Seven steps to training success

Instead of asking, "What happens if I train them and they leave?" ask yourself, "What happens if we don't train them and they stay?"
By Jeff Shiver CMRP, Aladon Network RCM2 Practitioner December 18, 2012

In recent years you, like many others, may have faced a double-edged sword with respect to finding or developing people with the needed craft skills and knowledge for your organization. From the hiring perspective, you may have experienced researching over 100 resumes to find a single candidate that you would consider interviewing.

For one company building a new facility, the struggle had been quite pronounced as the maintenance manager had not been able to find a single potential hire locally. On the opposite side of the sword, during the economic downturn the first items cut were training and travel budgets. Now the with economy showing signs of revitalization and with a surge in manufacturing openings coupled with retirements from the baby boomer generation, companies are being driven to develop internal craft skills and knowledge once again. That said, do you know how to approach training and development to maximize your investment?

First, you must answer the question of “what level to train to?” Some individuals within organizations amaze me with statements like, “If we train them, they’ll leave.” The easy counter to that is, “What happens if we don’t train them and they stay?”

No doubt from a return on investment perspective, you need to come to grips with the role your organization plays locally in the marketplace. In current competitive markets like Houston, Texas, some organizations can’t compete with the larger companies from a wage and benefits perspective. The smaller companies are often forced to take less skilled individuals and develop them.

Once a level of development is achieved, those individuals frequently move on to the larger companies. In those environments, skills and knowledge training should be limited to the specific fundamental needs of the organization to maximize the training dollars spent.

Separately, you often hear individuals suggesting the need to shadow a retiring craft worker for a period of one to two years in an effort to transfer all of that knowledge to the newbie. A wise plant manager once shared his response to that approach: That retiring craft worker took 20 to 30 or more years to reach that level of experience. Do you really believe that you will transfer that knowledge in two years or less, especially in an unstructured and typically reactive environment? Not going to happen, sorry. 

Building on experience

So how do we build a strong, vibrant workplace from a craft skills and knowledge perspective? Based on experience and the collective knowledge of many skilled educators, here is the roadmap.

First, we must understand exactly what we need to know from a skills and knowledge perspective. If you have good CMMS/EAM data (most don’t), we can review past work history. Otherwise, we could ask the technicians to tell us the skills and knowledge necessary for their success, but you will miss a lot of skill tasks plus have a lot of overlap to sift through.

Another method is to create a database of questions, such as “Do you work on steam traps?” I have seen these databases over time approach 600 to 800 questions. With the database approach, you might work with a representative group of technicians and spend a day or two stepping through the questions.

If you are trying to change the culture, you might spend the next day or two with managers and supervisors to get their input on what they want the crafts to learn, that is, changing to a multi-craft approach. If this is necessary, you will need to spend additional time getting collective agreement between the groups. The next part of this first phase is to rank each of the selected tasks in a priority matrix of:

  • Frequency: How often do we perform the task? Daily, weekly, monthly?
  • Criticality: How important is the task?
  • When required: When did you have to know the task skill? From the start, 3 months in, 6 months, 1 year? 

From the ranking process, we can determine two to four levels of skill and knowledge that can later be used in a pay-for-skills approach.

Now that we understand the expectation from a craft skills and knowledge perspective, we can move on to the second step: assessment. Do this wrong and you will undermine all trust on the part of the craft worker. From an assessment perspective, we are not questioning the value that any craft worker has brought to the organization for the last 10 to 25 years. We are simply trying to understand where each craft worker is in the skills and knowledge levels so that we can properly invest in the right training for each craft worker. Rather than send everyone to bearings training, you may have a number of craft workers who are fluent in that area but could use basic electrical troubleshooting, as an example.

When you perform an assessment, I highly recommend that you only use the information to develop the third step, individual development plans for each craft worker. Do not use the assessment as a ranking tool for pay or merit increases. Again, we only want to understand where people are at today, this snapshot in time, to get to the individual development plans.

The Seven Training Steps
  1. Determine what is needed from training
  2. Do a job or craft assessment
  3. Create individual development plans
  4. Develop the training schedule
  5. Learning
  6. Create metrics or KPIs
  7. Continuous improvement feedback loop.

I highly recommend that you use an impartial third party to perform the assessment so you get individual development plans for each craft worker based on the previously agreed skills and knowledge priority matrix. Only the third party should see the scores from the assessment to place people in to the two to four skill and knowledge levels.

From a human resources perspective, you don’t want to see the scores or try to determine where to place people in the two to four levels and tracks. The third party should create a chart with each individual’s relative ranking for each of the skill areas assessed. This is delivered to each craft worker in a sealed envelope. If the workers choose to share this information with each other, that’s their choice. All you want from this phase is the individual development plan. 

Set up the schedule

From the development plans, we move to the fourth step, which is developing the training schedule based on your ability to invest in the craft workers. Some organizations use training hours to determine the investment levels, with 80 hours per year being somewhat standard. Other organizations use a percent of the budget, anywhere from 4% to 15%.

Based on the constraints, you must now develop a schedule that addresses all of the two to four skills and knowledge tiers that you have identified. The schedule should be published and updated. While many focus on intensive 3-5 day training courses, don’t overlook other routes. Many manufacturers will provide free product-related training for a couple of hours at no cost. You will need to meet with the representative in advance to develop the agenda and core components as you don’t need a sales pitch.

Another tool is the 20 to 30-minute toolbox training session led by a skilled craft worker on short topics like sheave alignment, laser shaft alignment, or belt tension gauges. These should appear on the training schedule as well. In addition to capturing the training for each individual in human resources’ training management software, use individual work orders to capture the skills and knowledge trained on plus the actual training hours. As part of the performance review and continued development planning, you can review work order history to determine the number of hours of training and content that each worker has received during the course of the year.

Until now, we have focused on the tools. Now we have to put the tools in the background, bringing learning to the foreground, which is the fifth step. If you are the manager, you have a responsibility to ensure the individual has the proper environment to learn. Conducting training on-site when the individual is constantly being pulled from the class is frustrating to the craft worker and the trainer.

I suggest you consider offsite training locations where possible, such as a hotel conference room. Once the training is complete, the job expectations have to change so that the craft worker has the opportunity to apply what he or she learned. Be careful of setting yourself up for failure with the approaches you take, especially when it comes to pay.

For example, one organization used a concept called secondary skills to encourage workers to learn and work on equipment in a different area. Learning the secondary skill provided a 50-cent hourly increase in pay. These workers were not called to apply the skills until 3 to 5 years later while collecting the extra pay for every hour worked in that time. When management finally asked them to cross over to the other secondary skill areas, they threw up the safety flag as some of the equipment had changed over the years. When faced with expensive conferences or courses, use the approach of training the trainer. 

Build a training ‘loop’

Require the people attending the course to develop a presentation on their return, and train the others. A benefit to this is as the attendees know the expectations, they tend to be more attentive as opposed to lounging on the beach, only returning at the end of the day to pick up the attendance certificate. This also allows you to stretch your training dollars and works well for conference-type workshops.

A word of caution: While it may be tempting to copy an expensive training course, using an educational group’s copyrighted material to train others is both unethical and illegal. It could cost you dearly.

When possible, require certification to validate your investment in the skills and knowledge of the craft workers. There are numerous certifications in the condition monitoring approaches (lubrication, vibration, infrared) as well as others.

At this point, you have determined the organization needs, assessed, created individual development plans, created the training schedule, and educated your group. The sixth step is to create metrics or key performance indicators that validate the training return on investment (ROI). With a little thought, you should be able to tie increased performance directly to your training activities effectiveness.

An easy one for starters is seeing an extended mean time between failure (MTBF). Another is measuring rework that occurs within 30 or 60 days following an intervention or PM activity.

Now for the seventh and final step: the continuous improvement feedback loop. You should be constantly assessing the current state. Failures should be moved through a root cause/problem solving analysis process. If training is identified as a possible cause, the training needs along with the skills and knowledge priority matrix should be reviewed and changed as required.

In addition to being driven by failure events, new equipment and methods should be reviewed and integrated into the training process as well. Then, an ongoing process of skills and knowledge assessment followed by education and application of skills must be in place to remain at the top.

With this seven-step process, not only will you have developed a skills and knowledge development approach for your existing craftspeople, but you also have visibility to the skills you should be interviewing for when hiring external candidates. In addition, you also have visibility to the entry-level skills and knowledge requirements necessary for an apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship program can provide a progression path for high-potential operators that are already familiar with your plant and equipment. 

– Jeff Shiver CMRP, Aladon Network RCM2 Practitioner