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Guest Editorial

Next-generation education

By Dale Petts

With the right training, companies can do more with less

dalepettsMarch 2012 - A perfect storm is brewing in the manufacturing industry. Experienced, seasoned baby boomers are retiring, and corporate managers would like to beef up staff with new machine operators because the business climate is improving. However, there is a major shortage of skilled workers.

Technologically advanced tools and machines are exacerbating the problem. The equipment ultimately will make employees more productive and improve quality and efficiency on the production floor. Unfortunately, the training programs to bring employees up to speed and turn them into skilled machinists often don’t exist.

Manufacturing has entered a new era of doing more with less. At the same time, customers are demanding higher precision and quality. There is no tolerance for mistakes because the cost of making them is high.

Cuts in corporate training programs are aggravating the situation. Eliminating training is counterproductive because it helps manufacturers achieve maximum equipment benefits. Training also protects capital assets, helping employees avoid costly mistakes that could damage machines and tools.

Historically, leading suppliers supported manufacturing clients by visiting their customers in person and holding classroom sessions. However, setting aside classroom space and traveling to facilities can be both costly and a logistical challenge.

Until suppliers began offering online employee training programs, manufacturers had to cobble together a curriculum. Often, the training was incomplete, inconsistent and failed to give detailed explanations of how to properly operate the company’s new tools and technology.

The advent of online training
Proactive suppliers are developing online employee training programs and learning centers that are available around-the-clock to end users. Online access allows employees to update their skills when it is convenient for them, which is especially important with multiple shifts and sites.

These programs can offer detailed information about material composition, chemistry, technical terminology, machine operating, tips, techniques and troubleshooting. The most-effective programs are user-friendly, dynamic, interesting, visual and interactive. Because the information is standardized, all employees receive consistent training.

Online training centers typically are housed on a supplier’s website. Content can be specific, and programs are tailored to apprentice or master-level professionals. Generally, these programs allow employees to learn at their own pace and take a self-administered exam when they have finished a module. The scores may be registered within the online training program. Once employees pass all the training modules, they receive a certificate.

In some cases, supervisors can track their employees’ progress. Online training also is useful to supervisors who, as they rise through the ranks, may lose track of the minutiae of machine operation and can benefit from a refresher course.

Empower employees
Employee training programs help managers groom the next generation of plant leaders, providing immediate and long-term benefits to an organization. Many younger workers are interested in acquiring new skills, and training programs are alluring to employees who are skittish about job security. Many employees take online training courses to become more attractive to their current employers or to feel more secure in the unsettled economic environment.

Solid, effective employee training not only improves productivity but also boosts employee competence, confidence, motivation and morale. When employees sharpen their skills, they take greater pride in their work, do a better job and become leaders on the shop floor. As employees become more proficient machinists and troubleshooters, they take greater ownership of the equipment. This leads to employees who are more engaged and want to advance within the organization.

Conversely, when employees can’t operate machines, they make mistakes and become increasingly frustrated, indifferent and unmotivated. Productivity and quality take a nosedive, resulting in low morale. When this happens, employees quit or get fired, exacerbating production problems.

Although a key objective of employee training is to improve worker performance and increase tenure, online training programs offer additional value to companies that have high levels of turnover. Constantly training new employees is expensive, but it is an avoidable cost when vendors actively contribute to the training.

In an environment where everyone is doing more with less, we can expect to see more manufacturers and suppliers partnering to train employees and gain the benefits of a better workforce. MM

Dale Petts, global product manager of metal products, Simonds International, Fitchburg, Mass., was instrumental in creating the company’s online training and certification program at www.neveryieldtosteel.com. He has been involved in sales training in various capacities for more than three decades, has authored numerous sales programs and currently leads the technical training program for Simonds Metal Products.

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