Training to the Task: A Training Process for Increased ROI in Manufacturing

As a training professional and member of a team focused on providing our customers the best quality, reliability, and affordable product in the industry, one of my primary tasks is to improve the return on investment (ROI) in our manufacturing facility. As I have learned through experience, in a manufacturing environment, improving ROI through the training function is extremely difficult to consistently document in terms of dollars. One technique is to remove the accountability focus from a strict dollars-and-cents return to one that aligns production objectives with employee capability. This type of return involves both understanding the operational expectations and "knowing the team" -- what they do and how they do it. Once expectations and capabilities are understood by the trainer, a comprehensive program can be developed. The key to success and subsequently, ROI improvement, is for the program to standardize the training process. To make standardization feasible and acceptable for supervisors and mid-level managers, the process needs to be straightforward, consistent, and include the efficient use of resources, focused curriculum, repeatability, and leader involvement.

Standardization and the Strategy
The first step toward standardization is to understand the various employee population types: how they learn and how they contribute to the business. While there are many new methods, procedures, and processes to train the broader workforce, the fundamental strategy should focus the training on the job task. Training to the task is the training strategy we use for the classified workforce because it embodies our ROI training criteria while simultaneously providing a predictive outcome in terms of employee job performance. With criteria established and predictable outcomes, our facility consistently meets or exceeds our production goals.

The Parts
Training to the task is a simple process that consists of two major parts. The first is traditional instructor-led training (ILT) in a classroom environment. The training is very specific, only informing the worker of how to effectively perform his or her specific job task. This instruction is provided by a training team consisting of subject matter expert(s) and the training manager. To obtain the desired ROI, the formal training must be job specific, incorporating only the tools, equipment, and tasks for the actual job in the curriculum. The second part of the training relies on focused on-the-job- training (OJT). This training is developed and implemented by the individual department, is typically provided by a lead worker, and is evolutionary in that the level of instruction and supervision tapers through the OJT period. The key to the success of the OJT training is a dedicated trainer (lead worker) to conduct the training, as well as a standard and approved checklist with specified supporting tasks that comprise the job task.

The Team
Once the process is understood and accepted, the training developer, in conjunction with engineers, maintenance supervisors, and other subject-matter experts, form a training development team that can produce training that is packaged and presented the same way, regardless of the topic or subject area. To ensure that the training development team stays on track, regular meetings with all members should occur and everyone on the team should understand his or her role. Typically, an engineer from the department where the job resides will serve as the leader of the development team. That person's task is to schedule the meeting, prepare and publish the agenda, assign responsibilities, facilitate, and serve as the final approver of course material. The training developer's task is to keep the team focused on the specific job task and ensure that the information follows the approved training package format. The remainder of the team serves as subject matter experts, providing as much detail and interpretation as needed or desired.

Success: Simplicity and Consistency
Being simple and consistent with processes in a manufacturing environment facilitates situational understanding across the workplace spectrum, promotes quality execution, and improves the overall safety of the workforce. Using time effectively through a job-focused training process reduces training cost, decreases time off of the production floor, and generally improves employee confidence and morale. The process is easy to replicate for all forms of innovation that require training pertaining to infrastructure, equipment, or product and is easily sustained as innovation occurs. Finally, to complete the process, management must serve as an advocate for the process and execution so that the facility will attain the desired outcomes.

John B. Whitfield currently serves as the training specialist at A.O. Smith in Johnson City, Tenn. He has designed and developed task- and process-oriented learning products for more than 20 years for both governmental and industrial (manufacturing) entities.

Posted by John B. Whitfield on Oct 03, 2014