Industrial employers are revamping their workforce training programs to remain competitive in a world of advanced manufacturing.

We’re Never “Done” Training

In the 1970s, the average manufacturing employee received over 100 hours of on-the-job skills training every year. Today, that number is closer to 5 hours – and it’s everything OSHA tells us we’re required to train. Why is there such a discrepancy?

The 1970s saw the 3rd Industrial Revolution: Automation. For the first time, computers entered the manufacturing scene. PLCs, robots and CNC machines changed the way workers did even the most basic tasks. 100 hours of training was a minimum to keep incumbent employees on track with the new equipment being used.

Those training hours waned, but now we’ve reached another milestone that demands we reskill our workforce: Industry 4.0. Our automated processes are getting smarter. Smart sensors, data analytics devices, predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence, extended reality, digital twins, cyber-physical systems…these are the emerging technologies that your workforce needs to understand to remain competitive.

On top of that, the skills gap means your workforce needs are growing faster than you can find people to fill them. If you’re going to be hiring individuals with no manufacturing background, you’ll need a turn-key training program.

Training shouldn’t ever end. Organizations with a culture of continuous learning will grow, adapt and thrive. But getting started isn’t always easy. So we’ve put together a set of guidelines for how to develop your workforce training plan.

Before you begin: Plan

Most training programs that fail began with great intentions and lofty goals, but no clear roadmap or way to measure success.

So before you begin drawing up a plan, make sure you:

  1. Collaborate: Organization leadership, human resources, department managers and team leads all have different perspectives and should be involved in the planning process.
  2. Get support: See what your local technical/community college offers in their Business and Industry department.
  3. Don’t reinvent the wheel: There are plenty of curriculum resources designed for industrial training.
  4. Plan, do, check, act.

Once you have buy-in from leadership and employees, it’s time to create your workforce training program. The following are the 5 keys you’ll need to craft a successful, long-lasting program.

The 5 Keys to Industrial Training Success

1. Scope

A great way to get started is to begin small. Start with a pilot group of individuals from one department, refine the process, then scale training to the rest of your employees.

Scope and sequence for workforce trainingTo begin, create a scope and sequence for each department. In other words, outline the specific competency areas and skills your employees will need for roles within that department. These could include…

  • AC/DC electrical
  • motor control
  • fluid power
  • process control
  • electronics
  • PLCs
  • …and more.

And don’t forget about safety, lean, quality assurance, measurement…

Then, organize those into a sequence of skills that build upon one another. This method creates a clear pathway and avoids resources wasted on overtraining.

Once you develop a template that works with your pilot group, you can replicate and tweak the process for each department. For example, your maintenance department will need a different set of skills than assembly or welders or machinists, etc. Each employee within those departments will also need different levels of training, depending on experience, role, goals, etc.

2. Relevant

Remove the waste of overtraining. There are plenty of skills you could train, but are they pertinent to this employee’s role and career pathway? Targeted training means you get the best return for the time your employees spend learning. It also means your employees get energized since they can take their coursework and apply it directly to their job that very day.

Speaking of relevant – make sure your training content is engaging and interactive. People who work on the industrial floor are often hands-on, kinesthetic learners. They won’t remember much if you sit them through a series of videos or presentations. Opt for interactive eLearning with skill interactions, virtual simulators, knowledge checks and audio cues.

Then,  add hands-on learning delivered on equipment designed specifically for industrial skills training. With this combination, your learners will easily make the connection between what they’re learning in the classroom and what they’re doing on the job.

3. Measurable

Shadowing incumbent workers is a good way to get a new hire comfortable on the production floor, but it can’t replace a data-driven training program.

Workforce TrainingHere are some ways you can track training data:

  1. eAssessment: Skill assessments determine where a learner is already proficient and where the gaps are. Now, you can train only where you need to.
  2. Pre- and post-quizzes: Pre-quizzes set a baseline, then you can track knowledge gained in each individual session with post-quiz results.
  3. Hands-on skills: Your employee just learned about series and parallel circuits. Now, he’s tasked with creating one of each to power a lightbulb on an AC/DC electrical trainer. This gives you immediate feedback for whether the skill has been mastered or needs additional work.
  4. Industry-recognized credentials: When your employees sit for and earn industry-recognized credentials, you can feel confident that your training program is effective, and your employees feel validation for their newly-earned skillset.

These data measuring practices are great for onboarding new employees as well as upskilling incumbent workers.

4. Milestones

Let’s say an employee has been working for you as an Operator for a year. Now she wants additional training to become a Production Systems Specialist – a role that comes with clear new responsibilities and pay. With a scope and sequence plan, you tell her it’ll take an additional 640 hours of training, with each hour broken down into specific modules of learning. 

Any employee will appreciate seeing the end goal and pathway to achieve it. However, 640 hours of additional training is going to be overwhelming for an employee. To help her feel that goal is achievable, add milestones along the way.

Micro-credentials are a perfect milestone. The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) awards specialist-level micro-credentials for really specific skilled areas. A micro-credential amounts to about 40 hours of training. And they’re stackable, so once your employee earns a whole set of micro-credentials, she can be awarded a full specialist-level Industry 4.0 certification to go along with her new role.

5. Adaptable / Flexible

Why do all the work of creating an employee training program when you offer tuition reimbursement?

The number one reason employees don’t take advantage of employer tuition reimbursement plans is that they don’t have the time. Rigid education schedules interfere with work, family, extracurriculars and the many commitments we all have on a daily basis.

Providing training at work will eliminate a vast majority of this obstacle. But we also know you can’t just shut down production for your employees to sit through 8 hours of training a week.

Instead, provide a flexible training schedule that can be done during dedicated hours at work and at home. Online eLearning provides just that flexibility.

Note: 2020 has brought about massive changes to education, forcing schools to find more flexible ways to teach. This has the potential for long-term changes to our education system, making courses at technical and community colleges more adaptable than ever before. This could be great news for employers to create new collaborations with their local college.

Just Get Started

Research, planning, testing…these are all important. But don’t let perfection be the enemy of your company’s progress.

Create a plan using the guidelines above, then just get started.