It is no news to the valve manufacturing industry, and it is something VMA with its Valve Careers initiative is working to alleviate: As the most experienced and knowledgeable workers retire from manufacturing and process control, business leaders must find ways to fill the positions they leave. But this is an increasingly difficult proposition, as there simply are not enough people with the skills and training who are willing and able to take these jobs.
There is also an education gap and a deficit between the requirements of these industries and the expertise in the applicant pool. Graduates coming into the marketplace need basic skills and training, and that gap is being exacerbated by the increasing adaptation of digitization in the factories.
Whether you call it Industry 4.0, the IIoT or smart manufacturing, the equipment and environment is getting very technical very quickly. But how are workers being trained for this?
In an effort to address the concerns surrounding the skills gap and labor shortage throughout the manufacturing community, Industry Week recently conducted a survey to determine the state of manufacturing training in the U.S. Details on the way the respondents were selected and a full report on the findings are available on the Industry Week site.
While the creators of the survey expected a more modern approach because of the pressure the industry is under because of the skills gap, such is not necessarily the case. Travis Hessman, content director of Industry Week, noted in a recent webinar sharing the results, there is relatively little new technology used in training.
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of the companies responding to the survey still rely on traditional shadowing or on-the-floor training methodologies, with only 39% of respondents indicating heavy use of classroom education. Only 10% use outside consultants to supplement their curricula or its delivery.
Additionally, within this traditional way of training, the media being used to transfer knowledge in this age of tablets and smart phones is still overwhelmingly on paper handouts (62%). About 50% use video and digital files. There is a noticeable lack of digital supplementation like augmented reality or interactive online training.
Additionally, the average new operator receives just 18 days of training and a full 40% of these people are trained for a week or less. “This is not enough, or the right kind of training to help reduce the skills gap,” said Hessman.
On-the-floor training is dependent on migrating information from a more experienced operator, which while valuable, also creates problems. While reduced productivity is a huge issue, it is also important to note that, for the operator, training is peripheral to his or her “real” job, and not all operators are effective teachers or mentors.
Other problems arise because the trainees are not always able to retain the information passed on in these circumstances, and it is difficult to know if the training is effective in the first place. Is the recruit getting the latest information available? And how much is used every day compared to what is necessary to know in the case of extreme or emergency situations?
The kind of training can also vary between training operators, so what one recruit learns can be substantially different than that which another is given, and not all recruits may be given the same amount of time in training.
Most companies do less than 5 hours a week creating training materials. The content is generally only updated when absolutely required, as in the case of standards, etc., and most respondents said they do not have the resources to create the necessary content for training.
Bottom line: The majority of respondents to this survey indicated they did not have the operational resources to sustain this strategy of training, and keeping the content for training current was not a high priority compared to productivity.
On the positive side, most of the companies recognize the importance of updating their training programs and are struggling with the time and resources. They know they are out of alignment with modern needs, so they are beginning to ask for solutions/fixes.
A Better Way to Train
Alexandre Leclerc, CEO of Poka, acknowledged in the webinar that on-the-floor training is not going to go away anytime soon, but there are ways to make it better. He asked, “How do you make sure the employee isn’t overloaded with information during training? Is there a way he can have the information he needs AFTER training?”
He suggested that written training materials may not necessarily be the best way to get instruction. In the case of repairs on machinery or specific tasks, it is very difficult to create good instructions on paper and even more difficult to understand from written instruction. Additionally, where is that information kept for reference? To be of real value, it must be readily available and easily found by trainees and more seasoned operators alike.
Ideally, an operator or trainee could find that information, perhaps on a tablet or smart phone, by going directly to the machine and scanning a QR code that could take them right to that piece of equipment and video trainings for all the operations. The operator wouldn’t even need to know the name of the machine—he or she would just have to be able to access the QR code.
Leclerc also suggested it is extremely difficult to ingest and integrate hours of learning on-the-floor. Instead, plants could create micro-learning events with videos of 2 to 5 minutes that would cover specific tasks. The content could be segmented between quality, maintenance, safety, etc.
The question then arises, though: Who is going to create the content?
Leclerc suggested it could be done by experienced operators creating a knowledge base as time permits. Someone with a tablet or even a phone can actually film the expert explaining whatever the task might be. Trainees can then watch it during training, but then it is available continuously so that, in six months’ time, they could watch it again if they needed to do a task that is not within their normal scope of operations.
These micro-learning videos are also important to capturing tribal knowledge. “You need to create a system where, if a problem comes up, you can create a video with the solution,” he said. “That can then be matched to the equipment or process, and it can be easily discovered for anyone who needs to use the solution at some point in the future. Capture the knowledge, share it, and make it easy to apply.”
The workplace challenges created by a shrinking workforce and skills gap may seem insurmountable. But developing new and more effective training mechanisms like those presented by LeClerc can go a long way toward making the process less expensive and painful.