Take a proactive approach to worker education

Oct. 23, 2007
Most maintenance workers have received limited formal training and have huge gaps between what they perceive and what actually are best practices. Taking a proactive approach to educating workers can improve your career as well.

Have you heard about the city man who took a Sunday drive through the country to enjoy the fresh air and the scenery? A pickup truck came around a turn. As it passed him, a country woman rolled down her window and hollered out, “Pig!” He scrolled down his electric window, stuck his head outside of his luxurious vehicle and screamed back, “Wench!” Rounding the turn, he hit a pig that was standing in the middle of the road. The city man lost control, veered off the road, struck a tree and died instantly.

This is important and relevant to our crusade in fighting the Maintenance Crisis because not only is it important that more men to listen to women, but also that we not take feedback as insults, but as information to guide us forward on a more appropriate path.

While watching the History Channel, I learned that even Thomas Edison and other pioneers in wiring America with electricity 100 years ago didn’t invest in training for their workers. That’s why there was one death for every two line workers. Most of the employees learned the hard way not to grab live cables.

Today, it’s really sad that many companies still won’t invest in developing their most important resource. Most maintenance workers have received limited formal training and have huge gaps between what they perceive and what are actually best practices.

Many workers lack the fundamental knowledge to begin to grasp the complexity involved in electronic circuitry and advanced automation systems.

That’s why maintenance workers, whether our employers are enlightened or not, need to invest in ourselves, go the extra mile and truly become maintenance professionals.

There’s no traffic jam on the extra mile and if you apply the following principles, you can advance your career to higher levels of prestige and compensation.

  • Invest in your own career development. Get grounded in the fundamentals. Take courses at a community college or locate a fast-track technical training school such as the MPACT Learning Center (www.mpactlearning.com). Jim Thompson, maintenance manager at Energizer Battery, says that while his company excels in advanced manufacturing processes such as Six Sigma and Lean practices, it’s losing uptime because it lacks  basics like  good alignment practices and routine maintenance functions. If more of us mastered the core principles of maintenance, business productivity levels would soar. Therefore, it’s imperative that technicians get formal training in the fundamentals. Remember, it’s a portable asset you’ll be buying.
  • Become an industrial tourist. Are you working so intensely at your company that you’ve become oblivious to advances other companies are making? Learn from others’ successes and failures. The Association for Facilities Engineering is well known for hosting tours of fascinating locations such as nuclear power plants, aviation maintenance hangars, petrochemical processing facilities and even breweries.
  • Become a showcase customer. Develop strong relationships with your vendors that might want to pilot new products and tools. Get involved in your CMMS user group. It’s better to help develop new offerings that have your input than merely adjusting to what others hand you.
  • Read industry magazines as if they’re maintenance bibles. Years before textbooks codify new approaches to maintenance, most trade publications have already featured those topics. Also, many publications cover the latest technologies and products. So get ahead of the crowd by thoroughly studying industry magazines. John Schultz of Allied Services read every issue he could find of the industrial publications. By studying the wisdom of experts, he became one.

You probably have heard me scream, beg, even sing about increasing the population of future maintenance workers. And, yes, that’s important, but if the industry became more professional, we’d increase our efficiency and need fewer future workers. More importantly, our image would be elevated. More higher-level, youthful workers would be attracted to our profession, thus helping to resolve the Maintenance Crisis.

Fixing maintenance needs your help, so please join me on the Extra Mile. Next month, I’ll unveil more tips and would love to include some of your ideas. This article, additional links and future posts will be included on the Plant Services blog appropriately titled, The Extra Mile. Please visit and submit your suggestions and feedback.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].