By Michael LeGault, editor
n my previous life in industry I occasionally filled the role of employee trainer. Standing at the front of a stuffy boardroom with flip charts, handouts and a cued video, I would attempt to keep a do...
n my previous life in industry I occasionally filled the role of employee trainer. Standing at the front of a stuffy boardroom with flip charts, handouts and a cued video, I would attempt to keep a dozen or more weary, bug-eyed workers stimulated long enough to teach them the nuances of hazardous materials handling or electrical equipment lock-out procedures. As our operation ran across all three shifts, these sessions often commenced at two or three in the morning and were not, as you can imagine, in any way likely to be mistaken for faculty seminars or tea with the dean. It was challenging, but ultimately rewarding work.
The challenges and potential rewards associated with training employees are universal. To this day I can walk into a plant and tell almost immediately if it has an effective training program. Generally, there’s an air of order and control in a facility that trains its employees. The floors are clean, boxes and pallets are out of the aisles and employees are at their work stations or presses calmly engaged in their jobs. Which is why I am concerned that training at many Canadian plastics operations these days seems to be a back-burner issue.
In this magazine’s 1997 molder’s survey, 59 percent of the respondents said they had a formal training program in place. Fifty percent of those responding said they spent two percent or less of their budget on training.
These are mediocre numbers, but even these figures do not tell the whole story. Having a training program in place is not the same as using it to improve the knowledge, confidence and skill base of your employees. The truth is that training programs at many Canadian companies have lost their zest, if they had any, and are need of a serious infusion of energy.
The challenges of training employees in a production environment are admittedly huge. First among these challenges, of course, is the fact that the main purpose of every one, every day is to get parts out the door. A close second to this, however, is the challenge of effectively teaching and presenting technical subject matter to employees with a wide-range of cultural backgrounds, learning skills and language capabilities.
These difficulties, however, need not be insurmountable. In my experience, some of the keys to implementing an effective in-house training program are as follows:
Be ready and willing to invest in overtime pay in order to train all employees.
Delay poisons even the best-conceived training programs.
In order to minimize cost, be flexible. Be prepared to train during machine downtime.
Make training everyone’s responsibility. Managers, floor supervisors, maintenance
personnel and production employees should all be trained to be trainers.
Train in English or French, but promote key people in second-language groups and
give them empowered roles in training.
The interactive software programs mentioned in this issue’s training article (p. 13) appear to be especially geared to provide employers with maximum flexibility to train operators and set-up personnel at odd hours, at a self-directed pace. These programs are attractive because they give processors an arms-length resource to address on-going skill and knowledge gaps on the shop floor.
Productivity improvements, reduced machine downtime and lower scrap rates are some of the direct benefits shown to arise from training. Yet some of the most valuable benefits of training are intangible. Communication is healthy. And training, ultimately, is an advanced form of communication.