An important part of maintaining a Quality Management System (QMS) is taking action when a nonconformance to a requirement is discovered during inspection, review or some type of audit.  The expectation is that an investigation is performed and the Root Cause of the nonconformance is identified.  The action taken, called a Corrective Action, is supposed to prevent the nonconformance from returning in the future.  During my time as a Quality System Auditor, I’ve reviewed a lot of Corrective Action responses.  One of the most common corrective actions taken is to retrain.  This is almost always necessary but not sufficient for several common reasons.

One reason is that it doesn’t address the root cause.  If you tell me that the root cause is that the wrong program was entered, how does retraining prevent this from happening again?  I have seen cases where the technician has to pick from a list of programs that only vary by the last character.  By design, this makes it inevitable that the wrong program is picked occasionally.  Even if they are not named similarly, proximity can be an issue.  Have you ever clicked the delete button when you’re going for the save button that is right next to it?  I have.  Will retraining me on what the delete button does and what the save button does prevent me from making this mistake in the future?

Another reason is that retraining is insufficient is when you are just repeating the initial training.  If it didn’t work the first time, why would it work the second time?  Retraining needs to be coupled with another action to change the outcome.  If you are changing the process or the documentation, then retraining to those changes makes sense.  If you are just retraining to the same process & documentation, then you then need to adjust the training.  Perhaps you need to include classroom instruction or OJT if you aren’t already.  And there really is no substitute for hands-on practice, so always try to include that.

A third reason is that you aren’t really training at all.  If the bulk of your training is based on “read & understand” then retraining really just means rereading.  If this is the case, you should consider upgrading your training program.

There is also the aspect of assigning blame or pointing fingers at individuals when you tell them they need to be retrained.  A good corrective action is a process fix, not a people fix.  If you truly must do people fixes all the time, perhaps you should consider improving your hiring practices!  And a corrective action should never be punitive.  Don’t give your employees a reason to hide process problems or your improvement efforts will be stymied.  I tell clients that I won’t accept human error as a root cause, but I do encourage looking at human factors.  Instead of immediately assigning human error as the root cause, ask why a few more times and you can discover the real issue and better error proof it.

Whenever you get the urge to insist that someone needs to be retrained, consider if this is going to accomplish your real goal.

Don’t retrain,