Over the past twelve months, eLeaP has posted on a myriad of subjects concerning workplace training, eLearning and mLearning. From time to time, eLeaP has also investigated breaking news stories, from the investigation of Theranos to the New York Time’s revelations about the workplace culture of Amazon in order to explore the critical questions these stories raise about workplace training, accountability, compliance, and ethics. This week’s series of end-of-year posts recap the year’s top stories in business and highlight the lessons these stories convey about workplace training, which we can all carry forward into the new year.

10. The German Wings Crash—A Tragedy Resulting from Poor Employee Training and Evaluation

Workplace training stories

In March, a Germanwings plane crashed into a mountain range in the Alps. While the crash was first thought to be the result of terrorism or mechanical failure, in the weeks following the crash, Lufthansa (the owner of the regional carrier) had to come to terms with the fact that its own employee training and monitoring program was to blame. Despite the fact that Lufthansa, which is considered by many to be an industry leader, maintains that less than 7% of applicants pass their initial screening process, the investigation revealed that the company had not taken the necessary steps to ensure that the pilot of the Germanwings plane was in fact “fit to fly.” Indeed, the investigation eventually revealed that although the airline was aware of the pilot’s mental troubles, they still reinstated him and failed to properly monitor him after doing so. As a result of what many would end up describing as an oversight in employee training and evaluation, 150 lives were lost.

For more on the Germanwings crash and its implications on workplace training, see Lessons from the Germanwings Crash and How Training Promotes Trust: Part 2.

9. Cheating at Goldman Sachs—Why Ethical Training Matters Too

On October, 20 entry-level analysts were fired at Goldman Sachs. As it turned out, the Goldman Sachs’ employees had cheated on an internal training assessment designed to test their industry and regulatory knowledge. A spokesperson for the financial firm maintained that the cheating was “completely inconsistent” with the firm’s values and as a result, they had no choice but to ax the cheating employees. How did Goldman Sachs identify its cheaters? Since the employees completed their online exams on company computers, the company was able to easily track any searches carried out during the exam. The employees, the investigation revealed, had Googled key terms and other information during the exam. Somewhat shockingly, the firings were not universally supported. While some people maintained that cheating is a well-known part of test taking, others argued that Goldman Sachs was doing the right thing and upholding the integrity of their rigorous training program. Whatever side of the debate one is on, in this case, the Goldman Sachs scandal served as a wake-up call to employees that training matters and a wake-up call to employers that alongside training for compliance, we need to offer training in business ethics too.

For more on the Goldman Sachs cheating scandal, see Goldman Sachs Sandal Begs the Question: How to Prevent Cheating in e-Learning.

8. Driverless Cars Hit the Road—What You Can’t Teach a Machine to Do

If 2015 is remembered for a single technological innovation, it may be the autonomous or driverless car. A sci-fi fantasy for decades, in 2015, driverless cars finally hit the road but not without raising important ethical questions. In many respects, driverless vehicles hold great potential. For example, with driverless vehicles, moving goods will cost less (after all, there will no longer be any need to pay a driver) and take less time (rest breaks will be eliminated). While we can now program cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles to operate without humans, however, there are at least a few scenarios in which programmed vehicles will likely never be able to respond as well as human vehicle operators. For example, if a driverless vehicle passes a car parked along the shoulder of an isolated stretch of highway, will it stop? The answer is no because the driverless vehicle is programmed to drive safely and reach its destination as quickly as possible but not to provide roadside support. Similarly, while a human driver entering an intersecting at a green light would likely do anything possible to avoid hitting a pedestrian walking across the intersection with a child—even if it means hitting a large truck instead—a driverless vehicle is more likely to do the opposite, since it has been programmed to avoid hitting large objects. In short, while driverless vehicles can make decisions, they are by no means programmed to make ethical ones. In this respect, the arrival of driverless vehicles serves as a reminder that despite the fact that humans may not be as efficient as machines, they have a set of soft skills that machines have yet to replicate and that is something we should never take for granted.

To read more about driverless vehicles and soft skills, see Self-Driving Vehicles: Programming vs. Training and Bending and Breaking Rules in the Age of Compliance.

7. Uber and the “Gig” Economy—Training in the 1099 Sector

In 2015, Uber not only gained thousands of new customers and drivers around the world but became a flashpoint for a myriad of labor issues facing the 1099 workforce. Since its start, Uber has attempted to maintain the advantages of working with contractors (e.g., not offering benefits or job security) while treating their contractors much like employees (e.g., setting prices and dictating the terms of customer interactions). In June, the California Labor Commission ruled that at least one Uber contractor was an employee. The company was subsequently ordered to reimburse the driver for her car expenses for the four months she spent on the platform. The ruling was important, however, because it gave a major boost to a class action lawsuit against Uber, which will now be ruled upon in June 2016. If Uber drivers are ultimately found to be employees not contractors, the decision will not only have far-reaching effects on Uber drivers but also on all the other people whose work relies on a peer-to-peer platform (e.g., Lyft and Handy employees). Of course, the ruling will also impact workplace training.

As discussed in our 2015 white paper, What is the Value of Training Contingent Workers?, the contingent workforce is growing, largely due to the growing number of workers and organizations taking advantage of peer-to-peer platforms. While training contingent workers has historically been rare, as more companies rely on contingent workers, it is becoming increasingly common to provide some training to 1099 workers, but there are risks. In the case of Uber, drivers report that while they do not receive formal training, the company does have expectations for them. When these expectations are not met, they are told their contracts will be terminated unless they complete a required training course, but since they are contractors, they must pay for the course out of pocket. Of course, Uber is also faced with a dilemma: the company can’t train its contractors because offering training would support the workers’ own claims that they are, for all intents and purposes, employees, but by not training their drivers, the company puts itself at risk too. Uber will no doubt continue to make business news in 2016 as employees and employers explore the implications of the growing gig economy.

Also, see Exploring the Gig Economy and How it Impacts Employees, Training and the 1099 Workforce and What is the Value of Training Contingent Workers?

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