Training Case Study With Charlotte Pipe

Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting.

Like many metalcasting facilities, Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Co., (Charlotte, North Carolina) must balance associate training with production schedules, different shifts, and varying skill levels. Glenn Huneycutt, division training manager, oversees staff development of the metalcasting facility, and directs the knowledge transfer for new staff and seasoned employees.

Charlotte Pipe makes iron pipe and commercial castings. It employs 460 who work across three shifts. Charlotte Pipe earned the AFS Safe Year award—its second—in 2016 for going a consecutive 365 days without a lost-time accident.

Modern Casting spoke with Huneycutt about the goals and challenges of the training program at Charlotte Pipe.

MC: Glenn, take us through the training process of a new hire.
GH: For new hires, we block out a full day which includes an introduction to Charlotte Pipe, who we are, our history, the type of products we make, and how they are used in the industry. We also try to bring to the forefront how important each job is in the foundry as well as how important each worker is to the company.

In that first day, we take care of the HR paperwork and go through and make sure they understand the company handbook. Then we get into the safety aspect. We divide it into two parts. Part 1 covers personal protective equipment (PPE), machine guarding, walking/working surfaces, fire extinguishers, exit routes, and evacuations. We take a walk through the plant, we show them the areas they will be assigned to and after lunch we dive into the lockout/tagout program which is about an hour and a half. This topic is one that will be consistently used by workers, and we want to make sure they understand it is for their protection.

Toward the end, we wrap up with environmental information. Once we finish with that, we bring in the supervisor the new associate will be assigned to, and he spends 20 minutes of introduction about what time to come in and where to be the next day. Then they spend the last 15 minutes observing what they are going to be challenged to learn and expected to do. So they know what they can expect the next day.

On the second day, I meet the new associates and make sure they get to their assigned places and generally just talk with them for a few minutes to see if they have any questions.

MC: What about after those first couple of days?
GH: At around the 30-day mark, we have the new hires conduct hazard communication training and at the 90-day mark, we start doing vehicle training of industrial trucks.

As far as on the job training, we appoint seasoned workers within the given departments who are their tutor to learn the skills of that job from day 1 and they are pretty well connected to them for the first 30 days.

MC: Do you have different procedures for office staff?
GH: That first day new hourly workers in the office area, we go over our history, products, and HR functions and then give a short tour of the plant. After 30 days, we will assign them a schedule to visit the different departments in the foundry and spend 30 minutes to observe and talk with the supervisor to build rapport and learn the basics of those areas.

MC: What are Charlotte Pipe’s strategies for ongoing training?
GH: We have some extended training we offer to our associates that want to participate in furthering their education or skill levels. We work with area colleges, and we offer 100% reimbursement on tuition. They can do online classes. In some departments or positions, like a CNC machinist, we have a small pathway outline for them where they will attend a college program and go through CNC level 1 certification.

MC: What are the goals of training at Charlotte Pipe?
GH: We want the best of the best we can get. We utilize the resources externally and take all the internal provisions the company allows to make sure people know the sky is the limit in terms of learning. The other goal is on the compliance end for safety training. That’s a big part of what I do, mapping out a schedule to make sure that we do the compliance training on the scheduled timeframes. Some of it is annual or every two or three years, and we also have those situations where you have to do retraining when an individual goes from one department to another and we have a roadmap for that.

MC: What do you mean by roadmap?
GH: If a person goes from, say, a coremaker position to a molder position, for that molder position we have different training elements required for that job. A lot of the time, they already have the training, so it is more of a refresher training, if you will.

MC: What are the main challenges in training the staff?
GH: The biggest challenge for me, as well as, I think, for any other foundry, is the time variable—trying to work training in without disrupting production. You just have to slot in those 15- and 30-minute segments when you can. When you are working with 32 different departments, counting all three shifts plant wide, it can be a challenge to get all this work in. It really takes a lot of trial and error to get something worked out to where you can get these training sessions in. Our supervisors and managers give me great support when it comes to training. That’s what our success is built upon.

MC: You recently started a using an online training platform from the AFS Institute. How did you incorporate that into your training program?
GH: Yes we started the e-Learning modules from AFS three or four months ago. Like any other training, I began with an assessment to see what value it would bring to whom. For example, the Introduction to Cast Iron Melting module, I went through it on my own and assessed who it was going to benefit. I went in and viewed the content to see how it was organized, so I was the guinea pig. Once I built that, I developed an introduction to use our elearning platform, showing how to navigate it. They see that it is so user-friendly and the benefit in spending those 15 to 30 minute segments to complete those modules.

Part of the introduction is letting them know they may get started and then get called away but they can go back and restart where they left off. The way the platform is designed is very user friendly. They are able to print off the PDF of the actual module to keep and refer back to. I think that is something that is important. 

One thing I see as a huge benefit is that we have struggled in the past with knowledge transfer. When you try to transfer that knowledge, you are depending on the individual who has been doing it for “X” amount of years and they are explaining it their way and another person might explain it differently. We can transfer the knowledge consistently with the e-learning platform.

MC: Who has been able to use the modules so far?
GH: I have 18 different associates going through the modules right now. They have probably completed around 60 modules all together. Each associate has done two or three. Again, as part of the assessment, I took one of the iron control technician’s job and went through the entire list, to see which module would apply to that particular job. This helped me develop a spreadsheet as to which job title and which module would apply.

MC: What advice would you like to share with other people in the industry who are in charge of their plant’s employee training?
GH: Other than basic learning development skills, you need to have a good rapport with management and supervisors who you will be communicating directly to. You need to know the processes in the facility. It is beneficial to know the basic adult learning principles and be well versed in the various delivery methods, whether it is lecture, posters, or a program like e-Learning.

I can’t say enough for the support and resources the company Charlotte Pipe has given, which allow me to get the job done. You have to have not just a verbal buy-in but a tangible buy-in. So when the company provides the resources without cutting corners or minimizing the budget, you have the opportunity to do the job well.

More information about the AFS Institute e-Learning modules is available at The e-Learning modules are offered individually or through a subscription program available to AFS Corporate Members that gives access to all modules for all employees at the plant. Currently, 27 modules, which range from 15-30 minutes, are available, with more added monthly. The topics now available cover cast iron, aluminum, copper, steel, green sand and casting defect analysis.