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How to Use Training Within Industry to Build a Lean, Mean Manufacturing Workforce

August 21, 2019


It’s a Catch-22 for a manufacturing supervisor: You need to train new hires properly to master the skills for the job, but your own daily job duties can’t wait. Putting time aside to train workers is especially challenging if you’re a small to medium-sized manufacturer (SMM) with tight, daily deadlines.

“I want to make time for training new employees, but how am I supposed to do that and do my job? How am I supposed to deal with line problems and train someone new at the same time?”

As a process improvement coach with the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, I hear concerns like these all the time from SMM supervisors, who have been forced to train new employees while trying to do their own jobs.

But putting off training is like postponing the oil change on your car even though the sticker in the corner says your odometer is at 55,000 miles, and your oil change was due at 50,000 miles. You can probably put off the oil change and drive a couple hundred more miles, and the car will run just fine. Then it’s another 200 miles, and you think, “OK, I can keep doing this for a while.”

Every day you drive that car, a little more dirt will get into the engine. Eventually, the car won’t run anymore. That procrastination has a domino effect similar to putting off training. A manager may postpone training one day or even a week because a big shipment is due. Of course you shouldn’t ignore that shipping deadline. But if you continue to delay training, eventually you won’t have the people to run your business efficiently.

When I encounter manufacturers in this situation, I ask them, “What if you could complete in-depth training in half the time of your current process, without production disruptions?”

Equipping your workforce quickly with the skills they need to outproduce the competition begins with TWI, which stands for training within industry.

TWI: Teaching the teacher

TWI was developed during World War II to quickly and consistently train the “Rosie the Riveters,” who were new to the world of manufacturing. This rapid and consistent approach to training enabled U.S. industry to out-produce the enemy. In essence, TWI transformed U.S. manufacturers into lean, mean production machines to help win the war.

Today, these fundamentals are used to reduce training time and improve production processes. Long-term, this training process is designed to create a culture of respect, solid communication, and cooperation—for bottom-line results. When I help manufacturers adopt TWI, I give supervisors and subject matter experts specific steps to give their people the training they need to do their jobs well. TWI teaches how to teach each step in the learning process and how people will learn each step.

Some people think of an old Chinese proverb when they hear about TWI: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

But it really goes way beyond teaching one person to “fish.” TWI establishes trust that builds relationships. Supervisors are given the time and resources to become excellent instructors.
TWI can:
• Provide manufacturing subject matter experts and supervisors with the tools they need to quickly and consistently train new employees.
• Help cross-train existing employees, so instead of just supervisors teaching employees to fish, the entire workforce learns how to fish more efficiently.
• Establish the best way for each unique manufacturer to train its people and create a new work culture standard (how everyone works together).

To break it down into bottom-line basics, companies that have participated in TWI have seen the time to transition new hires into productive workers cut in half, with immediate reductions in scrap and rework. It doesn’t take long to see morale and turnover improve among new and experienced employees.

Successful TWI begins with mastering the right training tools:
• Job relations (JR)
• Job instruction (JI)
• Job methods (JM)

To lay the groundwork for TWI, you first have to learn how to build trust through job relations.

Job relations: Clearing training roadblocks

Job relations teaches supervisors how to build positive employee relations while increasing cooperation and motivation. It fosters more team-oriented behavior where individuals treat one another fairly and with respect, and results in workers who care more about doing the job right than doing it their way.

Job relations begins with trust. Without trust in the workplace, nothing is easy. Getting work done becomes an uphill battle.

Let’s pretend I’m a supervisor teaching you. I’m going to start by quickly showing you how to do a certain task; then I’ll leave you for a while to do my job. The training was impromptu and hurried, and now I’m not available, so you will have to figure out how to do the job on your own. You may feel like you’re doing fine, but you’re probably not doing the job the fastest or safest way, and you may not be producing the best quality product.

When I finally come back and try to reinstruct you, it’s too late to correct the bad habits you’ve developed. You are actually offended when I try to tell you that what you figured out on your own is wrong. Now it’s a challenge to get you to do the job correctly because I let you learn it “your way.” Bad habits are so hard to break!

With job relations training, I understand how important it is to build a relationship of trust with you, so I would have given you the necessary training to set you up for success. Before I trained you, I would have already learned how to teach step one of running the line and how you would likely learn that step. Teaching you a valuable skill would build our relationship of trust.

Job instruction: Developing the right teaching skills for consistent learning

Job instruction standardizes how jobs are taught and teaches supervisors how to train employees to perform a job correctly, safely, and conscientiously. This process benefits the manufacturing bottom line because supervisors spend less time repeating what they know to the new hires and less time fixing new employee mistakes.

Once the supervisor has mastered the fundamentals of job instruction, teaching becomes more effective and efficient than the typical “follow me and do as I do” method. When a new hire simply follows the supervisor around, the learning experience is not scripted. Their learning experience is based on what production duties the supervisor was challenged to finish that day. So, if the conveyors aren’t running well that day, or if there is a problem with the feed line, then that’s what a new employee will learn that day—not necessarily the skill sets the new person needs to do her job.

With standardized job instruction, on the other hand, the supervisor has defined steps to give new hires and other employees the training they really need.

Job instruction closes the TWI process loop by:
• Providing a methodology for training standardization
• Teaching skills faster, better, and more consistently from learner to learner
• Reinforcing the trust relationship, so that after the employee masters the job, he can trust others to communicate effectively in a team environment

Job methods: Building the foundation for training success

Job methods provides a proven methodology for removing “waste” from processes for both supervisors and operators.

For job methods to work, you have to be open to change. Job methods is based on small, incremental changes for continuous improvement, similar to rapid plan-do-check-act cycles in a Toyota Kata philosophy. It also incorporates some lean fundamentals, where we’ve learned that some of the best ideas come from people who do the work.

But lean often lacks the culture of trust that encourages employees to share their ideas. TWI removes obstacles like distrust during the job relations phase, which is critical for making workers feel secure enough to offer new ideas and be open to small, incremental changes via job methods.

Because job relations has established trust, employees feel more in control when changes are made in job methods to increase workflow and improve quality and safety. These process improvements can proceed without major disruptions to production. The result is increased work collaboration without the fear of rejection or embarrassment.

TWI: Giving small- to medium-sized manufacturers a competitive advantage

TWI creates a work environment that actually reduces overhead by eliminating costly employee mistakes and improving production safety. It helps top-level managers, supervisors, lead people, and other employees adopt leadership behavior. Imagine a workplace that encourages mutual respect! TWI eliminates the challenges caused by mistrust, so the work just gets done.

TWI builds:
• Employee cultivation
• Improved morale
• Better communication
• Teamwork
• Increased workflow

Any SMM can quickly adopt TWI to help it gain a competitive advantage over larger industrial players without more spending on training programs. To get started, management creates a plan for about two months out with designated training time built in every week for supervisors or subject matter experts. By following the TWI framework, employers can take employees from zero experience to full proficiency in half the time.

TWI gives supervisors the tools they need to do a great training job so that they are more confident, employees become more engaged, and companies save money in the long run. That’s three good reasons why upper management needs to quit putting off that oil change!

To learn more about how TWI can benefit your operation, contact us today!

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About the Author

Susan Whitehead

As a Process Improvement Coach with the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP), part of the MEP National Network, Susan Whitehead helps manufacturers implement lean and quality-improvement tools to their competitive advantage, including Training Within Industry (TWI). She shows companies how to use TWI tools such as Job Relations (JR), Job Instruction (JI), and Job Methods (JM) to develop employees to share their knowledge, build cooperation and teamwork, and improve processes to become employers of choice.