A definitive characteristic that differentiates humans from machines is the human ability to adapt to different situations. While some adaptation takes place instantly, such as when a person withdraws his or her hand from a hot surface, some adaptation may take place over a relatively long time. When adaptation is done systematically and according to a particular methodology, the concepts of education and training are used. In an education and training programme for job skills, the first stage is usually the ‘needs’ analysis during which the requirements of the job in question are determined. Traditional work-study methods may be of some use here regarding the job content and requirements. However, in control room work the traditional work-study methods are of little use as most work takes place inside the heads of the operators and is difficult to observe. In order to determine the coverage of the tasks in the job and its character, interviews must be carried out with the operators involved. Judgements may also be made based on studies of performance and abilities in similar situations. In this respect, it is also helpful to observe operators at their work. Observation converts tacit knowledge (the innate skills of the operators in practice) into codified knowledge (the observer’s new knowledge of how work tasks are carried out by the practitioners). When the practitioners are prepared to share their tacit knowledge by explaining their rationales for making certain decisions and taking certain actions, then the tacit knowledge is processed in double-looped learning (see Schon, 1982; Raelin, 2001; Edmondson, et al., 2003).
The analyses of the job and job requirements that form the basis for the determination of the education and training programme are often the same as those that form the basis of the whole of the personnel planning process. These analyses are also involved in the optimal ergonomic planning. In this connection, it is worth emphasising that the job descriptions and the job requirement analyses can form the basis for selecting the technology used and identifying the best interface (between the machine and the people). One must not therefore bring any prejudices or preconceived notions to the design of training. It is counterproductive to consider how a job or work task must be taught in order to be done under certain definite conditions. Instead, using principles of ergonomics, one could change the conditions and thereby place more focus on the job or task—and thus simplify the learning process. For example, it may be necessary to take steps to change a working situation if it is unsuitable to design a training programme for a certain type of job and a certain type of person. Here the fundamental issue to consider is the match of human operator to the machine. Two key issues relate to the design of training programmes. First, it is important to design effective training that is simple in the sense of easy to follow and understand. Secondly, the training programme should be suitable for the individuals involved in the training. The investigation of needs, operator interviews, and (ideally) observation of operators at work are intended towards this outcome.
Sometimes a related problem is solved by laying off the existing personnel and recruiting newer, often more highly-educated people to fit changes taking place in the production technology. This is a strategy driven by the technology. Obviously, it would be more cost effective to adopt the technology to the people, augmenting their perceived potential, if necessary, by additional training. This approach will be particularly cost effective for the organisation. The approach can also benefit the local society, for example, in sparsely populated areas of a country where employment opportunities are scarce and where there is a limited supply of suitably-educated workers. In this type of situation, it may be difficult to recruit locally a sufficient number of highly – educated workers. One possible alternative might be to encourage personnel to migrate from major cities. However, this will only be a stopgap solution. Over time, this type of personnel may wish to relocate back to their region of origin. To rely on the existing workforce and invest in a kind of continuous lifelong learning is likely to prove a much more efficient and reliable solution in the longer term. This investment in localised skills is likely to bring benefits to the individuals, to the area, to the employer investing locally, and to the government in terms of skills development.