Training & Education Key to Associate Engagement and Continuous Improvement

When you ask most executives and leaders their opinion on the importance of training, you are likely to find most agree. When you ask employees to grade the quality of the existing training process, you are likely to find most will give a “C” or average rating.

Investing in employee education and training employees comes with a significant cost of time and money, however, it is often one of the first expenditures cut by manufacturing organizations when faced with budget pressure. Most organizations find it difficult to calculate the associated return-on-investment or cost avoidance pertaining to training expenses.

The costs of insufficient training can be significant and tangible. Mistakes made by poorly trained employees result in safety injuries, poor quality product, potential customer complaints, waste, low production, additional machine stops and breakdowns. Poorly trained employees who do not know how to perform well or understand their job expectations fail to engage in the organization and frustrate their peers who take on additional work to mitigate unnecessary problems.

The Business Case for a robust training process

Among the 6M’s of variation that lead to losses (huMan, Method, Machine, Material, Measurement, environMent), process variation introduced by the human element is reduced through reliable and consistent operator methods and performance. Consistency needed for stable process and performance is best controlled through robust training processes, consistently executed procedures and layered auditing.

Effective employee education and training processes provide tangible performance results:

  • Reduced overtime through shortened training time
  • Reduced turnover and improved retention
  • Reduced scrap and defective product
  • Improved machine uptime and OEE

My own experience in working with chemical industry clients demonstrates an additional imperative to develop robust, efficient and effective training processes: knowledge retention.  Many of my clients within the chemical industry have long-enjoyed a stable, knowledgeable workforce. In the next five-to-ten years, many companies will experience the brain drain associated with retirements of long-time employees. Furthermore, changes in generational expectations are creating shorter lengths of service. Organizations can no longer reasonably expect operators to spend an entire career with one employer, necessitating a training process that is nimble and effective.

Milliken & Company’s own experience built a robust education and training process through deployment of the Continuous Skills Development pillar.

The Continuous Skills Development Pillar Approach

The Continuous Skills Development pillar builds a standardized training process to ensure associates are doing the right things, the right way, every single time. Not only are initial training systems developed, methods to assess actual knowledge and performance level are created to identify gaps to be filled with on-going education and training.

Job Element TreeCross-functional teams start by determining the competencies for a given job through establishment of the desired standard operation procedures. Job Element Trees serve as the tool to document the knowledge and skills required for each job and connect to the procedure, job aid or reference to support the execution of the skill or obtaining knowledge. Teams uncover gaps in existing or missing procedures and work to generate the standardized procedures to capture the best way to complete a job or task. The Element Tree becomes the framework for training, assessing and auditing of skills to minimize operator-to-operator variation.

Job assessments are created to evaluate both the knowledge and skill elements of a job against standardized procedures. A combination of assessment methods can be used to validate knowledge, including written or verbal tests. Skills assessments can be conducted through job observations/audits, standard work audits or check sheets. The assessment results are used to create on-going learning plans for development as well as certification of new operators.

Certified TrainersCertified trainers who deliver the standardize training method create consistent training outcomes as well as developmental opportunities for associates. Trainers who are educated on adult learning, learning styles and coaching capabilities can adapt training delivery methods to meet a trainee’s individual learning style.

The standard work procedures created and refined through the implementation process become inputs into the site’s Layered Auditing system. Standard work audits contribute to lower process variation by ensuring standard work compliance, communicating and reinforcing expectations and uncovering continuous improvement opportunities. On-going monitoring of process results through a site’s Daily Management System is more effective as performance non-conformances can trigger revisiting of standard work documents or training processes, sustaining the performance of individuals and the organization.

The Continuous Skills Development process can be used to create standardized training approaches for any job in your organization. Early in our deployment of the pillar at my plant, Production Supervisor element tree and training manual creation reduced the frustration and stress for associates who were leading and managing groups of others for the first time in their careers. The manual provided a go-to reference for the administrative elements of the role, allowing first-time supervisors to focus coaching and supporting their departments instead of non-value added time tracking down information integral to the daily success of their teams.

Training & Education Connection to Building Associate Engagement

There are several factors that drive associate engagement. Performance Solutions by Milliken believes that engagement starts with Providing the Opportunity. Through involvement in the Continuous Development Pillar team and subsequently in the education and training process, associates engage in the creation or utilization of the standard training process. This creates a sense of ownership for one’s own knowledge and skills as well as those of new teammates.

Prepare AssociatesA robust and standardized training process builds engagement by Preparing Associates for Success. Clearly defined expectations and documented standard practices remove ambiguity that leads to frustration and disengagement. The goal of the training process is to create competent, confident associates who do their work well every single day. The stability of day-to-day operations resulting from clear work processes frees mental bandwidth and energy for problem-solving and continuous improvement activities.

A product of a defined training process is the ability to Measure, Track and Provide Feedback. The execution of standard work procedures should result in daily process performance results, tracked through the Daily Management System. Daily KPI or routine Standard Work Audit results provide leading and lagging indicators of an individual’s performance. Any gaps can be addressed through revisiting the training materials and on-going coaching.

Defined education and training sets objective performance criteria and creates the framework to clearly define job expectations. Measuring all employee performance, based on standard work holds everyone to the same standard in a consistent manner.  Understanding of one’s contribution to success as well as feedback received further contributes to associate engagement, thus Reinforcing the Desired Behavior. Associates enabled through education and training is one of the foundations to a culture of continuous improvement and sustainable business results.

When associates are educated in a standard, reliable method, the company, the customer, and most importantly the associate reap the benefits. The company realizes better safety performance, improved productivity, lower costs, and increased yields through less waste and off quality. The customer sees a better product and could even realize their own cost and quality improvements because of better quality of first quality. Finally, a robust education system positively impacts the associate because he becomes a contributing partner on the shop floor.  Because the associate is certified in his job, he is able to perform his job competently, confidently, and safely.

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