Training is forgotten asset

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Companies years ago established career training programs to groom prospective employees to climb the proverbial corporate ladder to enhance their organizations, reap bottom-line benefits, and ensure employees would spend their careers with one company.
What has changed?
And why do many organizations not offer these programs anymore? The answer most assuredly is monetary. Companies now expect pro¬spec¬tive employees to be fully competent before they are hired. But is this realistic?
Employers are frequently complaining they cannot find competent candidates to hire for open positions. My clients tell me for every 20 candidates that apply for a position, they are lucky to actually interview one or two people. Why? Because of several reasons: failing drug tests, not possessing appropriate work experience, not willing to work off-shifts, expecting higher pay, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, many of these same companies also have major employee turn¬over issues, which result in quality problems, late deliveries and machine breakdown. What can top management do to alleviate these problems?
Let's start at the beginning. First, has a job description been documented that actually reflects what competencies top management expects this position to possess? Competency is defined as a demonstrated ability to complete a task. For a plastic injection machine operator, can the employee read and write English, operate a plastic injection molding machine, read a caliper/micrometer, demonstrate basic math skills, inspect a part for defects, etc.?
For a maintenance person, can the employee read and write English, create and document a preventive maintenance program, demonstrate the ability to determine why a machine is
not working correctly and how to fix it? For an office employee, can the candidate read and write English, demonstrate the ability to use a computer and the software system that is used by the company, communicate appropriately on the telephone, and complete any other task that is assigned to office personnel?
Hopefully you understand the importance of documenting competencies, because that job description can now be flipped into an objective performance evaluation based upon observable and measurable task completion and data. Remember, as a side note, if any employee cannot read or write English, procedures or work instructions must be documented in their native language. Pictures, flowcharts or diagrams may also serve the same purpose.
If the company decides to use a temporary hiring agency, has the organization documented what competencies are expected for the candidate to complete the job?
I will never forget the answer I received from a company president concerning this issue when I was auditing the company during an ISO 9001 audit. His response was that he told the temp agency that he wanted candidates who met the requirement of 98.6° F (healthy human temperature).
Go ahead and laugh, I did for a few minutes, but then when you really consider the issue, it is not funny.
As I discovered after the laughter ended, the candidate had to be able to assemble boxes, fill them, and then lift and carry them to another area. So what is the problem? Safety concerns for one. Has the employee been trained on appropriate assembling, packaging and lifting techniques? Showing the employee once or twice how to complete the task and telling the employee to contact the trainer if he/she encounters problems is not training. But, unfortunately this is the response I receive when I am either auditing or consulting with a client on their quality-management system.

What happens when the employee injures him/herself completing the task, because that person was not properly trained? Accident rates increase, which in turns means higher insurance premiums or loss of coverage, and potential physician and hospital bills. Obviously this is no laughing matter. Is it worth the risk to not properly train personnel?
In this age of downsizing and lean manufacturing, what is the first asset to be deleted from a company? Training. In actuality, it should be a top priority, since you now have another employee completing multiple tasks, since other employee(s) have been laid off or released. However, when you check company training records, those multiple tasks and the training required are not reflected or documented in those records. If an employee is assigned other job responsibilities, those new duties should have documented competency requirements.
Another issue is the expectation in the actual hiring process that the potential employee is already fully trained, ready to hit the ground running, and prepared to contribute to the company financially as soon as he/she is hired. A nice fantasy to be sure, but is this expectation really feasible?
Realize that each company has its own particular culture and manner of doing business. The employee needs to be trained on company policies and procedures. In the case of a plastic injection machine operator, perhaps that person understands and can demonstrate the process, but has no experience with a particular machine and needs to be trained on how to operate it. Initial training needs to be re-enforced on a frequent basis, with a supervisor or manager monitoring the process. Showing an employee once or telling them how to complete the process is not training.
There are some companies that take training seriously in the plastic injection molding/extrusion business, and purchase training videos that explain the common terms used in the industry (flash, short shots, etc.). Even though a potential employee may not have experience in the plastics business, but is motivated to learn, these videos are a great resource for either initial or refresher training. They can watch the video, perhaps complete a test, and then demonstrate what they have learned.
Additionally, training or re-training for long-term employees should not be ignored. Over time, employees and top management can become complacent about completing tasks and perhaps take shortcuts or skip important tasks. Procedures and work instructions should be reviewed on an annual basis to determine if they are still accurate. If the processes have changed due to new software, machines or paperwork, etc., the documents need to be revised, and appropriate employees need to be retrained. If the processes and paperwork have not changed, then conducting re-fresher training for all or particular aspects of the quality-management system can still reap benefits such as continual improvement or new ideas.
Let us not forget the importance of training for top management. If a new product line is being introduced, are appropriate personnel trained on the aspects of the new product? Appropriate personnel may include sales, engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, and quality. Are employees encouraged to attend trade shows, seminars, networking events to keep abreast of the latest developments in your industry?
Last, but not least, what about training for presidents/CEOs and vice presidents of organizations? I once asked a president what kind of training he had received in the past year. His response: "I don't need any training. I know everything." Without missing a beat, I looked squarely at him and said, "Well, if that is the case, then your company would be the benchmark in the industry." Unfortunately, that was not the case, and I have witnessed arrogance and uninformed decisions lead to the downfall of several organizations.
Finally, the importance of training cannot be underestimated in the daily operations of a company. Well-trained employees equate to efficiency and validated processes that lead to quality products or services, less employee turnover and more margin. Partnering with community colleges to funnel prospective employees to an organization for practical experience is one answer. Corporations need to address training issues more clearly and creatively.
Can a company afford not to invest in training, which ultimately affects their bottom line?

Pascoe is owner of Lake Orion, Mich.-based consultant agency Progressive Integrated Systems Inc.