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Transforming training from a procedure to a program

5 ways to effectively develop a comprehensive approach to improvement.
By Dr. Tiffani Worthy, Day & Zimmermann April 15, 2015

As an increasing number of plant operators find success working with maintenance contractors to address staffing needs, one of the most critical differentiators is a partner’s ability to provide a highly trained workforce. At a base level, labor providers must be able to find a sufficient number of workers to staff the project effectively.

True partners don’t just look at the numbers; they focus on the quality of the workforce they’re providing. Finding and retaining the highest quality workers starts and ends with having a robust, flexible, and proven training program.

With a largely transient workforce, the only thing a plant manager can really know about a worker is what his resume says—unless the worker has worked with the manager before. This is why examining a staffing partner’s training program is so important. Training is the only way to truly influence a worker’s performance and meet the owner’s expectations.

Plant managers must collaborate with their labor providers to make sure they have a comprehensive training program that conforms to the plant’s needs. Below are a few key elements a quality training program should include.

1. Built to custom specs

Every plant has a unique culture and needs. Before even engaging with a partner, plant managers should examine their partner’s culture to see if it aligns with their own. Training programs are often as much about instilling a culture within a workforce as it is about preparing workers for the jobs and tasks they have to perform. If cultures don’t align, workers won’t fit as seamlessly into their new environment.

Additionally, plant managers must determine whether their partner can provide the specific types of certifications and training methods that conform to their needs and requirements. Whether a site is looking for Project Management Professional certifications, NCCER certifications, or some other type of certification, the training partner should have the resources available to provide this specialized training.

2. Engineered for learning

Effective training programs are engineered specifically to maximize adult learning and retention by combining hands-on training and real-life scenarios to test problem-solving skills. Plant managers will benefit from training partners who have maintenance experience and professional training and development staff with verifiable training credentials and educational background. An approach that goes beyond the classroom offers the best opportunity for retention and performance.

3. Integrated with project and outage timelines

Scheduling training is always a challenge, especially for plant managers that rely on a transient workforce. Plant managers must invest the time it takes to fully train their workforce. It’s important to schedule training time before the shutdown or outage to maximize human performance. Supplemental training can often be provided during the maintenance period through hands-on and online learning programs.

4. Tested for performance

Once the training is performed, plant owners expect results. Effective training programs use pre-training assessments to establish workers’ baseline knowledge level. Post-training assessments reveal whether the training program has been effective and may indicate needed changes or improvements to drive results.

Plant managers should solicit references from their training partner to determine the effectiveness of their programs and training personnel. Before the training begins, plant managers and their training partners should develop key performance metrics that can be assessed post-training.

5. Designed with frequent mental maintenance

Once workers pass initial training exercises, they need to be re-exposed to information on an ongoing basis. Plant managers need to work with partners to find ways to work educational information into everyday routines. That can mean sharing information during a daily morning meeting, coaching, or providing access to an online learning tool. This ongoing mental maintenance is as important as the regularly scheduled maintenance that happens throughout the plant.

With an influx of new talent at the beginning of every shutdown, turnaround, and outage, there’s a need for training and development programs that meet industry standards. Plant managers often lack qualified in-house staff to self-perform worker training programs, which is why they turn to outside partners.

Working with an experienced training partner to develop customized programs offers plant managers the best opportunity to secure a well-trained workforce.

Dr. Tiffani Worthy, PMP, is director of training and development for Day & Zimmermann.