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I'm an apprentice at an engineering company and I'm due to go on a week-long residential training course in a few months time. This "training" is not technical, but rather focuses on building soft skills such as communication and leadership through physical activities and challenges.

I attended part 1 of this training earlier on in the year during spring and although the activities were enjoyable, myself and other apprentices did not feel we really learnt much in terms of practical skills that could be taken to the workplace.

The reasons I don't want to attend this time are as follows:

  1. Medical - The training is scheduled for the winter and is in the far north of the country meaning very cold and damp air are a certainty. This triggers my seasonal Asthma and can give me symptoms similar to a chest infection even with regular use of an inhaler. I feel like this reason alone would not be strong enough as I haven't needed to see a doctor over it for the past year, although I believe this to be down to my new job being office based.
  2. Distance - The training is literally located on the other side of the country and involves a day long un-paid journey to get there.
  3. Accommodation - The accommodation is very basic and involves sharing a room with a complete stranger. There is no phone signal across the whole of the site or internet available.
  4. Value - The course itself costs the business around 2 months worth of my salary. I genuinely don't feel like the last course was worth this. Almost everyone attending already had good soft skills, as it's good soft skills that got us jobs in the first place.

As far as I can tell, I'm not contractually obliged to attend this training, although not attending would involve going through various channels of management. I'm concerned that by making the effort to not attend this course, it may reflect badly on myself. The training itself is delivered by a separate subsidiary of the company so I'm not too concerned about annoying them, but my line manager would probably also have to be involved.

Should I bite the bullet or is it reasonable to not want to attend this training?

EDIT:

To clarify, the travel expenses themselves are paid for by the company, but the day of travel itself is on a Sunday which is not within my normal working hours and I am not being paid overtime for this.

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Philipp, OldPadawan, Rory Alsop, Michael Grubey Aug 29 '18 at 6:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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  • @Philipp I did see that post but didnt feel it covered my question. I already know that I am expected to take this course as it is something I have been enrolled into without opting in. – Tom Aug 28 '18 at 14:17
  • @Barmar I have edited the question to clarify what I meant – Tom Aug 28 '18 at 14:21
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    Can you explain in your question why calling in sick that week isn't an option? – user23715 Aug 28 '18 at 19:17
  • Obliged or not - well, I would take this up with the manager as they might think the course offers value which it might not do, so it could be saving money or make it possible finding another course which offer more value. Your feedback about it is important for management to make qualified decisions. – Allan S. Hansen Aug 29 '18 at 5:37

11 Answers 11

61

No, it is not wise to opt out of this training. There are several reasons for this:

First and foremost, even if the training is stupid and useless, your manager has chosen it, and chosen to offer it to you. Declining says "you're wrong, actually, that training is quite useless." This is rarely a wise thing to say to your employer. It is for this reason I dutifully attended the "business writing" training all new hires got, after winning awards for my technical writing before joining the company.

Secondly, it could in fact be useful. It's easy to hang around with someone else and be ironically detached and say you can't use those skills later or you already knew that. Try applying the advice "if you can't get out of it, get into it" and you may find you learn things.

On the matter of your health and the long unpaid day of travel, if (and only if) the training is sometimes available more conveniently, it might be ok to ask if it is possible for you to take it when it's closer to the office or in warmer weather. But I have a feeling that inconvenience (in the form of distance, isolation, lack of distractions, not in the form of you getting sick) is part of the plan. If you truly feel the health issue is reason enough not to go when it's cold, then ask not to go when it's cold -- but if you go later it will be with different people, which could reduce the value. If you don't feel the health issue is in fact a showstopper, consider the very likely case that the general inconvenience to everyone is deliberate.

The spartan accommodations, lack of phone and internet, and enjoyable activities tell me this is all supposed to be a "team building" thing that bonds the group while teaching you how to be whole and connected people. Deliberately setting yourself outside that framework could have very serious consequences. Go, learn whatever you learn, and let your boss worry about value for money.

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    If it's an entire day's travel, though, that really should be paid. I wouldn't pay someone for in town driving, but multiple hours road trip definitely deserves compensation. I think OP would be right to bring that up. – corsiKa Aug 27 '18 at 19:23
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    The company norms may be not to pay for travel. Typically the logic is "you are gaining from this too and you are paid a salary that reflects this sort of thing. If you feel like you're being sent away a lot it's better to raise your overall salary than to try to work out compensation trip by trip." Obviously not an option for an apprentice, but likely what OP will hear if asking to be given a different day off or whatever. – Kate Gregory Aug 27 '18 at 19:38
  • Also many apprenticeships may require training in these skills to pass your exams. – Neuromancer Aug 27 '18 at 23:14
  • How this week-long training course fits your plans regarding spending time with your family if you have one? Definitely should be opt-out-able – Askar Kalykov Aug 29 '18 at 6:10
38

"Medical - The training is scheduled for the winter and is in the far north of the country meaning very cold and damp air are a certainty. This triggers my seasonal Asthma and can give me symptoms similar to a chest infection even with regular use of an inhaler."

This is the most valid reason for not wanting to attend the training, and the one your bosses are most likely to accept. If being in that weather causes you to develop significant symptoms of illness, it's perfectly reasonable to ask for some sort of alternative training. Saying "this is inconvenient and not fun" will not get you much sympathy, but valid medical issues should get your company to at least think about it, especially if you bring a doctor's note. They may tell you that you should go anyway, though.

If there were no medical issues at all, however, then I would say you should just suck it up and go. Work in general is not always convenient or fun, and sometimes it seems like a waste of time. That's why you get paid for it. That's also why I suggested asking for alternative training instead of asking to skip it altogether.

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    Not wanting to pay for cross country travel out of your own pocket for the companies benefit seems like a valid reason to decline the opportunity. If the company wants you trained that badly, then they should pay the cost. – cdkMoose Aug 27 '18 at 19:05
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    @cdkMoose yea, that's fair. Workers should be reimbursed for things the company is essentially making them do. – TheSoundDefense Aug 27 '18 at 21:52
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    @cdkMoose I have edited the question to clarify this point – Tom Aug 28 '18 at 14:29
12

A good rule of thumb is to treat all optional work functions as mandatory.

As you stated in your question:

not attending would involve going through various channels of management

That would be drawing attention to yourself in a bad way.

Being an apprentice means biting the bullet in many many ways. Consider it the price of admission to your career.

When you are seasoned and experienced, you'll be able to say "no" more often, but this early in your career, say "yes" every last time you can.

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    I'm not down voting this, but I'm going to have to disagree. Saying "yes' all the time sets up this person for always saying "yes", as a habit. I'm experienced in this, and have had a hard time saying "no" because of it. It's one thing to go to training, but it's another thing to be a doormat. "Um, yeah, I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday." Um, yeah, I'm going to need to get paid for overtime... Um, no, I have family matters to take care of... Um, no, I need to GTFO of the office... – computercarguy Aug 27 '18 at 20:59
  • @computercarguy please feel free to provide an answer of your own – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 27 '18 at 23:45
  • @MetaFight it would be very brave to try to change the culture, being an apprentice as the OP is. I'm trying to keep him from getting fired. Do you recall what happened to the interns who approached their boss with a petition, trying to change the culture with regards to the dress code? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 28 '18 at 18:40
7

Never say "no". Instead say...

"Sure, I can do that... if we pay special attention to a couple of issues"

In short: as a professional, you rarely say "no", because that leaves you with lots of uncomfortable explanations to do.

Instead you say "Sure, I can be deal with that. If..."

...and then you state the things you feel need to be satisfied in order for you to complete that which is requested of you. This way you put the hot potato in their hands. You have stated that you are willing to comply with their request, but that you need some things in order to be able to complete it satisfactory. Then it is up to them to satisfy those conditions.

So let us look through the issues, and at the same time, let us sneak in a method from CRM — Crew Resource Management. When stating that you think something is a problem, follow this pattern:

  • Opening or attention getter
  • State your concern
  • State the problem as you see it
  • State a solution
  • Obtain agreement (or buy-in)

So let us apply this to your issues. You start with the attention getter...

About this training...

And then the points:

Medical

Something along these lines

I have seasonal asthma, and in winter conditions like at where the training takes place, it can get really bad.

I am worried the asthma will flare up and ruin my ability to participate fully with the training, which would lead to wasted money for the company, and loss of valuable working hours.

If possible, I would like to have the same kind of training in a different place, in order to prevent this from happening.

Distance

This training facility is some long ways away, which means long hours of travel.

I am wondering if this is counting as work related travel of if this is coming out of my own free hours and my own travel expense?

Can we please examine what applies here, if I can report these hours as work related travel? If not, I would like to know if the same kind of training can be received at a place closer to us.

Accomodation

No, do not even bring it up. That is just a matter of personal convenience. This one you bite down on when they are sacrificing one week of working hours and money worth two months of salary on trying to make you a more valuable employee, which is something that you will bring along with you for the rest of your career.

Value

I have attended similar training sessions before, and I am not certain that they provide good value for the money and loss of productive hours.

If my gut feeling about this is right, this means lost working hours for the company, and an expense that may not be worth it in the end.

Can we look closer at this and see what value we think that this course brings to my work effort? And in case we think this seems to be a good idea "on paper", can we prepare an evaluation scheme, so that I know what to look for while on site, and can then report back to you to see what was gained at this. By doing so I can provide feedback that can be used when considering to send more employees at this training.

...and then wrap it all up with the buy-in:

Does this sound like good action points to you?

  • Regarding accomodation, have you considered that a week-long learning hiatus due to a lack of internet access might outweigh the benefits of the training? An apprentice or junior employee in any technical field is likely to do a lot of off-the-job learning. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Aug 28 '18 at 9:17
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    I would bring up neither accommodation nor value. This is for the manager to judge the value of the training. Medical and distance are valid of course. +1 for the general approach (rather than saying "no", say "yes, just consider..." in a business environment). – Ister Aug 28 '18 at 9:22
  • @Ister If so I would still say "Will we be doing a feedback session afterwards to evaluate the training?". I would still bring up value though because I have been on some truly awful training sessions, even including technical training. At one instance, we as participants stepped in and corrected the lecturer, because they were entirely in the wrong... contradicting computer science. After that we gave feedback to our employer, saying we thought that this course was not what they had paid for. They sent a formal complaint to the education company, and got their money back. – MichaelK Aug 28 '18 at 9:31
  • We have to remember that buying an education... that is just obtaining a service, like any other service. The delivery of that service may be flawed, and not according to what the advertisement or the contract said it would be. If so, it must be highlighted, so that our employer — as the customer of that service — can demand fair compensation for it. – MichaelK Aug 28 '18 at 9:37
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    @R "It should be something that all employees reject outright." No, there is no reason for that. And if I was a manager seeing an employee arguing like that I would see that as them trying to be difficult for no reason. Because you have not at all argued why everyone should just flat out refuse it. You are just stating it as if it is a fact. It is not. It is your personal opinion. And if you are going to trip up a training session that the employer has deemed important, you need to provide something a whole lot better than "I just don't feel like it, neither should anyone else". – MichaelK Aug 28 '18 at 17:22
3

I am going to provide a (slightly) different view to the existing answers:

Is it wise to opt out of training I'm not obliged to take?

Maybe.

In general I would suggest taking Richard U's advice (assume all work functions are mandatory), at least early in your career. In your career phase, it is quite honestly hard to tell what will end up being useful and what isn't, and (if you have not been in the company long) which type of trainings are socially mandatory and which aren't. That said, quite frankly, many of these trainings and team building exercises are in fact rather stupid and not worth your time and inconvenience. Kate mentions that the "inconvenience" may be part of the experience - this is likely correct, and a huge red flag in my opinion. Literally all the worst "team building" exercises had a component of "we suffered together". I will never again go to one of these things if I don't absolutely have to, and I never advise my team members to go to them either.

Further, I do think that some of your reasons for not going are quite valid. Let's go over them one by one:

The training is scheduled for the winter and is in the far north of the country meaning very cold and damp air are a certainty. This triggers my seasonal Asthma

This is absolutely a valid reason not to go. If you decide not do go, this is the reason that you should field. Whether you had recent problems or not is fairly irrelevant. If you fear that the training will negatively affect your health, no reasonable person can hold it against you.

The training is literally located on the other side of the country and involves a day long un-paid journey to get there.

This is annoying, but not really a reason not to go unless it means substantial costs for you (what "substantial" means depends a bit on how much money you make - if you are very short on cash, even something like 50 EUR or USD may be unreasonable to ask you to field).

The accomadation is very basic and involves sharing a room with a complete stranger. There is no phone signal across the whole of the site or internet available.

I understand this is annoying, but as an apprentice I would not use this as a reason not to go. That said, as I said above, it would definitely make me not want to go either. It's just not a good reason to use towards your higher-ups.

The course itself costs the business around 2 months worth of my salary. I genuinely don't feel like the last course was worth this.

This is for your manager to decide. This is not a reason not to go.

So where does this leave you? In practice, I would ask a trusted person with more experience in the company what you should do. Lead with your health concerns, and try to feel out how it will look if you don't go. Take it from there.

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    I feel like all the people who include mandatory suffering in team building are missing the point. Suffering is wonderful because it helps with team building, since it unites the team against the source of the suffering. If the company is including it intentionally, that just means the team will resent the company after the event. – Erik Aug 28 '18 at 10:38
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Discuss this with your manager, or with some other person in a suitable decision-making position. If you and your colleagues are doubting the value of the material that you already took, someone in your organization should know this. They may want to re-evaluate this course for their company.

One question that I'd recommend you consider is: Is there any indication that you and others have been singled out for this training? Or is is something that all employees are streamed to? If people are being "selected" for it, then the follow-on question is, is this is a good way, as in being groomed for promotion, or in a not-so-good way, as in, they think you may need remedial social skills. If either of these is the case, then opting out may have very specific risks.

It's a red flag for me that the travel itself is unpaid time. Is this on a weekday (regular work day) or a weekend? Especially if it's a regular work day that you're being docked because it's spent in travel to a mandated work event, I think you've got a valid complaint.

0

I wouldn't worry about the cost of the event. That's the business' decision, if they see enough value in it that they're willing to pay, then let them. But I do see a risk here.

You don't want to falsely convey the idea that they're doing you a favour, or that you're being enriched by this, if really the only reason you're there is for their satisfaction/approval/benefit. You don't want to be discussing a salary promotion and have them say something along the lines of "Well we already do so much for you, just look at this X thousands of dollars we spent on your education, isn't that enough?" At that point, explaining "well actually, I didn't at all care for it, I did it for you guys" wouldn't go over well.

Your concerns are valid about paying for transit and wasting your time on what is de facto business travel. I would bring this up, and try to convince your manager to comp it.

Lodging with a stranger isn't atypical, but I can't blame you for wanting to avoid it. Especially if there's no internet or phone service. What year is it?! If you become interested in going, but this is deal breaking for you, perhaps you could offer to pay the difference to upgrade to single lodging in a hotel with WiFi.

  • This doesn't seem to provide a conclusive answer to the question. Can you make it more clear what you're actually suggesting? – Erik Aug 28 '18 at 10:39
  • I'm not making a recommendation one way or another. I'm just offering some perspective on the points he raised, that he can use to come to his own conclusion. – Alexander Aug 28 '18 at 16:06
0

What your action tells the manager?

Weather you like it or not your actions are signals sent to the manager. How they read it will impact their perception about your attitude towards your work. And this is something you want to be perceived as a highly motivated employee who wants to develop and advance in their career (it's an oversimplification, I know).

So what is the message that you send to your manager?

Plainly trying to deny attendance without reasoning or with providing inadequate reason will most probably be perceived as you're not willing to develop your personal skills. In this specific case the training might not only be a knowledge transfer but also a team building so it might also mean to the manager that you do not want to socialize with the rest of the team and in a long run you'll probably be a poor team player. Finally by denying your manager's choice you actually undermine their position and involuntarily claim their judgement is wrong. At the early stage of your career development all those are very risky steps and should be avoided.

Does it mean you should plainly agree to anything? No. You definitely should raise your concerns about health and travel. Yet, suggest solutions rather than just bringing problems. MichaelK answer is excellent in this regard. You may also signal that the health problem might require you to abandon the training in the middle as well as that should you attend the training you'll take all the actions that should reduce this risk and provide any other actions that your manager should take or things they should take into account (will medical assistance be actually provided on time if phone reception is poor? is the place within reach for the medical service?). Should the trip really be not paid (I'm assuming it's about the salary for the trip in your free time, not the compensation for the travel expenses)? The regulations depend here on region and in Poland for example that would be probably against law if you were not paid at least per diem (but you are not entitled to a salary for the trip if it is not during your working hours and you can do nothing about that).

As for accommodation this is something just to accept and in my opinion it's the same with the value of the training. If your manager decided it is worth to pay your bi-monthly salary for something you should rely here on their judgement. You can (and should) discuss after the training if you think its value is inadequate (hopefully you did after the first one) but bringing this upfront can be read as an excuse.

All in all - be careful not to be perceived as someone hesitant to develop and not a team member. Those can be decisive factors for your manager on your future career. And they will not work in your favour.

0

Offer an alternative to management:

Obviously, someone above you feels that this a good thing for your company. They feel strong enough about it that they're willing to dump (2 months salary x number of employees) into it.

You do, of course, have good reasons to not attend this training, as you've stated. The strongest is probably medical concerns, but the accommodation and loss of time are both worth including. I personally wouldn't mention the cost to the company - they know.

So, do what adults do - compromise.

Offer to find a local training that teaches similar skills, or perhaps an online version of this training, and attend it. Put in a solid effort, take what you learn to heart, get your certificate and move on. At the next staff meeting, pay some lip service to this training and make vague motions about incorporating what you've learned into your working day. You get to avoid the crappy parts of the training, which still showing that you're dedicated to doing whatever crap your managers decide they want to pay you to do, which all managers want to see in their good little peons.

You don't have to waste time and effort to suffer, and you get to have your managers still think you give a care. Your managers get to feel like they're fantastic managers cauz they did the bare minimum and didn't force you into doing something you had no interest in, and still get to go to their boss and say everyone completed their training as expected.

-1

Yes and yes. It is reasonable not to want to participate, but biting the bullet will be better for your career. Especially if you think soft skills won't help you in the workplace, more soft skills or just even awareness will help you.

And the refusal itself will be noticed. If there are two apprentices and there is one promotion available, chances are that taking or not taking this course will put you ahead or behind your colleague.

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    Did you mean "Yes and No" ? Your answer seems like that but first statement is opposite. I could have edited the answer but thought of asking your intention. – Amit Aug 27 '18 at 20:25
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I am surprised that so many people think you should do this. It sounds like it would be unpleasant for you and unproductive, and it is not required. So, don't do it. It is quite possible that no one will care in the slightest. If your boss asks why, tell him what you told us. If he indicates that he would still prefer you take it, then he will at least be aware that you did it because he thought you should, even though you didn't want to. Nothing wrong with that.

Bottom line; if they wanted it to be mandatory, it would be mandatory.

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    -1 - I accept that this surprises you, but it is my experience of many years (both on the receiving end as the one saying (very seldomly) "no", as well as on the managing side) that blatantly saying "no" is very bad in the workplace. It is not about bowing down to every whim of your manager; it is about communicating your worries in a way that is productive. "No" seldom is. Saying outright "no" is a lot more work than saying "yes, and I need XYZ changed". – AnoE Aug 28 '18 at 11:46
  • I'm upvoting this. Honestly the culture of "say yes because your manager suggested it" I think is wholly detrimental to a lot of things, in a lot of ways. In scenarios where most people feel spending multiple days doing some kind of training is useless, it's probably because it's useless and things like this are perpetuated by everyone saying yes. – AmagicalFishy Aug 29 '18 at 2:13

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