Training factory floor workers quickly and effectively without disrupting operations and losing productivity are key priorities for manufacturers today. Unfortunately, the training method preferred by most manufacturers falls short on these objectives.
Seventy five percent (75%) of manufacturers rely on on-the-floor pairing to train new workers, according to a recent survey by Industry Week. That’s nearly four times higher than classroom and online training combined!
The appeal of this training method is easy to understand. On-the-job training, led by an experienced operator, enables new-hires to learn how to perform a task by “viewing and doing” directly on the factory floor.
Learning is not only more timely, contextual and meaningful, trainers often share additional nuggets of knowledge, like their personal experiences, insights and tips, that typically aren’t documented in official manufacturing training materials.
While experienced operators are a great source of knowledge and insight for manufacturing training, the downside is they lose productivity each time they are taken away from their jobs to be shadowed. So, it’s not surprising that manufacturers cite “scheduling” and “interrupting operators” as two of their greatest training challenges today.
Further, the information and instruction operators share during on-the-floor shadowing are often inconsistent due to differences in their experience, skills and unique learning instances, leading to non-standardized training of new-hires.
So, how can manufacturers replicate the effectiveness of on-the-floor pairing while ensuring training consistency and without taking skilled operators completely away from their jobs?
A 500-employee factory in the Netherlands that specializes in the production of medical nutrition asked this same question when it needed to optimize its manufacturing training to expand its operations from one shift to three, and onboard a new wave of operators.
In order to reduce the three-month overscheduled period typically associated with their on-the-floor shadowing, the manufacturer decided to use Poka, a web and mobile app to deliver the training right on the factory floor.
The app enables factory workers to easily capture, share, apply and manage its vast knowledge base in real-time. New hires can then access all training videos and materials, work instructions, trouble-shooting tips and other information they need to learn semi-independently at their own pace.
By adding virtual shadowing to their manufacturing training program, the manufacturer has reduced shadowing time and overstaffing costs by 40%, enabling them to train new-hires more quickly and with minimal disruption to its operations.
''New operators don’t need to learn everything during on-boarding because we are confident they can find it when they need it''
— Manufacturer Learning & Development Coordinator
Every workstation is equipped with a tablet containing a training program based on the skills required to safely operate the piece of equipment and according to standard. The new operator accesses their assigned training from the app and sees each micro-lesson to be completed in logical sequence to build their understanding of key concepts or match the order of the tasks to be performed.
Clicking on the micro-lesson opens a video demonstration or step-by-step guide explaining how to perform the task, enabling the operator to complete the lesson autonomously and at their own pace. The operator’s progress is tracked throughout the training indicating what lessons have been completed. When the new-operator is ready to shadow a senior operator, they are more knowledgeable and come prepared with questions, thereby reducing the shadowing period and improving its effectiveness. After the compressed shadowing period is completed, the operator takes the exam and requests an endorsement from a supervisor. The supervisor will audit the operator’s competence by observing the operator perform the task on the production floor.
Once the supervisor or senior operator confirms that the new operator has passed the lesson, the status of their training progress is updated and the operator can move onto the next lesson. For more complex tasks, the new operator can also be asked to practice the procedure for a pre-determined time or until the desired skill level is achieved.
During each lesson, the operator can also search the knowledge database for documented answers to any questions they may have that are not addressed in the training materials or use the integrated communications and chat tool to reach out for help to other operators.
Throughout the training period, plant and corporate management can monitor the progress of new operators and intervene as and when needed.
Today’s smart factory requires smart manufacturing training. That means keeping all procedures digital and people connected, including the training of factory floor workers. Innovative, new apps like Poka enable manufacturers to combine the best of both worlds: the effectiveness of traditional on-the-floor pairing with the efficiency gains and standardization that come with automation.