Training isn’t free. Not only do you pay the training company (or other source), you (usually will have to) pay your employees to take the training. This may be a good investment or it may be a bad investment.
Suppose you send employees to a manufacturer’s training class. This manufacturer builds a specific production machine. They’ve held many such classes, and have had considerable student input. They’ve also put a lot of thinking into making use of the data gathered by their support staff. Consequently, they’ve come up with new diagnostics, revised the maintenance procedures, and developed a streamlined troubleshooting protocol.
So your trained technicians come back with this training you paid for. They don’t have the test equipment to collect the right diagnostics. The maintenance procedures “can’t” be changed (says Fred, a supervisor and the onsite “go to” guy for your CMMS). Maintenance has never made an effort to match trouble calls to those best trained or equipped to handle them, sticking with the old “whoever is free” method (if you want to call it a method).
This situation means the training dollars were wasted. But what if your trained technicians come back with specific recommendations on all of the items mentioned and you make the recommended changes? What if you set up your dispatch function with a matrix that matches problems to skill sets? What if, based on that training, you identify holes in other training? And in test equipment? You can see the difference between the two scenarios.
Just sending people to get training doesn’t necessarily produce the desired results. To get those results, you must (at a minimum):
- Target the training to your actual needs. That is, don’t go for a solution looking for a problem. Go for a solution to your problem(s). This helps create a mindset for fully utilizing the training.
- Have a plan for integrating the training and input from the newly trained before you send people to training. That plan must include a formal debriefing process, rather than a short discussion that’s incidental to everything else.
- During the debriefing process, make an action list for follow-up. Be sure to assign responsibilities, or those items will never get done.
- Discuss with the newly trained what gaps there are in making use of their training. Having the right test equipment is often a big gap. If the training center taught them an effective methodology that requires a power analyzer and you expect them to implement that with only DMMs, you have a problem.
Now, all this assumes you are picking the right people for a given training class. You can’t train everybody in everything, nor should you give a few people all of the training. Nor should you try to make a “general expert” out of anybody by dispersing unrelated training in a person’s training profile. All of these strategies produce suboptimal results, basically wasting much of the training dollar you spend.
Let’s look at why these commonly used strategies fail, and then at a better way to do it.
- Train everybody in everything. This simply does not scale. There’s not enough time or money. Despite this, some maintenance departments make a list of skills and want everyone to (eventually) complete that list. Among other things, it fosters a “once trained, always trained” attitude when, in fact, training must be repeated and updated for a person to stay qualified in a given area.
- Give a few people all of the training. This has many drawbacks, including the fact it’s unfair and tends to create resentment among those not sent to training. From a response time standpoint, it can be profoundly negative if your PLC guy is also your thermographer, your robotic welder system guy, your motor guru, and the only person trained on your four most critical lines. Each of these areas needs its own expert or two.
- Make a “general expert” out of anybody. This strategy is based on the idea that you are better off to train someone 80 percent of the way in everything rather than training him 100 percent in whatever training he receives. One problem is that the remaining 20 percent is what's usually most needed.
A better way is to map out what skills are needed to maintain the equipment you’ve got. Group those skills into themes of highly related skills. Then, based on the actual maintenance load, decide how many people you need to properly cover each theme. Figure out from existing skills and interests which people are the best match for each theme. Try to spread this as evenly as possible, keeping in mind that you don’t want limited resources (e.g., your two PLC experts) being tagged simultaneously for failures from other causes (e.g., motor controls).
If you build a training matrix on a spreadsheet, you can see at a glance who is slated for what training. You can also create reports and do some analysis, especially if you add in the cost of training and the cost of the downtime it will reduce or eliminate.