Some things in this world I just don’t understand. When I was in elementary school, the children that wore glasses were either near-sighted or far-sighted. The glasses enabled the near-sighted to see distant objects, like billboards and traffic lights, or the glasses enabled the far-sighted to perform crucial life skills, like reading and writing. But now that I’m in my second half-century of life I’ve become near-sighted and far-sighted, both! I need glasses (or contact lenses) to see far away, and I need different glasses to read. No fair! Even worse, I was ‘reassured’ by one of my offspring that it’s just normal, old-age obsolescence setting in.

Obsolete? The fountain pen is obsolete. I’m not obsolete. The typewriter is obsolete. … Oh, yes it is! You try teaching a few dozen trainees in the art of proper DG shipping document preparation, and find out how few prepare shipping papers by hand. Most air carriers, and most ocean carriers, in my experience, will not accept handwritten shipping documents.   … Oh, you say, that only proves that typewriters are still needed. Not so fast, young padawan, the world’s largest air parcel carrier will not accept typewritten shipper’s declarations, either. And almost all, if not all, of the trainees in your class use computers to generate their shipping papers. They may, occasionally, type the information into a word-processing program, but usually, with the percentage skyrocketing, they use a compliance software program to produce the shipping documents for them.

Oh. If producing shipping documents by hand, or by typewriter, or by word-processing program is following the fountain pen into obsolescence, where does it leave those of us who have switched from training the S.H.I.P. sequence (Shipping name, Hazard classes & divisions, Identification number, Packing group) to training in the I-SHiP sequence (Id #, Ship name, Haz class/div’s, PG)? Are we also to become obsolete, or merely relegated to training those who create transport compliance software programs? Well, after some pondering from the swing, I believe the answers are related to the definition of “function specific training”. Please allow me to explain.

If someone teaches a class how to put materials into the proper class(es), and how to select Proper Shipping Names, has that class been function-specific? I suppose that by the letter of the law or the technical reading of the regulations, the answer is ‘yes’. But if the course didn’t teach the classifier that her/his employer communicates classifications via giant posters on the warehouse wall (great if only 1-3 products are DG), or maybe that the employer keeps classification in an Excel spreadsheet, or maybe that the classification are stored in a complicated, proprietary, in-house software, was the course really function-specific? Certainly, the spirit or intent of the regulations is for the classifier to know how to properly communicate the compliant classifications to those that use them (those that choose packaging, those that assemble packages, those that communicate hazards, those that provide emergency assistance, etc.). So, perhaps the classification course delivered in the meeting room of the local Hilton-brand hotel/motel chain is not truly function-specific. Perhaps that training needs to be supplemented, either in the same or a separate session, with information about how their particular employer performs the task of classification communication, before the training can be considered complete and truly function-specific.

If we apply this reasoning to the generation of shipping documents, we see that training in this function isn’t becoming obsolete, but merely shifting to become truly function-specific. For example: “From a blank screen, type MENU, and then select the third option. Enter the product number and hit <return>. From the ‘drop-down menu’ choose the type of packages. Enter the number of packages. Enter the weight of each package, not the total weight. Hit F5. Choose the carrier from the ‘drop down’, and hit F17.”. Then the training is truly function-specific, and then we can teach I-SHiP (iSHIP, iSHiP?) plus flash point plus Marine Pollutant as our methods for ensuring that everything printed properly.

Whew. Training for DG documents isn’t becoming obsolete, it’s becoming more specific to that function. And me? I’m not becoming obsolete either, I’m adapting to making my training courses less general, and more specific to the functions my students actually perform.

Even if I do wear reading glasses.

Written 10/26/2011 for HCB Magazine