This piece was originally published in the October 2016 issue of electroindustry.
Tyran Terrell Jr., Business Development, Training Services, Siemens
We often hear things like, “Our employees are our most important asset.” If that’s what your company believes, ask yourself what you have done lately to keep your most important asset performing at its best.
As manufacturing technologies evolve and improve, their implementation often results in greater productivity. For example, a new controller for a machining center can extend capabilities and increase production rates. The key to production, however, is for employees to create a parallel path of knowledge improvement so their capabilities align with the latest technology upgrades.
When manufacturing employees learn and apply new skills, productivity rises. They may accomplish more complex tasks and operate new technology more efficiently. These are good things, but greater benefits emerge when people improve their ability to think through complex situations and solve problems. With repetitive tasks increasingly performed by automation, the greatest value for human workers in manufacturing is their ability to analyze and see areas for improvement. While individuals can learn by observation and innate intelligence, the process may be slow.
Helping people learn new skills and develop complex problem-solving abilities requires a combination of education, coaching, practice, and ongoing reinforcement.
Building programs to improve employee capabilities can be a daunting task; like manufacturing processes, they have to be effective and efficient. Few companies can take people out of the plant for weeks or even days of classroom training. Fortunately, just as manufacturing technologies have advanced, so have educational tools. Siemens, for example, developed a comprehensive curriculum designed for manufacturing personnel using a variety of learning modalities.
Companies launching a comprehensive initiative begin by aligning their people against the tasks necessary for the process or operation. They may ask customers to identify where weaknesses exist and what skills need to be developed. Specific results can be set for the program so effectiveness can be evaluated, similar to an investment in new equipment or processes.
When skills gaps are identified, technical learning plans can provide effective ways to enhance workforce skills with minimal disruption to day-to-day operations. Educational programs typically include
- instructor-led sessions, online or onsite;
- self-paced online lesson plans;
- sessions with hands on simulation either online or with actual equipment; and
- video libraries for supplemental material or refresher sessions.
All of these are available and can be assembled in any combination to maximize effectiveness. If a group needs to quickly learn how to work with new equipment, an intensive program can be designed. For incremental changes, a self-paced program can move steadily over time with the least disruption to production. As each learning objective is accomplished, each individual is tested to determine retention. Refresher programs may be designed to reinforce new skills.
As education continues with each technological advancement, workforce improvement becomes an everyday part of the processes. Equally important, employee engagement increases when a company continually invests in skills development, ensuring a stronger future for employees and the company.Read the October 2016 issue of electroindustry.