A model training resource

On most plants, a dedicated training department is something on the wish list. At R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's (RJRT) manufacturing facility in Tobaccoville, NC, it's a reality. In fact, it could be considered a model. Here's why. "At RJRT, learning is seen as a process not a project," says Sharon Robertson manager of Operations Technical Training (OTT).


On most plants, a dedicated training department is something on the wish list. At R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's (RJRT) manufacturing facility in Tobaccoville, NC, it's a reality. In fact, it could be considered a model. Here's why.

"At RJRT, learning is seen as a process not a project," says Sharon Robertson manager of Operations Technical Training (OTT). "Our goal is to provide superior quality training that ensures students know how to correctly perform their duties in a safe manner, requires the student to demonstrate the retention of knowledge, provides these services when our customers need them, and does so in the most cost-effective manner possible."

And the cost is considerable with a staff of 47 people and a 42,000-sq ft training center. Over the years, RJRT has invested a tremendous amount of resources in operation cost and equipment for the training center. Classes are taught on the same equipment used in the manufacturing plants.

To accomplish its goal, OTT provides 183 courses and other training services in these areas:

  • Electronics & instrumentation

  • Basic craft skills

  • Electrical

  • Mechanical

  • Operative

  • Industrial vehicles

  • Team leader & train-the-trainer workshops

  • Technical documentation

  • Job analysis

  • Development of technical courses.

    • During its 32 yr of operation, OTT has reached some significant performance goals. Among them:

      • Courses are competency based with validated skill retention checks included to ensure that transfer of knowledge has occurred.

      • Courses are designed to provide 70% hands-on activities and no more than 30% theory, which OTT believes to be the most effective way to deliver technical instruction.

      • For each job, courses are structured in a training path and must be taken in a specified order with each course building upon the skill learned in the previous course.

      • All jobs have specific training paths, and employees know what they are required to learn in order to complete qualification for a given job.

      • A Personnel Administration System (PAS) captures each employee's training history and what classes they require for their current position. Classes are also scheduled through the PAS system.

      • OTT has partnered with two local community colleges to develop two mechanical certificate programs that are taught on their campuses. These mechanical certificate programs are available to current and future employees that wish to become eligible for RJRT's mechanical apprenticeship program.

        • On average, OTT provides more than 1500 classes and 5600 days of instruction to about 2400 people each year.

          Now, the reach of the Operations Technical Training department is reaching even further. It has teamed with other departments at RJRT to form a "Corporate Learning Center" that can be accessed through the company intranet by all employees.

          As might be expected, OTT frequently receives requests to develop new training programs, Robertson says. "However, the first step that must be taken is to conduct a training-needs analysis. This is a critical step and, frequently, the one most overlooked in many organizations. Training professionals have to constantly remind themselves that training is not always the answer to a problem," she cautions.

          RJRT's commitment to superior training is clearly evident through the work of OTT. The benefits this department provide to both employees and the company played a significant part in Reynolds Tobacco being recognized as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2000 by Fortune magazine.

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