By Dusty Weis, Association of Equipment Manufacturers
A manufacturer wouldn’t build their product out of material they knew wasn’t up to spec, nor would they use machinery they knew wasn’t capable of the task at hand.
And, increasingly, high-tech heavy equipment manufacturers are applying that same mindset to the people who build their products, requiring more extensive in-house training for new employees before they ever set foot on the factory floor. While such training often entails an up-front outlay of effort and funding, companies like aerial work platform manufacturer Terex AWP find the cost is outweighed by the value of a deeper hiring pool and better quality control.
“Your proven method of accomplishing tasks should be your unique competitive advantage,” says Ernest Kandilige, Genie Training Manager at Terex AWP. “You’re never going to find shop floor-ready team members by the roadside. You have to be willing to invest in them.”
For seven years, the company’s Foundations training program has provided new employees with a level of education and training beyond the industry norm.
It was during the Great Recession's lull in production that Kandilige says the company reimagined its employee onboarding process in anticipation of a day when orders would spike and skilled labor would be more difficult to come by. Like many companies, he says Terex AWP expected new hires to have a basic familiarity with the tools and skillsets they would need to work on the assembly line, but was having a harder time finding qualified candidates.
“We used to bring team members on board with a day’s worth of policy and procedures from HR,” Kandilige says. “We hired them to go onto the shop floor and instantly become super stars. Well, it doesn’t work like that.”
So Vice President of Manufacturing Dean Wisler and other stakeholders from throughout the company set about designing Foundations as a week-long training program that would equip new hires to contribute meaningfully from the moment they stepped foot on the factory floor. The company invested heavily, not only in developing the training regimen, but in creating a physical space optimized for bringing large numbers of people up to speed in a short time.
The Foundations Workforce Development Program Model
The Foundations Lab features various work spaces where trained instructors demonstrate procedures and then supervise new team members as they try the processes themselves in hands-on simulations. The training is broken into six modules, Kandilige says, so that no matter what any individual’s job is in the manufacturing process, they understand their role as an important part of the larger value chain.
The six training modules include fastener awareness, pin installation, ring gear and tire installation, electrical wire harness component installation, hydraulics hose installation and decal application.
“Each module allows a new hire to operate that tool, whether it’s a pneumatic or an impact or just a regular wrench,” Kandilige says. “The same tools that are used in the Foundations Lab are used on the shop floor.”
Foundations instructors are certified in job instruction methodology through a partnership with the Training Within Industry (TWI) Institute. Specially-designed, camera-equipped training stations allow groups of trainees to see procedures from their instructor’s perspective, aiding in the learning process by lending a one-on-one feel while maintaining the efficiency of classroom instruction.
“Because if you stand in front of me and I’m simulating something, you are looking at it from the opposite side,” Kandilige says. “But if you stand next to me facing the same simulation, then you get to see it in the right orientation.”
After three days in the Foundations Lab, new team members are allowed to continue their supervised training on the shop floor for the rest of the week, where managers help hone their skills. But by that point, Kandilige says, the trainees have absorbed enough from their instructors that floor managers are not entirely consumed with their supervision, minimizing disruption to the value chain.
A Successful Workforce Development Strategy
The results were unmistakable after Terex AWP launched Foundations in 2010 at its factory in Redmond, WA. Within two months of its pilot launch, Foundations cut attrition among new hires from 55 percent to 15 percent. Minor workplace injuries, a common occurrence among new hires within their first 90 days on the job, dropped to zero. Ultimately, over a two-year span, employee turnover was cut in half.
“Those are the type of numbers that allow us to justify the continuous application of Foundations in our work environment,” Kandilige says.
Since its launch, Kandilige estimates that more than 6,000 new hires have gone through the Foundations program—up to 30 new team members per week. The company expanded the program and added training facilities to sites in Moses Lake, WA in 2012, Rock Hill, SC in 2014 and Oklahoma City, OK in 2014. Efforts are currently underway to launch Foundations at factories in Italy and China.
The program not only lessens the burden and cost of finding skilled workers, Kandilige says, but also increases the company’s flexibility for responding to production ramp-ups, as dictated by the seasonal nature of Terex AWP’s business. Fewer quality assurance issues and greater customer satisfaction also contribute to the return the company sees on its investment in Foundations.
As the company’s first training specialist, and someone who got his start with the company on its factory floor, the success of Foundations fills Kandilige with great pride. He says it exemplifies one of the organization’s key tenets—respect for its employees and an inclination to invest in dedicated people.
It’s a mindset that’s apparent in other aspects of the operation, including a willingness to develop new practices and procedures based on employee feedback. Kandilige says every Terex AWP employee, down to the person who sweeps the shop floor at night, is encouraged to submit ideas to make the operation more efficient and effective. A leadership team assesses ideas based on their merit, and awards employees the free time and resources to pursue the best potential innovations—some of which have eventually become standard practice at the company.
“As our former CEO would say, we don’t admonish those who fail, we admonish those who fail to learn from their mistakes,” Kandilige says. “If you truly operate in an environment of continuous improvement, you’re going to try some ideas and succeed, and you’re going to try some ideas and fail.”
For its part, you can file the Foundations program under the list of ideas that have succeeded at Terex AWP.
Dusty Weis is AEM’s strategic communications manager, covering the impact that new and emerging trends and technologies will have on the construction, agriculture and manufacturing sectors. If your company has a unique workforce development strategy, AEM may be interested in sharing it with AEM members. Email Dusty at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @dustyweis.