Stop Calling them “Sheep Dips” – It’s Insulting

We have a bad habit in L&D of referring to organisation-wide training courses as “sheep dips”.  We should stop.  This casual terminology is an insult to hard-working professionals – in the farming industry.

Actual sheep dips are used by farmers to combat sheep scab mites, Blowfly Strike, keds, ticks, lice and other ectoparasites.  I know this because I actually have a number of years of experience (of looking things up quickly on Google).

Actual sheep dips are pretty effective.  They are a science-based, veterinary intervention.  Science has also revealed concerns about organophosphate contamination.  In the UK you need a Certificate of Competence in the Safe Use of Sheep Dips before you even open the pen.

Our metaphorical “sheep dips” in the training industry are less regulated.  Some operatives may have a Certificate in Training Practice (1996) or even something more up-to-date, but others don’t.

They are also much less scientific.  Learning science suggests that training should only be used as one intervention in a wider programme over months and years involving pre-work, peer learning, repetition, reflective study, feedback and experiential learning.  Even if the course is about operating the new colour photocopier.  But many training courses stop at 4.45pm in a rush for the door, and that’s it, as the trainers move on to more sheep.  I mean, more colleagues.

Our metaphorical “sheep dips” also come with a wide risk of contamination.  Training operatives – and perhaps particularly their superiors – can pick up the dangerous impression that a single training course delivered to lots of people will bring organisational change, or capabilities development, or Return on Investment or Expectation, or at least stop people banging on the side of the new photocopier.

But it probably won’t.

So let’s stop comparing them to proper, veterinary sheep dips.

Any training course is perhaps best seen as twenty pieces of a 1,000-piece jigsaw.  You need it – but somewhere, somehow, you also need a plan to get the other 980 pieces in place.


sheep dip


BY THE WAY, AND ONLY IF BORED: I have just discovered a public affairs page which includes a fully serious use of the sentence, “The U.S. military is having an enormous impact on Iraq’s sheep population”.  Have a look.  What a great sentence.  “The Men Who Cared for Goats..”?


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