Employee Training

What if we train them and they leave?

The importance of a well trained workforce cannot be overstated.  A well trained workforce is the link between the company’s technology and the customer.  A well trained workforce combined with process improvement can reduce the need for specialized labor and pass down skills and decision-making to the lowest possible level, improving speed and quality while saving costs.  Indirect labor must orchestrate the transformation process, from concept through design, manufacture, delivery, and aftermarket.  This includes connecting the organization to external vendors and collaborators, banks, and distribution, as well as continually improving the entire process and planning for future growth.  A well functioning organization requires constant training of both Direct and Indirect employees in order to maintain and improve its current condition as well as incorporate new processes and products.

Some companies have very well developed, structured training systems for both new and existing employees.  For many companies, however, a minimum safety training and new employee orientation (such as SB198 “right to know” – legally required) is where training starts and ends.  Companies with short seasons or suffering from high turnover may feel training is not worth its significant investment.  I am reminded of two questions asked at Motorola:  “What if we train them and they leave?” and, better still,  “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”  Typical on the job training (OJT) consists of taking one of the best operators out of their routines and placing them with a new employee.  Neither employee is working near their potential, and the new employee typically picks up 80% of the experienced employee’s habits – good or bad.  There has to be a better way – and there is.

Employee training is a huge opportunity for companies to ensure short term success and to shape their future.  Training and development offers an upward career path for employees, leading to higher job satisfaction and retention rates.  Training also offers management an opportunity to identify and develop high potential employees.  It is not uncommon to see a different side of an employee that may lead to an acceleration of or a change in their career path.  There is a balance between the company training the employees (at company expense) and the employees seeking out their own training opportunities.  Those employees who go the extra mile to continually educate themselves are gems, and whose request for company support will more likely be met with success.

On-boarding New Employees

Even with extensive recruiting efforts that may include ID verification, background checks, physical exams and drug screens, a quick study of most organizations will show employee turnover is very high in the first days and weeks after hire.  Some employees are not up to task or are simply not interested in working hard.  Some are out of shape and find themselves thrust into an early morning, highly repetitive task and just can’t handle it.  Others find themselves not “fitting in”.  Still others were there just to check it out or fill out their unemployment paperwork and had no intention of staying.  In these cases a training cell for new employees might be the answer.

A training cell keeps new employees together for the first week or so in the company and provides both company and new employee with a chance to check out one another.  In the cell new employees are taught basic job skills and do some repetitive tasks (on short rotation) such as filing or bench assembly process.  They receive basic safety training and plant orientation and get a feel for the type of work they would be doing.  They also have a chance to make some friends with other new employees (feeling alone can be a major reason for job abandonment).  The cell trainer can be trained to spot goof-offs or potential workman’s comp scams and they can be quickly weeded out.  At one of my companies we cut new employee turnover by 50% by using a training cell, while cutting accident rates significantly.  It sounds like a big expense up front, but it should be considered.  How much work do we get out of new employees anyway?  A training cell accelerates learning for both the employee and the company.

New office employees face many of the same questions and challenges.  How do I fit in?  How to contribute?  Handing a new employee the company handbook is only the start.  A well structured first 30 day program will help get these employees up to speed and contributing as well.  Scheduled lunches with key office employees (peer level and above) coupled with attending a mix of regular scheduled meetings as an observer and some sort of job rotation (could be sitting in different departments for 1 full day each) will get the new employee up to speed and contributing quickly.

Other Training Options

Options for training are numerous and don’t have to be hard on the pocketbook:

  • “Getting to know one another” lunches.   Senior managers from different departments may take new employees out to lunch as an opportunity to get to know one another and to learn about the company’s various functions and departments.
  • Reading (either technical or managerial).  This can include trade and technical journals as well as managerial ones such as Harvard Business Review and Fast Company.  I encourage employees to read anything and everything.  Many of these can be shared via a company lending library.
  • Brown bag book discussions.  Reading and discussing key books can be central to some companies’ culture.  My short list would include
    • The Goal by Eli Goldratt
    • Good to Great by Collins,
    • Kraig Kramers’ CEO Toolkit,
    • Prosen’s Kiss Theory Goodbye,
    • Peshawaria’s Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders,
    • Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
    • Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People
    • Pat Lencioni’s The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
  • Excellent books to get Lean Enterprise rolling would include:
    • Lean Thinking by Womak,
    • Learning to See and Toyota Kata by Rother and
    • The Toyota Way by Liker.  There are SO many others!
  • Videos.  Videos are great for individual or group instruction.  Most community Safety Councils have good lending libraries to start with.  Technical Videos from Society of Manufacturing Engineers and others are excellent.  They can be kept in the lending library as well.  Some of the best team building videos are full length films (mostly sport themes).  Hoosiers has notes all over the Internet dissecting it as a team building movie.  Another is Miracle.  These are great to view over several pizza lunches – prepare discussion questions to keep people engaged.
  • In-house classroom training.  Though they can be time consuming (use sparingly) in-house classes are a powerful way to bring a lot of people up to speed very quickly.  Whenever possible, challenge your own employees to teach the class – they have to learn the material to teach it, and the process will enrich both student and teacher as well as serve as a good team building exercise.
  • Outside classroom training.  This may be through the local university or trade schools, and professional societies.  Classes may include basic Supervision, Materials Management, Welding or other technical certification, or even English as a Second Language.  Let’s face it, GED training may be the best investment possible and instill a huge pride in the recipient.  Often all that is required is for the HR department to share some research on available programs.
  • Kaizen events should include a brief educational segment as well as the discovery, learning, and sharing of the event itself.
  • Mentoring (see Managing 360)
  • On the job training using Work Instructions (see below).

Standard Work

The best way to reduce the training investment is to simplify and standardize jobs – something Henry Ford figured out 100 years ago.  Standard Work and associated repeatability is the Holy Grail of Manufacturing, where the goal is to efficiently complete repetitive tasks.  It may or may not be the best way, but Standard Work is accepted as the “right way” to do a process until a better way is agreed upon.  Standard work can then be used to train others in the same task and to audit the work of an extended workforce to ensure a minimum of variation.  Lastly, standard work is the basis for process improvement – the new process is compared to the Standard Work and is either adopted as the new standard or not, based on its merits.  Lacking standard work, the organization is compelled to rely upon tribal knowledge and existing skilled labor, both of which limits the organization’s ability to grow and respond to change.

During WWII the United States mobilization efforts were hampered by a surge of unskilled workers into factories.  In response, the Defense Department developed the Training Within Industries (TWI) program.  Then new approach, called Job Instruction Training helped develop skilled workers as quickly as possible to do the work of those who left to fight the war, at the same time the factories were retooling to war-time production (sound like a challenge?).

The three components of Standardized Work as identified by TWI are:

  • Important Steps
  • Key Points of each step
  • Reason for each Key Point

These components are recorded on a job breakdown sheet (Work Instruction) to create the basis of both standard work and for training.  In keeping with the Visual Factory with the goal of simplifying things, I recommend all Work Instructions be loaded with graphics illustrating each step.  A heavy dose of illustrations and photos helps to quickly communicate key points in the challenge of diverse languages and experience.

Training Scorecard

Standard Work should be posted in the workplace and used as the basis for training and process auditing – NOT in a binder gathering dust.  The idea is to make Standard Work the centerpiece of your operation.  Managers and Auditors should routinely reinforce their importance by referring to them and auditing work to the published standard.


The workforce’s overall skill level can easily be tracked using the same Standard Work.  Simply rate all employees against a list of all standard work processes.  Assign a letter grade to for each employee skill according to the following criteria:  C = trained to standard work – can perform with supervision, B = trained and skilled at task – can perform without supervision, and A = highly skilled – able to train others in task.  Then, award 1 point for a C, 2 points for every B, and 3 points for every A each employee is rated.  Composite scores can then be calculated for each employee as well as an average score for the entire workforce.  Raising both individual and group scores is done by adding new skills (C points) or by increasing skills in a given task.  Both benefit the company and are reflected in a higher overall skills rating.  A simple, low cost one-time award for each “A” earned incentivizes employees to seek new skills.  For the cost of a much appreciated $50 or $100 gift card at a local grocer (no tax bite) you will find employees seeking new training without long term raises or financial obligation. At the same time the metric “average employee training level” is a great company-wide scorecard.

Process Improvement then becomes a function of stabilizing the process (i.e. following standard work) and then a stair-step kaizen approach, re-establishing the new standardized work and training against it to stabilize the new, improved process.  See Kaizen Progression and Continuous Improvement for more information on process improvement methods.

Copyright 2012 Paul Yandell.  Let Value Stream Focus help you get your organization moving on a path of <strong>Continuous Improvement</strong> and Cost Reduction.  Call 760-500-6006 or email pryandell@valuestreamfocus.com.




2 thoughts on “Employee Training

  1. Pingback: Kaizen Progression and Continuous Improvement | paulyandell

  2. Pingback: Managing 360 | paulyandell

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