Much has been made of the current and ongoing skills gap in manufacturing. With experienced workers retiring and a lack of interest and skill among the younger generation, it is a very real and serious issue that threatens the bottom line, and, if left unchecked, the industry itself. One key to overcoming this looming threat is to assess, build and maintain the skills of your employees.

Who should consider training and why?

In a globally competitive marketplace, it is often difficult to stop and analyze your own internal day-to-day operations. Yet, this is one way to identify what is keeping you from reaching your goals -- from production to profitability. To be high-performing, every company should be continually looking inward and analyzing performance, including training of employees, and should strive to build on a culture of learning to drive innovation, quality and profitability.

Training also is getting more critical as quality systems such as ISO have gotten much more stringent in how companies provide training records and job competency. Checking a box on a form is no longer sufficient. Certification bodies are requiring manufacturers to show that employees have not only been through training, but have applied and retained the knowledge and skills.

How is training best approached?

Company leadership must go in with “eyes wide open” -- and fully commit to building and encouraging a culture of learning.

A front-end analysis that identifies overall business goals and challenges is the starting point for developing a progressive training plan aimed at meeting the company’s objectives. Success must be defined. Beyond that, what is the body of knowledge necessary for particular workers to have in order to align themselves and consistently accomplish these specific, measurable goals?

It is important to use the right methodology to determine existing gaps in knowledge and skills and, in turn, the best method to close those gaps and train for consistency. An outside training partner should be considered to help assess existing knowledge and skills and develop the right training program to support company objectives.

How is a curriculum determined?

There is no one-size-fits-all and no shortcuts here. You must go to the site of activity (Gemba) and assess your employees by observing, shadowing and interacting with workers to develop competency models or a framework for each job classification in the organization. From this, guidelines for training and assessment can be developed. Put simply, what do your employees currently know and what do they need to know to be high performers? A training partner can bring the skills and resources that your company may not have.

What’s the most effective way to implement training?

Blended training options are the most effective use of time and resources. For example, having your employees access online courses helps in building standardized knowledge, so that when they go to a session led by an instructor, or as they move to on-the-job training, they are more prepared and ready to apply that knowledge.

Key to successful training is buy-in at the supervisor level. They are on the front lines of scheduling training time. That said, the tone for productive learning is set at the very top of any organization. If it is not a priority there, it will not be a priority anywhere.

Sustaining a training initiative is as important as launching it. Activities such as “Lunch and Learns” or showcasing individual progress through internal promotions and contests can be effective motivating tools. It is also important for trainers to work closely with HR and other departments to properly incentivize and align advancement in learning with pay-scale-based job progression.

Can training programs be adapted after initial implementation?

Absolutely. The process should be dynamic. Constant program evaluation and evolution to newly identified needs prevents stagnation. This holds true whether a project is in progress for two months or two years.

A perfect example of this was work Tooling U-SME did with a major manufacturing company located in the Southwest. The company needed to train 60 machinists. After extensive analysis and the development of competency models and curriculum, a training program was rolled out with full supervisor support. After initial success, our team noticed that progress had stopped after a couple of months. Upon review, we learned that there had been a change in supervisors, and the new supervisors weren’t educated on or engaged with the current curriculum. They were consulted for input, and subsequently the program was slightly amended. Nearly a year later, training continues on a successful track. Had we not noticed the change in progress, however, the training program would likely have failed, negatively affecting on the bottom line.

The Future

It has been said that people are an organization’s most important asset. As manufacturing evolves and grows with new and exciting opportunities, so too must our organizations, our processes and our people -- those next-generation professionals who build and innovate -- upon which our industry so heavily relies.

John Hindman is manager of professional services and Jeannine Kunz is director of training and development for Tooling U-SME.