Every member of the team here at Independence Training has a shared goal of continuing our educations, both professionally or recreationally. To help you choose your instructors and training organizations for whatever skillset you may be pursuing, several of our team members put together a short list of what they look for.
Referrals from friends, family, or associates are really important to me. Fancy marketing does little when someone I know and trust won't recommend the instructor. I also want to know if the instructor has a solid knowledge base of the subject. As an example, I recently got some rock climbing instruction from a guy who could hands down do everything he was teaching me to do, but didn't need to do it every minute of the time we were out there to impress me. Which brings me to another point, and that's humility. I appreciate that an instructor may be well on their way to mastering a certain skill, but if my training dollars are just to pay them to show off, then I'm not interested. Student reviews can tell me a lot about that.
The availability of information concerning an organization's or certain instructor's classes is also very important. We are in the age of email, websites, Facebook, and online discussion forums. If someone doesn't have a 'digital presence,' how am I supposed to find student reviews, current course offerings, information about other members of the cadre, class pictures, or contact information? I like to try and speak with an instructor or at least a representative of the organization before putting my money down, and if all I get everytime I call is a voicemail or they never respond to my emails, then I'll pass. I also want to make sure they are actively instructing on whatever skill I am seeking to improve so that I know they are up-to-date on the current methods and equipment.
Here is a bullet-point list of what I look for:
- Reputation of the Organization - what do others have to say about it
- Price Point of the Entire Training Package - it's got to be affordable
- Student Reviews - I like to actually communicate with prior students
- Instructor Attitude - when possible, I speak with the instructor ahead of time
- Instructor Credentials - I'm more concerned about whether the instructor can effectively teach me their skills, not where they learned it
I start my search for anything on the internet. The website doesn't have to be professional but if it looks like crap, then I figure that's a good indication of the customer service I'm going to get. I start with the course offerings to see if they have something of interest and are fairly priced (compared to their competitors and for the time and material covered). At that point, I'll take a look at the instructor bios and company info. I'm not concerned with an extensive military or law enforcement background, as long as what is there is in line with the training offered. I'm not going to take a SWAT class from a guy that spent four years in the Special Forces. I'm also looking for an indication that they are passionate about the subject, and blogs, forum discussions and similar venues can tell me that. Depending on the cost of the training, I might give them a call to get a better idea of how they handle people. Referrals from people I know would also be very important. I'm a big proponent of learning by doing and trial and error, and I'm most likely to seek outside training when I hit a wall or when I have a good foundation and want to take it to the next level with some new techniques and ideas.
When I'm looking to spend money on additional training, in the back of my mind I remember the value of the money I'm planning to spend. It took blood and sweat to make those funds, so I want to make certain I get equivalent (or better) value from the training. My goals with firearms training, for example, are generally to improve proficiencies in weapon handling, malfunction clearing, utilization of cover, and speed of deployment. I don't head to a training course specifically focused on shot accuracy, what I look to do is face as much adversity as possible in the course because I have the benefit of an educated instructor to help me come up with more efficient, speedy or safe ways to overcome those adversities.
Once I've decided what type of training or course I need, the first (and most important) step I take is to get on the telephone and speak with the instructor directly. From this I can glean much of the other information I'll need to make the decision as to whether or not I'll be happy handing over my cash. I'm not overly concerned with letters behind someone's name on the business card. Are they NRA certified? Great - all that other stuff is nice to have, but my primary goal during a call is to discern 3 things:
Attitude: Does the instructor have a gleam in the tone of his or her voice? Does he seem happy and excited to speak with a potential client, or does he give the impression that he's just going through the motions and you're wasting his time? Do you detect any condescension? If so, eject now, as it's likely a prelude to his rangeside manner.
Aptitude: Have a very short list of a few questions about the course, and provide an abbreviated background of any previous training you may have had if any. How are your questions answered? Does he really sound like he practices what he preaches, or are you getting vague answers when you pose questions about the course or weapon handling?
Intelligence: A bit more subjective, but this speaks to how creatively the instructor will be in helping you overcome some of the adversity you may face in the course. A quick wit and ability to answer a question without fumbling around too much for the answer shows me the instructor is comfortable in what he does and will likely teach me some new skills.
One final note on choosing instructors and courses: it doesn't matter how much you pay, or how big the organization is, or where the instructors have been or what they have done - if they treat you like a paycheck and not a person, then take your money somewhere else.
Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.