I used to be thinner.  In fact, there was a time when I was downright skinny.  I didn’t have a washboard stomach, but I had speed bump ribs.  And I desperately wanted to be good at sports.  There was an irrational hope in me, that probably still hasn’t completely gone away, that somehow, if I wanted it enough and kept on trying, someday I’d be good at a sport.  In my neighborhood it wasn’t football or stickball or the other football that we played most, but basketball.  The one time it almost, sort of, snowed while I was growing up, there were a few sickly flakes here and there that we noticed while shooting baskets at a neighbor’s house.  We shot baskets while waiting for dinner to be made, and we played pick-up games before scout meetings commenced.  I learned the value of teamwork when Bobby Smith and I proved two little, young guys could beat one, large, older guy, playing on a backboard and hoop nailed to a tree in a different neighbor’s yard.  And when I got to 18 or 19 years old, I achieved a marvelous, new, wondrous, personal feat, jumping up and touching the rim with my fingertips.  Oh, so close to dunking!  Progress.  Perseverance paying off.

Alas, I was never able to dunk a basketball with a witness present.  And, when I reached middle-age, a few extra kg around my waist put an end to my touching the rim.  Basketball isn’t out of my life, as the middle-aged guys still let me join their Thursday night games.  But, I am the oldest one there, and I can’t run as fast nor as far as I used to, and can’t shoot very well any more, either.  And I know that I’ve touched the rim for the last time.  It’s not possible, and not just a weight issue either.  I just can’t do it.

My incapabilities aren’t limited to physical prowess, or lack thereof, though.  I recently undertook some training jobs that are beyond my capability.  I knew they’d be difficult, but lots and lots of other trainers claim to be able to do it, so I took on the challenge.  And besides, I need the money.  After all, consulting and training is how I’ve chosen to make a living.

And the results are in.  Based upon student performance on what I consider to be reasonable examinations, I cannot make a student proficient in three modes of transport in only two days.  Oh, I can dover the material in two days.  I can make sure I’ve mentioned, touched on, or glossed over every significant tope and regulation within the two days.  And apparently, to some people, that’s sufficient training for them to be able to sleep at night.  But for me, training isn’t about what I’ve covered, or what I’ve shown, or what I’ve reviewed, or what I talked about, but instead about what they, the students, got out of it.  And I try to get an idea about the extent of my success or failure by using more proficiency based test questions.  Sure, after two days, lots of students can look up the identification number for chloroform in three different sets of regulations.  But do they know enough to check the specific gravity of chloroform to find out that it’s too dense to go into the majority of UN-specification drums?  Do they know enough to know that the SDS (mSDS) warnings about a potential incompatibility between chloroform and aluminum mean that chloroform shouldn’t be put into 1B1 or 1B2 packagings, unless you have certain knowledge that there’s an inner coating that absolutely prevents a bad reaction?  It’s not enough to just provide some regulatory tools or an overview, a good instructor will show how to use the tools, and in my opinion, at the end of a minimally acceptable course, students will be able to demonstrate a practical proficiency.  And recently, I’ve proved to myself that I just can’t give tri-modal proficiency in a two-day initial, general DG (dangerous goods, HazMat for transport) course.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I do believe that for a limited range of topics, shorter classes can not just be acceptable, they can be excellent.  If classifications are provided externally, huge chunks of information can be eliminated.  If all packaging materials are pre-selected and packaging is performed by an automated assembly line, class time can be shortened.  If only one product, or type of product is ever offered, training can be adjusted and adapted to be useful and functional in a bit less time.  So, I’m not against appropriate customization leading to shorter training times.  But, I do know that I, personally, am incapable of successfully delivering two days of training that covers three modes of classification, packaging selection, package use and assembly, marks & labels, placarding, shipping documents, segregation & loading, and emergency response preparation, even if I leave out 1, 6.2, and 7.

I just can’t do it.  And, much like me ever again touching the rim of a basketball goal, I think it’s probably impossible.  I suspect initial, tri-modal, non-specialized, DG training in two days is like putting the basketball goal 10 metres up instead of 10 feet up.  I don’t think it can be done by anyone.  And I know for sure, I just can’t do it.

Written 3/2/2015 for HCB Magazine