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On-the-Job Training

Clarence Trowbridge

I have visited 52 foundries in the past few months. I ask about training: How’s it going? What are your challenges and opportunities? How can I help?

Foundry leaders tell me training is going OK but could be better. Leaders are concerned their hourly employees don’t have broad foundry skillsets, and that experienced employees are retiring with little transfer of their expertise to their peers. Leaders worry about their company’s inability to capture
expertise and transfer that to younger employees. Training literature calls this “knowledge management” and apparently few foundries feel like they have a good handle on it.

Other leaders talk about “tribal knowledge.” They worry they don’t have enough documented/written
information to pass on to others.

And, most leaders say that employee retention is a huge problem. It is especially difficult for companies to retain their newly hired employees.

Let’s discuss “knowledge management” first. Some solutions may be closer than you think!
Does your company perform an investigation after an accident, a near accident or equipment damage? How about quality? Does your company investigate issues around quality excursions? How about productivity? If a foundry process is unproductive, due to an unplanned outage or other issue, you do take actions to find out what went wrong?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then some solutions to “knowledge management” may already be in hand. There is a new meme in leadership literature these days: “fail quickly.” The idea is that with failure there is an opportunity to learn. (Apparently, we are supposed to
fail quickly so that we can learn quickly.)

But only if you are deliberate and diligent about it! So, if after an accident your company performs an accident investigation then your opportunity is to document the results and embed the “lesson”
into your training programs. These “lessons” may be written or formatted differently than your current report, but the knowledge is there to be repurposed into your training programs. The idea is to learn from failure, and to capture that learning for future employees.

Most companies will take their written safety report and communicate the results to their employees immediately. What most companies don’t do is place this written knowledge into the training
programs for the affected jobs.

If an employee was injured while working at a particular machine, the lessons from that unfortunate accident can be documented and embedded into a training program. Every future employee working at that machine will then have the opportunity to learn the lesson. And that accident can be
prevented from occurring again.

The same can be said about quality excursions. Too many rejects? What happened? Figure it out, document it, and embed the “lesson” into your training program so that all future employees have heard the story. They won’t make the same mistake.

Now here comes the hard part. Many foundries do not have documented on-the-job training programs. So, the “lessons” from accidents, quality and productivity issues do not have a home or
platform within which to reside.

Let’s talk about on-the-job training programs and platforms. Structured on-the-job training is a
planned event supported by documented (usually written) content. This is usually a relatively small portion of the training program but is in fact the foundation. It should include a competency-based
qualification program, appropriate standard operating procedures, daily agendas and the written “lessons” from past experiences noted above 

Non-structured on-the-job training is opportunistic. This training occurs during the normal activities of the job. In this setting, the trainer (the incumbent employee) provides training for the trainee. Note that in most situations the primary focus of the trainer is the safe conduct of the job. The second focus is
to provide training. This training occurs opportunistically, as various tasks need to be performed.
During non-structured on-the-job training, the trainee is close to the trainer and attempts to learn as much from the trainer as possible. The trainee assists with tasks and when ready performs
the tasks (under the watchful eye of the trainer). This is often the largest portion of training by time.

On-the-job training at a task level should include structured training first (with the associated written task steps) and then non-structured training, which usually includes lots of hands-on practice of task performance.

To summarize, structured on-the-job training is:

  • Planned.
  • Documented content.
  • Usually, a relatively small portion of the training.

Non-structured on-the-job training of tasks during the shift is:

  • Opportunistic.
  • Unscheduled.
  • Unplanned.
  • Often, a very large portion of the training.

Your easy opportunity to improve knowledge management (and to capture the expertise of your retiring employee) is to embed written “lessons” (gleaned from investigations and other
project efforts) into on the-job training programs. This is the “structured on the- job training” noted above.

Interested in learning more? The AFS Institute offers an 80-hour onsite training program to teach your
employee how to develop customized on-the-job training programs.

Employee Retention

I’ll write about employee retention opportunities next time. Meanwhile, the AFS Institute offers a workshop called “Employee Retention” that shares a 7-item diagnostic tool, plus discussions
to identify opportunities for improvement and define a strategic plan.