Career Development

A solid training program motivates your employees

A popular best practice for maintenance management is employee motivation. Sometimes the best motivation is a solid training program.

By Contributing Editor David Berger

During the past two months, we’ve solicited our readers for their best practices in maintenance management. One of the areas that invariably surfaces when you talk about best practices is the question of motivating employees to achieve greater levels of productivity. A key people motivator is training. Successful organizations spend time and money assessing the skills and competencies people require to do their work. Then, they help employees to address any gaps through a variety of training programs that depend on individual needs. Described below are examples of areas where training best practices can be applied.

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CMMS training: There are at least two types of training available from most CMMS vendors -- training on how to use the software and in maintenance management procedures. In theory, if the CMMS package is intuitively easy to learn and use, then a minimal amount of training is required. As usual, industry has coined buzzwords -- usability or user-centered design -- to describe the field of study related to the degree to which users will find a package to be intuitive.

Package usability is greatly enhanced by navigation aids such as look-ups, pop-ups, pull-downs, folder tabs, hot key links and drill-down capability. Usability also can refer to the package’s consistency and simplicity. Users expect a consistent look and feel throughout the package, minimal clutter and meaningful graphics. For companies that require heavy data entry, it’s especially important that screens are easy to use.

Despite the ease of use of many top-end packages, there still is some minimal learning curve involved. Thus, to accommodate new or occasional users of the software, most CMMS vendors ship software with a complete online help facility. Such context-sensitive help is especially useful in that it tracks where you are in the program and provides relevant help for that field, function, screen or procedure.

Once you’re in the help facility, the better packages provide such features as the ability to add text to the help or help index, extensive use of examples and bookmarking so you can return to a marked help screen. Procedural help is available on many packages for explaining how to complete a work order, handle year-end procedures, order parts and so on. Sometimes, process flow charts in graphical format show the actual workflow. A few higher-end CMMS packages automate this workflow.

Some software has a "coach" or "wizard" feature that displays focused help messages at key locations in the program to guide you through various procedures. These additional help screens can be turned off after the user masters the system. Online tutorials also are popular for giving new users an automated tour through the system, providing examples of how to best use the key features and functions.

The amount of training directly associated with day-to-day use of a good-quality CMMS is minimal, perhaps only a few days per user. However, it’s highly likely that training will still be required for start-up and some administrative procedures. Furthermore, because CMMS vendors and maintenance consultants have worked with so many different users, they can provide valuable training on how best to use the software to meet the specific needs of your environment. This training can be several weeks long, depending on the size, complexity and knowledge base of the maintenance and operations departments.

Maintenance procedures training: As a bare minimum, maintenance workers must be trained in proper maintenance procedures, including those involving the CMMS. Equipment vendors usually supply procedure manuals, on-site and off-site instruction, and training videos. On-the-job training and in-house videos are a popular means of supplementing the vendor-supplied training.

Supervisory training: Something sorely lacking in maintenance is supervisory training. Companies must realize that, for most people, supervisory skills can’t be learned solely on the job. Progressive companies send new supervisors to between 150 and 200-plus hours of mandatory training in the first year. Advanced and refresher courses are required in subsequent years.

Apprenticeship training: It always troubles me to hear maintenance managers talk about the effectiveness of the European apprenticeship system, and how much better trained are the European tradespeople. Why, then, has North America not fully embraced this approach if it’s so clearly superior? It’ll take concerted effort by management, labor, government and educational institutions to bring about improvements to the current system. A career in maintenance must be made more attractive if we are to satisfy the growing demand for skilled trades, especially in electromechanics and electronics.

Upgrade training: Many companies have established a hierarchy of skill and experience levels for each trade. The goal is to encourage technicians to upgrade their skill level on the job. For example, for mechanics there may be three grades (A through C), and three levels (1 through 3) within each grade. Each level increase may result in, say, a 50-cent increase in hourly wage. A C-1 mechanic may be someone from production who joins the maintenance department after showing an interest and a little mechanical aptitude. Some companies have prepared theoretical and practical tests for this purpose.

Formal training: Many companies will pay for an employee to take courses towards a work-related formal designation, certification or license. This makes good business sense if employees are willing to upgrade themselves on their own time, for the benefit of themselves and the company.

Functional cross-training: Multi-skilled technicians are valuable resources. A mechanic who also has welding papers, for example, is far more valuable than a straight welder or mechanic. Where possible, make use of internal resources to allow fellow technicians to train each other. Also, local colleges are usually happy to set up training courses at your site. Colleges can provide a train-the-trainer program or train the employees themselves. Of prime importance in ensuring the success of a cross-training program is providing incentives to the employees who participate.

Departmental cross-training: Although most employees and employers agree on the virtues of functional cross-training, the same can’t be said for departmental cross-training. Some companies have invested thousands of dollars in rotation programs that move technicians from one production department to another. In theory, departmental cross-training gives the company greater flexibility. In practice, however, people tend to forget if they aren’t using the cross skills continually.

Maintenance training for production workers: This area, by far, offers the greatest potential for this century. Some companies have reduced maintenance staffing levels by more than 20% as a result of transferring responsibility for inspections, lubrication, set-ups, changeovers and minor repairs to production workers. Savings stem from production’s better care of equipment, which leads to less downtime and a decreased need for maintenance workers. Transferring responsibility for maintenance to production is the cornerstone of total productive maintenance.

Safety training: Without exception, this area has the highest priority. Unlike some of the other areas, both management and workers must receive safety training on a regular basis, regardless of the individual’s level of experience. Production management and workers also must learn maintenance safety to prevent hazardous situations from arising.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger at david@wmc.on.ca