — even if that training would have cost an agency a mint.
So, what are those boundaries? For one thing, training has to serve
the agency’s interest in promoting better organizational performance.
Also, it has to fit into the agency’s overall strategic plan. And of
course, the training has to be funded and cost-effective.
Or, as MSPB put it, to show a violation of Principle No. 7, “an
employee must show that she did not receive at least the minimum
training reasonably calculated to give her the skills and knowledge
required to do the job; that additional or different training would have
provided those skills; and that such training could have been provided
in a cost-effective manner in light of the agency’s mission and its need
to apportion limited resources among its numerous programs and
Sounds like a high threshold. If you want to see how it works, here’s a pivotal case.
Posted by Phil Piemonte on Jul 05, 2011 at 4:02 PM