Canadian Plastics

Rallying the Resources

Training isn't what it used to be. Not only is there more, in terms of topics and sheer material to cover, but the way training is organized and conducted has changed. Where training used to be pretty...

September 1, 2000   By Michael LeGault, editor



Training isn’t what it used to be. Not only is there more, in terms of topics and sheer material to cover, but the way training is organized and conducted has changed. Where training used to be pretty much a top-down, management-heavy exercise carried out by one or more people, the “trainers”, it is now likely to be more de-centralized, employee directed and interactive. With a changing training landscape, companies face new challenges in providing their trainers and training coordinators with the resources to enable them to effectively do their jobs.

To meet these challenges, more companies are taking a flexible approach that combines developing in-house trainers, using more computer-based training and use of outside training contractors for selected topics, especially in more technical areas.

Waltec Plastics, with two plants and approximately 320 employees in Midland, Ont., uses employee mentors for basic orientation sessions and on-the-job training. According to Faustina O’Malley, employee development, the employees selected to be mentors possess considerable in-depth knowledge and experience at the company, as well as good communication and people skills. All would-be mentors are required to complete a three-day training program given by an outside training consultant. The three-day program teaches mentoring skills such as facilitating a training session, conflict resolution and presentation skills. Additionally, selected employees receive formal training to be certified trainers for WHMIS, safety, fork-truck operation, quality and other programs–areas in which training is legislated or designated internally as mandatory.

The mentoring program was started at Waltec in response to an internal company survey conducted about two years ago in which employees were asked for their input on company training. Employees expressed a desire for more input.

“As a result of the responses we obtained, we decided to get employees more involved,” says O’Malley. “Management does little or no actual training now.”

INTERACTIVE OPPORTUNITIES

A number of CD-ROM-based interactive training courses, specifically designed for the plastics industry, have been brought to the market over the past four years. These interactive courses, usually structured in the form of modules, have the potential to drastically reduce the workload and training prerequisites for the company’s trainers and training administrators, says Jack Coulter, vice president of sales, Paulson Training Program, Inc.

“The interactive format has alleviated much of the grunt work that a trainer had to go through,” Coulter observes. “With these tools the person is now 70 percent an administrator and 30 percent a trainer.”

Paulson has created a training grid that matches a specific plant job function, such as basic operator, set-up personnel, process engineer, with a customized interactive training curriculum. The program covers injection molding and extrusion processes, as well as many specialized areas such as health and safety, SPC, drying technology and others. Depending on responsibilities of the job as defined at each plant, the chart prescribes the type and number of training modules and sessions required.

Time and labor to start-up the program is minimal, according to Coulter. The program’s comprehensive leader’s guide gives step-by-step instructions on how to load software, register trainees, as well as customize the programs for an operation’s specific equipment and processes. Likewise, time for administering the program is minimized by the program’s System’s Manager software which tracks the training activity, scores and other information for each trainee. The programs can be networked for easy access and are password and I.D. protected.

Coulter reports that one customer with eight plants worldwide uses one person to administer the training programs of all eight locations from the home office.

“One of the trends we’re seeing is that more and more people are writing training requirements into their specific job titles,” Coulter reports. “The training curriculum becomes a career path in which a company can grow its own skilled staff. Because of the critical role training now plays in an organization, it becomes even more important to give training managers and leaders the best tools.”

A team of Waltec supervisors and employees worked with Georgian College several years ago to update the company’s job descriptions, says O’Malley. The project resulted in a skills dictionary, which matches job descriptions to defined skills required for each position. Mentors are responsible for training each new employee in each of the skills during the orientation period, but can also delegate training to other employees whose skill level in a particular area, say trimming, exceeds their own. Supervisors evaluate the new employee in each of the skills during the 50-day probationary period. O’Malley says associating skills and required training with specific job functions has helped to emphasize both the importance of the skills, and made clear to employees and supervisors what those skills are.

OUTSOURCED TRAINING MEETS TECHNICAL NEEDS

The Canadian Plastics Training Centre in Etobicoke, Ont. offers over 20 different courses in blow-, extrusion- and injection-molding. According to CPTC general manager David Alcock, 75 to 80 percent of the facility’s business is providing injection molding certification courses for the positions of processing technician and set-up technician.

Alcock says most companies aren’t set up to do this type of technical training in-house. “From the company point of view the people that should be doing the technical training are the most knowledgeable and skilled people, and (these) people usually don’t have time to do training.”

Alcock has observed that most training coordinators and managers are relieved to be able to outsource technical training because it means training quality or time won’t be cut short, especially when production pressures put a premium on the time of the skilled people deemed to be the trainers.

CPTC is able to develop customized, flexible training programs based on the skill levels of the company’s work force, production schedules and other factors. Before proposing a training program, CPTC tests a company’s employees to assess skill levels. Program cans be adjusted to take account of employees’ strengths or weaknesses in certain areas. Also, CPTC will work with a company to accommodate their preferences for the training’s structure. Alcock cites the example of one company for which CPTC does all the theoretical training for injection molding certification, while the company is handling all the practical, hands-on training.

O’Malley reports that Waltec requires all injection molding technicians to attend a one-week training program at the Industrial Research Development Institute (Midland, Ont.).

O’Malley has strong feelings about the importance of training and what it takes to make it effective. “Top management support is the key,” she says. “We’re lucky to have that.”

In today’s training environment, that means moral and financial support, not necessarily direct involvement.


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