NEW YORK — Despite the allure of employee training via the Internet — it's cheap, global and interactive — factory workers still need to touch a machine and mold plastic, according to Antec speakers.
The Society of Plastics Engineers devoted a day and a half to an Education 2000 forum during Antec '99 in New York.
Interactive training gives training on demand, at the student's own pace. Students also can skip past material they already know. Travel costs are eliminated.
Using the Internet, or a company's own intranet, seems to be the wave of the future.
As Internet technology improves to allow high-end animation, Web-based training will grow even faster, said Andy Routsis, president of A. Routsis & Associates. The Lowell, Mass.-based company makes training products.
People who have learned material by interactive training retain close to 60 percent of the information 24 hours later, he said. The rate is 40 percent for video and 20 percent for reading.
In the plastics industry, custom molder Nypro Corp. in 1997 created the best-known Web-based training program, Nypro Institute Online. Nypro has long trained employees at its institute, located at Nypro headquarters in Clinton, Mass.
The company turned to the Internet to help train far-flung Nypro employees around the world.
Richard Hermann, who directs Nypro Institute Online, said Nypro linked up with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell to start the program.
``We have students today taking the course from every Nypro facility, even those eight, nine or 10 time zones away,'' Hermann said.
The online training, which leads to a certificate in plastics technology, is open to everyone, whether they work at Nypro or not.
``Online courses have been a huge success in our reaching Nypro's 5,000 employees,'' Hermann said.
But Hermann said the computer will never replace hands-on training. One speaker, Michigan consultant Rodney Groleau, showed the limits of computers when his laptop died, taking his Powerpoint presentation with it.
As the audience chuckled, Groleau smoothly pulled out slides and turned on the overhead projector. ``When you're in training you have to be prepared,'' he said.
Groleau is a passionate booster of hands-on training. His firm in Traverse City, Mich., RJG Inc., hosts intensive two-week courses to become a Master Molder.
``Automated training is a great thing,'' Groleau said. ``It's very enticing because it's very efficient.'' The Master Molder program is not very efficient — small groups of people take the class together and work as a team, just like in a factory. Graduates understand how an injection molding press runs. About 40 percent fail the first time, he said.
``We really have to teach the essence of this industry, without the fluff,'' Groleau said.
Groleau compared Master Molder to the apprenticeship program, where older workers pass down their wisdom to new ones.
Jack Contessa, SPE's managing director of education services, said workers today must learn new skills quickly and work as a team.
Companies are tying pay to team-based measurements such as cycle times and customer satisfaction.
Even so, Contessa said some companies still resist training.
``What's worse, training your people and running the risk they'll leave, or not training them and having them stay?'' Contessa asked.