Developing Your Manufacturing Talent

Marc Leclair - Vice President of Operations
Written by Marc Leclair - Vice President of Operations
Posted on September 1, 2017 at 3:26 PM

How do you ensure that your manufacturing talent is an asset to your business? Consider a typical manufacturing organization. Qualifications for many entry–level shop floor positions are modest. New hires range from novice all the way to seasoned manufacturing professionals with specialized skills.

Sometimes it is an employer’s market and at other times, there is a scarcity of suitable job talent. In this ever changing environment, how do we keep the most ambitious, hardworking, and engaged workers?

Employee Assembling EC Motor with Fan Ring and Blade

Employee Assembling EC Motor with Fan Ring and Blade

 

In any labor market, manufacturers have the same responsibility to our customers. Imagine explaining to your customer “Sorry about the defective products, we are having a tough time finding good help”.

Customers quite reasonably expect us to produce quality products and to deliver them on time. In many industries, customers routinely expect six sigma process performances. Numerically speaking, that is less than four defects per million opportunities. This allows no room for on-the-job training.

We cannot wait for workers to get the hang of it as they become adept at their work assignments. Automation and improved work methods help alleviate these concerns, but there are many circumstances where our quality performance is literally in the hands of our workforce.

Orientation

When any new hire starts, on-boarding training is required. Workers need to know about certain procedures, like how to schedule a sick day, how to find the company phone list and so on. We must explain our policies to new hires, items such as the rules about workplace attire and cell phone use. New hires need these basics to become effective. At Epec, we manage our employee orientation through a workflow in the cloud, ensuring all new hires get the necessary training.

Job-Specific Training

Before a new hire can work productively, they also require job-specific training. Job-specific training explains essential tasks like how to assemble a product, inspect a component, or where to place nonconforming materials. The job specific training we provide depends on the employee’s job description and assigned work area.

At Epec, manufacturing maintains a whiteboard that displays worker names vs. completed training so we can easily ensure that we put the right talent on the right job assignment.

All of the training is mandatory and necessary to maintain process control and promote efficient operations. To be competitive and ensure top performance, however, we need more from our work force that perfunctory compliance to the rules. Even if we have a workforce that readily and cheerfully performs assigned tasks, that alone is not sufficient to be a top performer.

However, workers who engage in their assignments and respond to adverse conditions independently are invaluable. But how do we develop these workers?

“Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.
~ Peter Drucker

 

Career Progression

The best workers are deeply engaged in their work. They understand their job assignment and know how and when to execute their skills. It follows that as workers gain skills and responsibilities, they are more valuable in terms of decision-making, efficiency, and freedom from errors. Thus, they deserve more. This is a mutual benefit for employee, employer, and the customer.

The old method of career progression is called learning by osmosis. Employers expected workers to absorb knowledge by merely being around the skills and decisions that make a process run. The belief was that through on the job training and working in the process, an individual would learn job skills and become more valuable. Yearly, managers awarded raises and promotions largely based on seniority. But, systems like this are likely to cause complacency.

Skilled and knowledgeable workers are far more confident, productive and tend to make fewer naive mistakes. Put another way, an employee who knows what to do and how to do it is much more likely to take action. Compare this to an employee who works hard but requires continual prompting and direction as they go from one task to the next.

At Epec, we have a simple policy to reward career development. We call it do more/get more. Our policy is unique. We reward our manufacturing workforce as they become more actively involved in by making improvements in our operations.

Do More/Get More

In manufacturing, we provide incremental rewards to individuals as they gain skills and responsibilities that enable them to work independently on a widening range of tasks. For people entering the occupation with little experience, we offer foundational training on Shop Math, Blueprint Reading, Metrology, Safety, and Work Readiness. Also, many of our workers achieved certification on various IPC workmanship and soldering standards.

As workers gain these skills, they are compensated accordingly. At Epec, production workers who go to training, and use that training on the job, are likely to be part of our do more/get more program.

In addition to compensating individuals as they gain useable skills, we have a similar program for workers who take on responsibilities outside of their job description. Examples of payable responsibilities for production workers include quality auditing, administrating our equipment calibration system, or performing scheduled maintenance on equipment.

On the surface, this may not sound like much of a help. But as workers take on responsibilities outside of their job description, their perspective begins to shift. Workers, often for the first time in their careers, start to see how their actions affect others in the process. This experience is quite powerful and helps to feed many incremental improvement efforts.

Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?”
~ Henry Ford

Summary 

We observe that as workers gain skills and take on new responsibilities, they become more confident at performing a wider variety of tasks. Furthermore they seem to also become more adept at problem solving. Perhaps this is because along the way, they become much more aware of the needs of upstream and down stream process that they work in. As a worker gains more skills and responsibilities, they become more and more capable of working independently. So we at Epec are at odds with Ford’s quote above.

At Epec we nurture employee development. We value a workforce that has depth and breadth of skills that make us competitive. Workers who feel the connection between their individual success and the success of the business are an essential part of our competitiveness.


Topics: US Manufacturing


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