The MSHA Instructor Training Session: An Interview with Jeff Duncan, Director of Educational Policy and Development (MSHA)

MSHA-instructor-trainingNot so long ago, we were giving some thought to the MSHA Part 48 Approved Instructor.

And that led us to give some thought to the three-day, Instructor Training sessions that MSHA leads so that people can become Part 48 Approved Instructors and, in turn, deliver Part 48 training to mine site employees (and contractors, etc.).

We were fortunate enough to get Jeff Duncan, the Director of Educational Policy and Development at MSHA, to give up some of his own time to tell us more about that program. We’re thankful to Jeff for being so generous with his time to do that.

So below we’ve got the highlights of that discussion with Mr. Jeff Duncan of MSHA. We hope you find it interesting and that it sheds more light on the role for of the MSHA Approved Instructor for Part 48.


The MSHA Part 48 Approved Instructor Training Sessions

In our discussion, we asked Mr. Duncan quite a bit about the Approved Instruction Training sessions. Here are some of the highlights.

On Mr. Duncan’s Role in his Directorate

Jeff Duncan: My directorate is made up of several components programs. The National Mine Academy is part of my directorate and that’s where we provide training to all of our entry-level journeymen inspectors…incidentally, the National Mine Academy is one of only seven thoroughly chartered academies in the nation, much like West Point in Annapolis or the FBI Academy.

We also have a field component, the Educational Field and Small Mines Services. It’s a relatively small MSHA group by comparison, but we have folks spread out across the country. I believe there’s roughly sixty full-time employees in Educational Field and Small Mine Services when we’re fully staffed. They provide training more directly to mine operators and the miners. They assist them in developing training plans, and we do instructor evaluations through the Educational Field and Small Mine Services. We work with them for important things like helping them understand the importance and actually providing a little bit of training on things like workplace examination. We work very closely with mine operators and miners all across the country through that group.

We also have a small policy group herein Arlington and they’re the folks that help me make decisions about any educational policy or regulation issues that come to our attention.

And then, beyond that, we also maintain the qualifications and certifications branch in Denver, Colorado, and that’s where we maintain a database of all the instructors–all those folks with any sort of MSHA qualification or certification.

On the Purpose of the Instructor Training Program

Duncan: Well, the ultimate purpose…is what we’re looking for in this is we want to determine if candidates have the basic ability to provide effective training. Can they communicate effectively? Can they deliver training in a way that the learner is going to kind of get it?

The program only touches on basic instructional techniques and provides an understanding of Part 48 Requirements and kind of teaches the instructor how to develop objectives and develop and use evaluation methods.

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On What In Particular MSHA Feels Make Up Effective Training Techniques

Duncan: Well, you know, one of the requirements to get approved as an instructor is to have knowledge of a subject matter that you’re going to teach. We’re looking for that. And then it’s what I said. Can they communicate effectively? Can they deliver the message to the miners? Are the miners going to get it? Do they know how to evaluate the effectiveness of the training? Are they using those evaluations methods throughout the training, o are they just waiting until the end and giving someone a quiz and kind of trying to decide on the tail end whether miners were getting the message throughout the course?

We really want to round them out. We’re not going to make teachers out of people in three days, but we want to make sure that they have that basic understanding that there’s a right way to do things and a wrong way…we’ve seen instructors that want to stand in front of a classroom and lecture the entire time. We’ve seen instructors who want to plug a video in and walk away and come back in twenty  minutes and plug another video in. That’ snot what we want.

We want to make sure that, however, they’re delivering that training, it’s in a way that miners are going to understand and the training is going to be effective. When you think about how much training miners receive and kind of put that in perspective in relation to the hazards that they’re exposed to, every minute–every hour–of that training is very important. So we want to help these instructors and make sure that they understand how to maximize on that limited time they have with those students.

On Evaluating the Effectiveness of Training

Duncan: Well, I think from my perspective, the best way to evaluate training is to keep it interactive. Keep the learner involved in the training itself because that gives you a real good opportunity to see if they understand the message, if your delivery is on target. Oftentimes, those evaluations and that interaction actually leads to additional training. We’ve seen miners kind of teach themselves in some of those courses that become very interactive.

On How To Apply to Be an Approved Instructor

Duncan: The way you apply to become an instructor is your submit a resume to the district manager. The instructor approvals are actually outside of my authority. That’s done by the enforcement programs. The district managers have the authority to approved instructors.

On How District Managers Approve People as an Instructor

Duncan: Most district managers–when they receive the application, there’s a few things they’re looking for. One, naturally, is that resume that establish your subject matter level, subject matter expertise. But the other thing they’re looking for–most of the district managers look for nowadays is the instructor training course. That you’ve satisfactorily completed that course. Most people are coming to EFS or coming to the academy or to the state grantee or whomever to actually get that training course under their belt and then reply to a district manager for approval.

On How Potential Approved Instructors Demonstrate Their Subject Matter Expertise

Duncan: That person who wants to become an instructor…has to submit an application to the district manager and, in that application, they would include a resume and that resume would lay out their experiences.

I think most of the folks are skilled enough that they’re going to know if–during the class, they’re going to figure out whether you actually have all that experience that you’ve put on your application.

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On What Happens if A Person Attends the Instructor Training But Doesn’t Pass

Duncan: If they don’t successfully complete the course the fist time they take it, we’re hoping that whoever is teaching the course is going to explain to them why, what they need to work on.

And hopefully those individuals go out and actually do work on under efficiencies and come back and take the course again. They can take it as many times as they want. We have no limit. They can take it until they pass.

On the approval it’s a little bit different because number one, like I said, most of the district managers are looking for completion of the instructor course and the other part of that is the subject matter knowledge and if they don’t have that and if that’s the reason that they’re not approved, they’ll have to go get that experience before they reapply.

On the Availability of Resources to Consult Before Attending the Instructor Training Session

Duncan: Actually, we’ve got a workbook. It the same book that’s used in the instructor training workshop. It’s available through our National Mine Academy. It used to be called IG24A, which is instructor guide, but it’s the instructor training workshop of Part 48 workbook and folks can contact the Academy and order one of those books before the class. It will give them an opportunity to kind of see what they’re going to be doing in the class, but also give them an idea of what’s going to be expected of them.

We do have a-and it’s a very basic course. It’s a web-based course on principles of adult learning. It’s on our trainers’ page. That’s always helpful and I know there’s a number of other sources out there for that type of training. We would encourage people to look to some of those sources and actually get some training in adult learning principles. That’s important.

A lot of people think that it’s like teaching children, but it’s not, and I know that you know that Jeff. The way that we approach the training–whether it’s instructor-centered, learner-centered what works the best–that all plays a role in whether the training is effective or not. So we encourage people to do those kinds of things. If they have the subject matter experience in the mining industry we’ve got an awful lot of miners out there that have worked for three years, five years, twenty year in the industry. Probably done about every job at a mine site. So what they really need is to learn how to teach and learn how to communicate effectively.  Learn those adult learning principles and how to make their training effective. I encourage people to look to some of those courses as well.

On How Long The Approval of an Approved Instructor Stays Valid

Duncan: …It’s pretty much good forever. There’s a requirement that you teach at least one class every two years.

We’ve actually been looking at ways that we could make some recertification requirements, continuing ed-type requirements, actually have these instructors report back to us periodically that they’ve not only conducted training classes, but they’ve actually completed some continuing education themselves.

That’s a major undertaking and it would requirement rulemaking. I don’t want to mislead you.

On Whether The Instructor Training is the Same All Over the Nation

Duncan: The instructor training is essentially the same all across the nation. It’s like I’ve said, we administer that program through the academy, through EFSMS, and through the grantees. So that’s pretty much a standardized program.

On Whether Approval Works the Same Way in all Districts Throughout the Nation

Duncan: The approval criteria can vary district to district and that criteria is established by the district and the district manager has the authority to approve instructors. There are differences from district to district in experience requirements. I believe that almost all of the districts require the instructor training course though.

On the “Portability” of Approved Instructor Status

Duncan: Once you’re an approved instructor, you’re an approved instructor. So it is nationwide approved. You’re approved by a district manager, but that gives you a driver’s license for anywhere in the country.

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On the Different Requirements for Part 46 Trainers and Part 48 Trainers

Duncan: There isn’t a requirement for an approved instructor in Part 46 and the reason is the rule doesn’t require it. There are several differences between Part 48 and Part 46.

I recall—I just arrived here at MSHA in June of nineteen ninety-nine and the rule published—Part 46 rule published—in September of ninety-nine. We went out—we had a roll out plan that took us all across the country and so I got to talk to a number of instructors and safety professionals from across the country. Several of them stayed silent on it. A number of them—and these are more, some of them were from more progressive, larger companies that I think really understood the benefits of effective training—but I recall some of those folks as well, some of our grantees, were really upset about the fact that it didn’t require an approved instructor—that Part 46 didn’t require an approved instructor.

Some of those folks from those larger companies said, you know, we’ve always used Part 48 instructors and we’re going to continue to do so. And I thought that said something about the importance they placed on providing effective training. I’ll say this: some mine operators—and I believe it’s probably a majority of them—do take training very seriously. They understand that there is a return on their investment, that effectively trained miners are safe miners, they’re productive miners. And so, they’re willing to make that investment. They’re willing to make sure that the competent person that they identify to provide training to their miners is able to communicate effectively, deliver the training effectively, and has that subject knowledge.

Now, I believe on occasion, there may be some miner operators that oh gee, we got to do training? And you know, unfortunately, they look to see who is most available instead of who is best qualified to provide the training.

Jeff Duncan’s Closing Thoughts About Part 48 Approved Instructors and the Instructor Training Sessions

Duncan: You know, the bottom line is, Jeff, that we just want to make sure that the miners receive the best training possible and we’ve prepared them the best way we can to go to work and come home safe and healthy at the end of their shifts. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what we’re focused on.

We’d like to thank Mr. Duncan for taking the time to participate in this interview and for explaining the MSHA Instructor Training sessions to use better. If you’d like even more information about MSHA training, download the free guide immediately below.

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Online MSHA Compliance Guide

Download our free guide to learn how online tools can help you create safer work conditions at a mine site, stay compliant with MSHA Part 46 regulations, and manage your training program more efficiently.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. Jeff has worked in education/training for more than twenty years and in safety training for more than ten. You can follow Jeff at LinkedIn as well.

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