Knowledgeable and skilled factory workers are key to the success of manufacturing operations. But to perform at their best, operators need effective training and continuous skills development and support. While the majority of manufacturing training is delivered through on-the-floor shadowing and classroom instruction, some organizations are approaching it in a new way and seeing much greater success, including a 40% reduction in training time and cost.
This article explores what forward-thinking manufacturers are doing differently to achieve these impressive results.
While on-the-floor shadowing and classroom instruction remain the most popular forms of manufacturing training, according to a 2018 Industry Week Survey, organizations find these traditional approaches both impractical and ineffective. Shadowing, used by 75% of manufacturers, takes experienced operators away from their duties and risks producing inconsistent training and transferring bad habits.
Likewise, classroom instruction, used by 39 percent of manufacturers, is largely forgotten as soon as operators return to their workstations. This typically leaves them relying on written work instructions, which, more often than not, are incomplete, out of date, hard to access, and harder still to follow.
An alternative that yields better results is to provide on-the-job training by equipping operators with a tablet and presenting training guides and instructions directly at their workstations in the form of video micro-lessons. Serving up bite-size information enables workers to access lessons at the precise moment when needed so that they can quickly learn ‘in the flow’ and then immediately practice or apply what they’ve learned.
The benefit of this approach, explains a learning and development coordinator at a large medical nutrition manufacturer, is that operators don’t need to learn everything during on-boarding because “we are confident they can find it when they need it. ”By enabling self-paced learning, the manufacturer reduced shadowing time and related manpower costs by 40 percent.
In the same vein, Stephane Roy, operations support coordinator at Riviera, a Canadian producer of premium dairy products, finds this training approach effective because:
“Short videos mean employees can watch at any time, for simple reminders or execution of tasks."
Another benefit of using video micro-lessons instead of text-based instructions cited by manufacturers is that video is easier and faster to understand. This enables operators to master a new skill more quickly.
For example, Duvaltex, North America’s largest contract textile manufacturer, reduced the time to onboard new workers from eight weeks to four, while Canam, a steel components manufacturer, reduced the time it takes for operators to complete a training module by 15 percent.
“The video support allows us to eliminate a lot of confusion, loss of time and - above all - delays”, explains a plant controller at WestRock, a global paper and packaging leader.
Another advantage of leveraging mobile devices to deliver training is that operators can instantly access instructions when needed, and they are always up to date.
This enabled a leading confectionery manufacturer to cut the time it takes workers to find training materials and standard operating procedures by 80% and 90% percent respectively.
Contrary to what some might think, manufacturers are also finding video lessons quicker to create compared to written training content. In fact, Westrock and Barry Callebaut, one of the largest chocolate and cocoa manufacturers in the world, cut the time needed create training content by 50% compared to paper.
That’s because any experienced frontline worker or subject matter expert can pick up a tablet device and film a short “how-to” demo or video, whether that be an engineer, continuous improvement specialist or senior operator.
Of course, these manufacturers are still running their content through a formal approval process before it becomes the new work standard. But the point is that highly effective instructions and troubleshooting tips can be quickly and easily created directly right on the factory floor and without the need for Hollywood-style video production.
“Normally, we would write the procedure, but sadly the text format just created more noise around the procedure. A picture is worth 1,000 words,” explains a Plant Manager at Arcelor Mittal, a multi-national steel manufacturer.
By equipping factory workers with a mobile e-learning app that doubles as a communications tool, manufacturers have also succeeded in keeping management and workers digitally connected at all times and created a strong learning culture where everyone is continuously sharing and building collective knowledge.
Richard Bilodeau, continuous improvement manager at Barry Callebaut, explains how real-time communications in the form of a live “factory feed” is helping their workers to troubleshoot problems and keep a permanent record of the solution:
“Real-time input, in text or video format, are seamlessly transmitted to operators and maintenance teams for immediate reference and action, and simultaneously logged for later use. All this simplifies not only the daily work and cooperation but also the training of the employees.”
Arcelor Mittal is seeing similar benefits, according to their plant manager: “The video support helps us simulate the step-by-step process and troubleshoot easily. And what’s good with the factory feed is that the information stays. So we can go back and read or watch it again at any time. It’s easy to track with the reference number.”
Real-time communication is also helping a label and packaging manufacturer to improve worker cooperation and collaboration.“It broke down walls and silos in our company and (helps us) transfer knowledge more effectively amongst all employees,” said Jonathan Bourbonnière, President at Multi-Action
The technology responsible for these success stories is Poka, a web and mobile app designed specifically for the manufacturing industry to facilitate training, communication and knowledge sharing on the factory floor. In addition to delivering the already-stated improvements to their operations, workers recognize the value of Poka and are embracing the tool in their daily jobs.
“Everyone was on-board from the start,” said the learning and development coordinator from the medical nutrition company. “Operators are the most excited by Poka, because it really is their system. They use it every day. While management benefits by being able to see (what’s happening on the factory floor), it‘s really for the workers. Bringing this point home, Marin Rainville, Plant Controller at WestRock adds:
"Not only have we seen significant savings in terms of time, but our employees also feel that the training materials produced with Poka greatly simplify their work.”