Supervisors and First Line Management Need Structured On-The-Job Training, Too
It seems every organization is scrambling to “lean” the operation these days. This implies producing the same amount of output, or more, with decreased amount of inputs by fine-tuning logistics, internal work flows and processes. Workers get moved around or out, and processes get reorganized and relocated.
Changes to the operation signal that the workers responsible to implement changes will need to know the new way of doing things. All affected workers, all shifts. Yet, often very little thought is given to the effectiveness of improvements if not everyone is one the same page.
What should be an obvious “must,” the notion that increasing worker capacity at all levels through task-based, deliberate, documented, measurable and verifiable structured on-the-job training is often usurped. It is replaced by a policy of hopefulness that workers will learn to perform the tasks of their job on their own or by osmosis or, even less effective and disappointing, attending a class here and there in expectation of closing the “skills gap.” I often discuss this in the context of production or service workers, but this extends to all levels of most organizations. The impact doesn’t go unnoticed by controllers and CEO’s under pressure to increase revenue or lower costs, but measures to correct this imbalance are seldom explored let alone utilized.
Invariably, the most target-rich environment for harvesting huge savings and significantly increasing capacity is bypassed – either from a lack of understanding of what it takes to be a “subject matter expert” or entrenched neglect. Ignoring the need for structured on-the-job training is like investing in a state-of-the-art machine, then waiting for it to set-up and program itself. Even artificial intelligence needs someone to train it the first time to do the things expected in the proper way.
When one considers the serious collateral damage caused by underdeveloped or underutilized worker capacity (e.g. scrap, rework, loss of “tribal knowledge” when someone retires or moves on, loss of customer confidence, loss of employee confidence), red flags and alarms should be going off continuously, since all of these are present on a daily basis. But distractions and diversions seem to get in the way. Several articles have appeared in the Proactive Technologies Report newsletter that discuss these costs in more detail, including: Estimating the Costs Associated With Skipping Employer-Based Structured On-The-Job Training and The High Cost of Employee Turnover.
I have come across many examples since 1986 while providing technical consultation to business operations (and even before while working in manufacturing), as I am sure have you. One project that sticks in my mind involved job/task analyzing several supervisory positions at a division of a major automobile manufacturer – using the current “star performers”(subject matter experts) to define each task’s best practice and circulating the collected data for validation. We then developed a top-to-bottom structured on-the-job program; updated job descriptions, training manuals, task-based trainee checklists (for incumbents and new-hires), job/employee-specific performance appraisals and more. Read More
“Realistic Job Previews” Can be a Useful Tool for Measuring a Prospective Employee’s Transferable Task-based Skills
by Stacey Lett, Regional Manager – Eastern U.S. – Proactive Technologies, Inc.
- Recruiters do not share RJPs during interviews. (Rynes, 1991)
- The nature of “realistic” information shared (in lab research or in the field) is unclear (Breaugh & Billings, 1988)
- Not asking the right questions.
- Applicants consistently report desiring more specific, job-relevant information than they commonly receive (Barber & Roehling, 1993; Maurer, Howe, & Lee,1992)
RJPs come in many forms; from the very simple for less-complex job classifications and areas and responsibilities to sophisticated RJPs for the highly technical job classifications with high levels of responsibility. An RJP consists of both positive and negative information regarding the position in order to give individuals a realistic view of employment with the company. Companies that employ realistic job previews provide information so that job candidates can make an informed decision about a position. If it is structured to do so, the RJP can help provide the employer with a wealth of information about whether the candidate is suitable for the work environment, work culture, and has the core skills as well as any transferable task-based skills that would expedite bringing a new-hire “up to speed.” Read More
Developing the Maintenance and Other Technically Skilled Workers That You Need; To Specification, With Minimal Investment
In the March, 2016 Proactive Technologies Report article, “Grow Your Own Multi-Craft Maintenance Technicians – Using a ˜Systems Approach” to Training” I described how Proactive Technologies, Inc. has often joined forces with universities, community colleges (many were schools for which I lead the customized training and workforce development departments) and other related technical instruction providers to setup and implement the “hybrid model” of worker development. This approach has proven itself highly effective for technical job classifications such as Maintenance, Chemical Operators, Press Operator, Tool & Die, NC Machine Operator, Quality Control, Supervisor and others.
This “systems approach” to worker development is simple in its structure but includes metrics and quality control points to ensure that worker development outcomes are clearly defined, progress measured and reported monthly, and goals reached – no matter if the job changes or people change jobs. Although this approach can be used for any job classification in any setting, together we have applied this approach effectively for Maintenance and many other critical technical positions, as well as often neglected supervisor and first-line management positions, for many clients over the last 2 decades.
The approach is unique in that it sets-up for its clients the task-based structured on-the-job training programs. There is no “cut and paste;” each job/task analysis is specific to that job classification, for that company, and incorporates already established process documents and specifications to ensure compliance with quality programs such as ISO/TS/AS and safety requirements. Proactive Technologies provides the technical implementation support and accurately reports progress for each trainee’s individual pursuit of “job mastery” – allowing the business client to focus on its business while we ensure the employer gets the skilled staff they need, when they need them. As a bonus, incumbent workers are base-lined to the structured on-the-job training program requirements and a customized path is established to drive them, along with the new-hires, to full job mastery.
Like most community college or university executives, I felt compelled to promote products and services we already had on the shelf – even if I new from industry experience that the product only resembled the client’s targeted job by name. I began to worry about the cost to my reputation for recommending a solution that wasted everyone’s time and resources, and left the trainee and employer short.
Some schools think that “industry” has the answers. But some of their own organizational development courses teach that “the farther away from the actual work, the less that person knows about the job.” For the last 30 years we collectively built strategies based on “industry input” and yet the skills gap grew larger.
Although uncomfortable for most educators, we listened to each manufacturer that would open up. Even if they seemed to not know precisely what they needed, we listened for what they expected to accomplish, what resources they had that could be used in training workers for their needs, and if they were committed to a different approach if it brought them what they said they were looking for. For example: Read More
Can’t Find The Right Workers? Why Not Train Workers To Your Own To Specification?
According to a recent report by Career Builder.com, more than half of the employers surveyed could not find qualified candidates: 71% – Information-Technology specialists, 70% – Engineers, 66% – Managers, 56% – Healthcare and other specialists, 52% – Financial Operations personnel. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, nearly half of small and mid-size employers said they can find few or no “qualified applicants” for recent openings. And anecdotal evidence from manufacturing firms echoes the same challenge with specialty manufacturing jobs such as maintenance, NC machining and technical support positions. This, in large part, can be attributed to the upheaval caused by the Great Crash of 2008 and the following disruption of several million careers. Sidelined workers saw the erosion of their skill bases while waiting years for an economic recovery that, for many, has not reached them yet.
However, many or most of these workers can be “reskilled” or “upskilled” for the current workforce. The solution lies not in waiting for the labor market to magically produce the needed qualified candidates, but rather in each company investing a little to build their own internal system of structured on-the job training. With such an infrastructure, any candidate with strong core skills can be trained quickly and accurately to any employer’s specifications. Furthermore, a strong training infrastructure has factored into it methods of acceptable basic core skill remediation when the benefit outweighs the cost.
No matter how you examine it, an employer is responsible for training workers to perform the essential and unique tasks of the job for which they were hired. It is not economically feasible or practical for education systems to focus this sharply. Waiting for them to do so or allowing it to happen by osmosis is risky and costly for the employer, since every hour that passes is one more hour of wage for unproductive output. Add to that the hourly wage rate of the informal on-the-job training mentor/trainer efforts multiplied by the number of trainees and this becomes a substantial cost that should attract any manager’s attention.
An investment in a formal, deliberate structured on-the-job training system will cut internal costs of training substantially, raise each person’s worker capacity to where it is expected to be, improve output quality and quantity, and raise worker compliance – to processes, to quality standards and safety mandates. It simply makes business sense. Read More
Some Common, But Unfortunate, Reasons Used to Avoid Structured On-The-Job Training
by Dean Prigelmeier, President of Proactive Technologies, Inc.
The term “structured on-the-job training” shouldn’t scare anyone. Since the term “on-the-job training” has been hijacked and used to label any learning that occurs in a place of employment or offsite while employed, the term “structured” had to be added to clearly differentiate the deliberate training of job-tasks from the conveyance of knowledge.
“Knowing how to” and “being skilled at” are very different. A general medical practitioner can attend a seminar on rhinoplasty (e.g.nose jobs), but it is doubtful if anyone would let them practice on them without supervised training and practice to master the procedure.
The term “job-tasks” isn’t that mysterious either. Everyone knows what a job, or job classification, is. A job is made up of tasks – meaningful units of work, each having a beginning point and an ending point and a specific series of steps between. Every job is made up of these tasks, and someone is hired to perform them. But questions arise such as:
- Who, and if anyone, trains the new-hire on the “best practice” for every task?
- Is someone is assigned to train the person, does that person know the accepted best practice (i.e. are they “subject matter experts”)?
- Is training on tasks consistent between shifts, between trainers?
- Do the supervisors know which tasks each employee has mastered, and which they have yet to learn?
- And even if the supervisor knows, what happens if that supervisor is promoted and the new supervisor hired from outside the department or company?
Employer’s do not consciously hire someone because they are “good at math,” or “can read at a 12 grade level,” or even “they seem to be able to get along well with others” alone. Yes, those skills and traits may be useful, but the employer expects the person to someday, with some training, be able to perform required tasks quickly, consistently and in compliance with engineering specifications, safety requirements and quality program guidelines. But what if the training assumed to be available is not structured, task-based on-the-job training? What if it was instead informal, inconsistent, ad hoc and, even worse, unavailable? What would an employee exposed to this type environment be able to demonstrate and add to their value? And what are the possibilities more harm than good might be done in the form of scrap, rework, non-conforming output or loss of customers?
Most employers believe they already have structured on-the-job training covered. This can be out of misinformation, misunderstanding or misdirection. The common belief is that if one just pairs the new-hire with someone believed, from memory, to have done a good job so far, something magical will happen. Sometimes it does, but often the “expert” who has been encouraged to perform tasks to a tight production schedule, in a hectic environment (new to the new-hire). They have repressed the nuances they themselves needed to learn and master tasks years ago, and are now asked to be a thoughtful, sensitive trainer…but do not slow down production to do it. The new-hire does not know what they don’t know and are fearful of asking too many questions even if they knew what to ask. They are totally reliant on the training transaction for a basis to determine what is expected. In any other area of a business operation, this non-systems approach would not be tolerated; no work standard, not metrics, no reporting and no way to improve.
So imagine the surprise when an employer tries everything else before they try the obvious. But resistance has to be backed by a reason. Here are some common ones we have seen:
1) We don’t have time for training – training goes on every day, with every employee, and on every shift. If the process cannot be identified, explained, documented, measured or improved, it is nothing more than an expensive form of “training roulette.” Read More
Read the full August, 2017 newsletter, including linked industry articles and online presentation schedules.