Workforce training is a major concern for manufacturers. Studies show that companies' ability to improve productivity, increase quality, and get new business will be seriously affected if manufacturing workers don't continue developing requisite skills in modern and advanced manufacturing.
Despite this, 54 percent of manufacturers responding to a survey published by SME in 2013 reported no companywide plans to address gaps in training and skills. Only 18 percent of respondents defined workforce roles in detailed terms such as written job descriptions, competencies (i.e., skills and behaviors), experience, education, cognitive abilities, motivation factors, and cultural fit.
Without diligent efforts to improve workforce competencies, and importantly, link them to business objectives, manufacturers face continued uncertainties in achieving the technological expertise and operational efficiency they need to be competitive and profitable.
"There is a correlation between the investments companies make in people, knowledge, and skills and their ability to increase operational efficiency and improve profitability," said Jeannine Kunz, director of Cleveland-based Tooling U-SME, which supplies in-house and online training resources for manufacturers, as well as high schools and technical colleges. "We find that training people just to train them, without correlating training to business objectives, is problematic."
Kunz's observations clearly affect fluid and gas flow equipment makers and users, as well as other manufacturers. The production and operation of large, massive processing structures for the oil, gas, and energy industry requires employees with beyond-entry-level knowledge.
In an interview with ThomasNet News at last week's International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, she explained how important it is for companies to invest in targeted training programs that give employees - and new hires - the skills they need to meet business objectives, rather than going with a one-size-fits-all program that duplicates some of what they know. Tailoring workforce training to a company's needs is a key benefit of Tooling U-SME's programs.
Advantages of this approach include focus and consequently speed. When a company contacts the organization to create a training program, Kunz and her colleagues do prior learning assessments of the organization's workforce, "so we don't conduct training in what employees already know." This eliminates redundancies and consolidates the body of knowledge needed for a viable training program, thereby reducing the amount of training time involved. As a result, "training is faster and costs companies less," she noted.
This is the first step toward developing a structured approach that links training with a company's needs and objectives. Other steps include a checklist that identifies what a company wants to achieve with training, the type of job performance that is required to meet company objectives, and the skills employees need to upgrade job performance.
"Most companies jump right into training without developing a checklist," Kunz said. "This causes a disconnect in the training and a lack of focus."
She emphasized the importance of laying a foundation and identifying the metrics on which to base a training program. "There is not a lot of this structured approach being done," Kunz said. "The companies that have it do well."
This training model is designed to produce better performance from a workforce, provide development pathways and career growth opportunities for workers, empower managers to readily evaluate worker performance using objective benchmarks, and offset shortages of skilled workers. Importantly, it provides criteria that show employees what they must do to improve their skills and become top performers.
Companies will be able to develop more flexible and dynamic workforces, achieve cross-functionality across job roles to meet current and future manufacturing needs, and reduce labor costs.
Tooling U-SME offers a range of services. At IMTS, Kunz said the organization works with any size manufacturer, from the smallest to the largest. Companies with their own in-house training programs still can use the organization as a content provider, both in-house and online. Those with apprentice programs can spend workdays teaching enrollees about machinery operations and having them view online lectures and other materials provided by Tooling U-SME at night.
In the oil, gas, and energy industry, the competencies Tooling U-SME covers include blueprint reading, quality assessment, understanding of manufacturing tolerances, math fundamentals, and learning about instrumentation. Fields covered include safety, shop essentials, and inspection.
This approach also applies to schools. "Flipping the classroom," as it's called, allows teachers to spend class time conducting hands-on instruction and gives students the freedom to hear lectures or review material online at home when they choose.
The cost of Tooling U-SME training varies by company size, complexity, and duration. Kunz said prices generally range from "a couple thousand dollars" to whatever is necessary to develop and sustain long-term programs for big companies. Tooling U-SME has worked with multiple companies that specialize in manufacturing for the energy industry, including some well-known firms. The company began in 2001 and was acquired by SME in 2010.
Tooling U-SME also has national certification programs that recognize companies with lean operations. The certifications are developed with such organizations as the American Society for Quality, Association for Manufacturing Excellence, and the Shingo Institute.
The latter, named for Japanese industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo, whose ideas led to the development of the vaunted Toyota Business System, annually awards a prize for operational excellence that Business Week magazine termed the "Nobel Prize of Manufacturing."