Focus on continual and excellent training to keep maintenance in top form

May 12, 2005
Contributing Editor Keith Mobley, CMRP, tells why the best way to keep your maintenance operation in peak form is to focus on continual and excellent training.

Few plants have any reasons to be satisfied with current performance levels. Without substantial, sustainable performance improvement, many simply won’t survive. Continuous improvement is essential for long-term viability.

Training is a critical part of an improvement program and any performance-management program. Many limits to plant effectiveness are the direct result of insufficient employee knowledge about their jobs, its role in plant performance, practical job skills and basic decision-making processes. These shortcomings affect machine and process operation; maintenance, resource and business planning; machinery design and selection; purchasing methods, as well as management methods.

Any performance improvement must kick off with a comprehensive skill evaluation to guide the training program that arms workers with the practical skills required for each job in the plant. Continuous education should be a major part of the plan. Give each employee a clear and complete knowledge of the job at hand and how it contributes to overall plant performance.

Employees must understand clearly their role in the organization structure. They deserve a well defined job description that includes the duties and tasks required to complete a given function effectively. This may seem trivial, but few plants have viable job descriptions. In fact, many, including industry leaders, don’t have any. The result is inefficiency, errors, inconsistent employee relations and other failures that affect plant performance directly.

Employees can’t work in the dark. They have a fundamental need to know the criteria you will use to measure their performance. Otherwise, they can’t be expected to measure up to your expectations or to provide a consistent, positive contribution to plant performance. Define evaluation criteria clearly and be consistent throughout the organization. Constantly evolving performance expectations and fluctuating criteria for measuring it are primary sources of poor performance.

Every employee, from senior management to the newest hourly employee, should have at least a basic understanding of how critical plant manufacturing or production systems work. This is especially true for the management group. Ignorance of the system’s acceptable operating envelope prevents managers from making the rational decisions that provide for equipment optimization.

It’s inconceivable to me that anyone could expect an employee to excel or achieve full potential without a concerted effort on the company’s part to provide the requisite skills. If one accepts the premise that the only way a business entity can achieve sustainable world-class perform is through highly skilled, motivated employees, why do so many fail to train the workforce? The reasons we hear are many.

No budget: The No. 1 justification is a lack of training budget, an excuse that is probably invalid in most cases. There’s no reason a company should have to make training a budget line item, given the options available. Six federal acts provide funds for workforce retraining. Individual states administer these funds, which are available to any nongovernmental entity wishing to improve or change employee skills.

Experienced workforce: Many executives believe their employees already have the needed skills. Even if the current crew has the skills, the workforce is aging. We can expect to lose as much as half of them to retirement within the next five years. Unless plant executives invest in training the younger members of the workforce and develop a training plan for new hires, the storehouse of skills that has kept the plant in business will simply disappear.

No time: Unlike budgets, this justification may be real. Many plants have already downsized to minimum functional staffing levels. As a result, it’s difficult to remove workers from their normal jobs for training without bringing some part of the plant to a grinding halt. Plants that operate this way face serious challenges. They must either bring in contract labor to backfill for employees in training or make a business decision to curtail some part of the operation in the short term to gain substantially higher long-term benefits.

If you think training is expensive, look at the cost of ignorance and its effect on your bottom line. It’s not an option; we must have a trained, motivated workforce to survive. Training is the only sure way to ensure your company and our society will survive and maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Contributing Editor R. Keith Mobley, CMRP, is principal consultant at Life Cycle Engineering in Charleston, S.C. E-mail him at [email protected].