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Overcoming bias in training

Montez King
By Montez King Executive Director, National Institute for Metalworking Skills
Montez King’s career evolved from machinist to teacher to now directing NIMS. Here, in 2006, King was managing Magna International’s manufacturing training facility in the U.S.

My overall experience in industry relevant to inclusion has been positive in the way that it lifted me from poverty into the middle class.

I grew up in Baltimore, raised by a single, working mother. Fortunately, I embarked on the machinist trade path in high school, continued to a work-study program and began working for a manufacturer.

There, I was exposed to a world that I did not know existed. For example, I had been unaware that a person could buy a home. The way I understood it, in my society, you rented—typically in a poverty-stricken environment. That’s what I had seen and experienced. I didn’t know anything about savings or retirement plans, let alone something called a 401K. I wasn’t aware of the importance, or even the concept, of credit.

I learned about all these seemingly basic life rules and tools through my work-study and apprenticeship experience as I was around fellow employees who were planning for retirement, purchasing homes and planning for their kids’ college tuition. Each time I digested a new life rule or tool, I thought, “Wow, this is a whole new world!”

Those were the positives. But there were challenges to overcome, as well. The downsides came in levels of prejudice and exclusion in different ways.

There was legal inclusion since I was selected to work in the shop. However, I was excluded from further opportunities once there.

I had tremendous potential, and that promise began to manifest in actual on-the-job skills and validation of my competencies. But I didn’t automatically get opportunities to advance because the managers focused on other people—those who fit their mold for the industry in the shop—to whom they wanted to give experiences that would grow their careers. To get those same experiences, I had to beg, plead, and raise my hand to ask, “Can I have that job?”

Fast forward 25 years, more shop jobs, a move into teaching and earning advanced degrees, and now I’m able to effect inclusion in all that we do here at NIMS.

For instance, our new Smart Training Solutions frameworks help to combat biases that racial and ethnic minorities face.

Supervisors have a lot of control over employees’ work lives. But when expressions of performance are fully understood throughout the organization, there’s an equal opportunity for everyone to demonstrate their abilities regardless of a supervisor’s potential bias.

This new model creates a level of inclusion that’s impervious to biases of the supervisors on the shop floor because this new methodology includes accepting that all individuals associated with training —not just the trainees—are performers.

Typical training on the job is learning through osmosis. What you learn is heavily dependent on the experiences your supervisor exposes you to. This is a common training fallacy. You can put Amanda and Joe through the same program, but if Amanda doesn’t get the same on-the-job experiences as Joe, that training is irrelevant. She will fail when it comes to demonstrating her hands-on abilities and seemingly will show she wasn’t a good fit. In reality, she just didn’t get the same experience.

The NIMS model allows for someone like me to truly demonstrate my skills where they cannot be denied because the expressions of performance are clear throughout the organization.

Therefore, if I score better than the person next to me—whether that person is white, black, yellow, or red—it doesn’t matter. I will have a better performance outcome. That fact is inarguable.

There are many good programs out there for skills training. However, any checklist style of determining if training was done only leaves you with a checklist.

A company might get everyone to go through training but all that really shows is that they are successful “completers.” Those who are exposed to intentional or unintentional biases are often robbed of real inclusion.

Our program levels the playing field by having a true expression of performance and accepting that all people involved in the training are performers.

Further, another aspect to the NIMS program doubly ensures everyone is on the same playing field: our digital benchmarking tool.

This tool enables organizations to measure the performance of all stakeholders where the success of the organization, trainer and trainee are synonymous.

That is what I call “inclusion on steroids” because it doesn’t allow a fallacy where someone is included in training but not in experience.

Benchmarking has a greater impact on inclusion because it exposes biases of those in charge of training. It allows everyone to be visible in a clear, concise environment where talents are shown.

It doesn’t matter a person’s skin color. If they can do it, they can do it; if they can’t, they can’t. And when the stakeholders—the companies, the trainers and the trainees—are all tied in, it just adds more insurance. The trainees get the opportunity to demonstrate their true abilities.

I missed out on many opportunities in the workforce because of what I looked like and sounded like. Policies within the organizations accepted me but some of the people in the organizations did not.

Here is a simple truth to remember: Our training systems must be as inclusive as our policies.

It’s sad that such concepts must be stated. But that’s just how the game works. I hope, work and pray it won’t always be the case.

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