Simulation as a Training Method

It works! When the real thing is too expensive, impractical or just plain dangerous - get simulating.

After all, how do they train Airline Pilots? The cost of putting trainee pilots into empty aircraft is prohibitive, so simulators are used instead. These, of course aim to be as realistic as possible, but this is not strictly necessary for all simulations. As long as the main features are there, people will invent the rest.

However, simulations are more expensive, in terms of time, to design effectively, but the pay-off can be immense. And so to the photo.Capt.Gilbert Roberts That is Captain Gilbert Roberts RN.

There can never be a better case for payback of training effort, as it can be easily  argued that he saved the country.


By devising a simulation training programme to help Battle of the Atlantic staff cope with U-boat tactics. The options were simple - win, or starve.

He used a large floor area in a Liverpool building on which was set out a convoy (20 x 20 miles), using wooden models. "Trainees" were not allowed to see all of this, but were sat behind canvas screens with only a small slit to view from. For night simulations, they had to rely on signals and make decisions from this information.

They had only a few minutes to issue orders for the convoy escorts, before the plot changed. At the end of the session, full feedback was given and rank was not a barrier. WRENS were telling Admirals where they had gone wrong (tactfully). As the techniques developed it was possible to get a report from the Atlantic escorts, decide a solution with new tactics and send out the details in 60 minutes. And all long before computers....

References: Captain Gilbert Roberts RN and the anti-U_boat school
Mark Williams - 1979 - Now a rare book, so expect to pay good money for a copy.

Using Simulations

You can write your own simulations or them buy in.

Years ago I used a simulation called ARGAL developed by Sheffield Polytchnic (as was) , for Supervisory training. This was in an era when Employee Relations were called Industrial Relations, but much research work was being done on production line technology and the human interface. The simulations consisted of "Workers" copying out nonsense words onto scraps of paper from master copies.

To help production flow, an audio tape of distorted and repeating music was played. The production output was fiercely quality controlled and anything slightly sub-standard was rejected. In another room were the management group who were using production output to buy weapons!.

The outcome was predictable. Sooner or later a strike happened due to a number of factors, not least being lack of communication. The management group (under pressure to deliver) would try and get everyone back to work. The review was tricky due to Workers wanting to thump the Managers, but once tempers had cooled the learning points were many and varied.

Given we were running high output, labour intensive, production lines at the time, it was actually a relevant simulation!

Some Guidelines

- Decide the objectives - precisely.
- What is the timescale?
- Where will it be held and how?
- Who are the participants?
- How will they be briefed?
- Are there any safety issues?

Don't worry about a completely true to life simulation - People will fill in the gaps!

To give an example here. As we were developing the WashBox simulation on a PC it was decided to give it a trial with someone who had not seen it before. He was a training consultant and ex HR person. His first feedback was " I had other things to do today, but once I started I just go sucked into it."

And our own simulation!

The most common off-the-shelf simulations are business games (financially focused), followed by in-tray exercises. These latter focus on managing priorities and tasks and can be an effective way of assessing management skills or lack of them.

Having used some of the more structured versions of these, we wanted something better, so we sat down and invented a virtual company. That was 10 years ago and the idea languished in filing cabinets, until we decided to produce an electronic version.

We have now done this. However, due to customer demand we ended up with:
2 hour PC simulation (original)
1 hour PC simulation
2 hour paper based
3/4 hour paper based
45 mins. web assessment

We used the MSC (Management Standards Council) competency set for the Review programme with the 2 hour version.

More details.of the WashBox Management Simulation....