Empowering the Workforce Through Training: An Investment Return
Training is not shiny nor romantic. It doesn’t make the front page of the magazine, it’s not candy apple red, and, unless your executive team is enlightened, it can be a hard sell in the board room. However, lack of a robust and effective training program leads to underutilization and frustration.
Electronics manufacturers should take training seriously at all levels. To remain viable and competitive, it’s vital that they keep up with the latest technologies and practices in the electronics field. Perhaps more importantly, investment in employees keeps them engaged and excited in the performance of their daily work. People need growth to avoid stagnation and burnout. Learning new methods and being exposed to new ideas is pivotal to personal growth. A company is, at its foundation, little more than the people that work there. They are responsible for its gains or its declines. The stronger the foundation, the better to build upon.
MC Assembly has always been quick to recognize the need for up-to-date equipment and tooling in the pursuit of quality, throughput, and flexibility. The investment for equipment is often substantial and often, too little thought is given toward maximizing the productivity of capital expense. We leverage the opportunities provided us by our suppliers. The Florida facility runs multimillion dollar Universal Instruments surface mount lines. When buying these lines, we set aside monies to be used in training. That means sending engineers or maintenance personnel for training at their facility in Binghamton, New York, or bringing their trainers to our facilities to work with groups of operators on the production floor. It greatly increases our chances of using our equipment to its full potential. Likewise, we are in the process of upgrading our Aegis MES software package (FactoryLogix) and have scheduled multiple tiers of training for engineers, process writers, and operators who will be using the application.
With the help of a valued partner, Incito Consulting, we have recently completed, in our Florida and Massachusetts facilities, Incito Man training for all employees in addition to 150 employees that received this training in our Mexico facility. This program is an introduction to product flow, value stream mapping, and Lean manufacturing. Incito Man is a combination of classroom study and live, hands-on simulation. We train in groups of 25 employees selected from a variety of departments. They start in a classroom environment where they are given the basics of Lean. Then they’re brought into the live simulation room where they are instructed that they have to build 30 robots out of Legos in 15 minutes. The process they are given is heavily constrained and flawed.
Figure 1: MC Assembly’s Mexico facility team undergoing government certified electronics training course.
After 15 minutes, the employees have built somewhere between zero and three units. Often, there are defects in these units and employees are convinced that this is an impossible task. We review what went wrong and what went right with the round.
The responses vary, but typical themes are that the “stockroom personnel” are disorganized and that additional personnel are needed. The employees go back into the classroom and are shown how progressive build and better flow can yield higher quality product and more volume. Employees are shown the basics of creating a value stream map and will map out the Incito Man build. Meanwhile, the simulation has been reset and the employees are turned loose once again to attempt to build 30 robots in 15 minutes. They can move some of the processes, eliminating or reducing some constraints.
During this round, we typically get 10 to 12 units to our customer. As a group, we review cycle times and takt time requirements for the second round and discuss what went better during that round and what has yet to be improved. The third classroom session involves 5S organization and visual identification of product status. All constraints are removed for the third round and employees can reorganize the entire process.
It’s common that, by this time, the employees have streamlined the process to the point where they are able to free up some resources and build using less personnel (remember in the earlier rounds, when they thought that adding personnel was the solution?). Those that have been freed up from their tasks are assigned a “development project” building Lego dragons. The simulation is restarted and we nearly always get all 30 robots to the customer as well as five to 10 Lego dragons. Aside from being a great team building exercise, we’ve given the employees basic tools to make their job easier and their workplace, more efficient. Most employees can’t wait to get back to the shop and employ some of their new skills. It generates a ton of excitement for continuous improvement.
Several of our suppliers and customers have sent their own employees to participate in the Incito Man training alongside MC Assembly’s employees. Through this training, we hope to promote understanding and help bring up the level of those who provide service to us.
Incito Man training is given to all employees, as Lean can be applied to all aspects of our business. However, much of our training is more specialized depending on the employee’s job function. We provided Excel training for our production control, manufacturing supervisors, and process data management personnel. Although many of these employees had a firm grasp on the basics of Excel, they lacked some of the advanced training that allowed them to more fully use the software package and create shortcuts to make their job more efficient. Based on need, several went on to even more advanced training where they learned how to create macros and graph data for analysis purposes.
Figure 2: MC Assembly’s Mexico facility team with their certificates of completion from the electronics course.
We have multiple certified instructors of IPC and J-Standard on staff. They conduct classes to certify inspection and soldering personnel on site. Recertification is performed as required and the trainers are an available resource for clarification. They reinforce, daily, what trainees have been taught.
We are in close contact with the local colleges and universities. We help in training their engineering students through sponsorship of their senior design projects; sometimes, this includes as many as four teams at a time, providing them with projects and mentoring. In turn, we often receive assistance and the professors reach out to us with opportunities. There are many courses available that directly correlate to developing skill sets that are in high demand in our industry.
Repetition is key to proficiency in any training. Like any ISO or AS certified shop, we have an established QMS with procedures supporting specific functions. Around two or three years ago, we expected that we could hand an employee a written process, ask them to read it, and consider them trained, thinking they would follow what they had “learned.” We have since realized that it is more likely they had forgotten most of what they read by the time they clocked in the next morning. Breaking this material up into smaller portions and reviewing it on a regular basis creates a habit in following the procedure rather than a regurgitation.
Figure 3: Dan Prina leading a Kaizen training exercise at MC Assembly headquarters in Melbourne, Florida.
Our Mexico facility created a class in-house to provide a Six Sigma overview, which we termed “white belt”. This was an introduction to Six Sigma, where the tools of the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve Control) process are outlined. Even if employees are not developed in the use of these tools, they are now aware that they exist and can request additional training when needed. The Mexico team is now in the process of selecting teams for advanced green belt training for quality and product engineers.
Jose Santos, director of operations of our facility in Mexico, discovered a state-certified electronics course and had 20 employees train for and receive certifications. The payback on this was immediately evident as they lined up for a picture holding their newly signed certificates with beaming smiles. They feel worthy of investment and not just a name on an hourly time clock report.
Inspired by the initiatives shown in Mexico, the Florida team commenced on a journey to certify nearly a dozen employees in Six Sigma Black Belt study. This provides tools for statistical analysis of data and process improvement. It requires candidates to successfully lead a team through an actual project in Six Sigma process improvement. This is a train-the-trainer opportunity. Master Black Belts certify Black Belts, who can lead and mentor Green Belts, who can take their co-workers through basic waste analysis, elimination, and control.
Cross-training within our facilities is a mandate from our COO. Flexibility to perform multiple jobs gives employees opportunities to become more valuable to the organization. In this way, we can mitigate schedule risks caused by absenteeism or the departure of an employee. Cross training to eliminate a single point of failure is a benefit for the company and is rewarded during employee reviews. Tracking this training is performed by their area supervisor and training should be interdepartmental.
We spend a great deal of time outside of our facility, benchmarking training methods and ideas for best practice. Through this process, we have adopted the following beliefs and practices:
- Visually displaying training opportunities is important
- Employees made aware of what training is available often seek out training and thus training becomes pull instead of push
- It’s all too common to have a superstar in your employ and focus training and development on that person, but to be effective, training must be widespread
- We have created a tuition reimbursement program for personal professional development
- Supervisors must identify training needs and fill them. Someone, somewhere in your organization should be in training right now
- Let trainees become trainers. Nothing teaches like teaching
- Kata – train until a process becomes habit
Since the beginning of our Lean journey, over two years ago, we have initiated more than 50 kaizen events, carefully selected to make improvements that will contribute to our goal. Initially, these events were chaired and run and peopled by supervisors and leads, or engineers. And while these events were deemed successful, we have changed tack and instead now select participants who are users of the process under review. They are given the training needed to properly effect process change. This ensures the presence of a subject matter expert during the event and includes employees in the development of solutions to our everyday problems. In doing so, we are creating an army of problem solvers rather than a facility full of people waiting to receive direction from someone who may not be as familiar with the process as they are themselves.
The training becomes its own reword. We have a proverb posted in our Lean project-management office: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” One, two or 10 people cannot drive cultural change. It requires empowerment, engagement, and consistency until it takes on a life of its own. Our early events involved convincing and coercion of employees to attend projects. But given even a modicum of success, employees were ready to join the next team and often requested to be involved. When their co-workers saw the change, and heard the success stories, they too became willing participants in the movement.
Training allows employees a higher sense of self-worth. It gives them confidence and the knowledge needed to transform the world around them. It can eliminate the need for close supervision. It eliminates employee frustration and eventual disengagement due to feelings of being powerless to effect change.
Although it may be more difficult to measure, a well-trained and empowered workforce will do more to drive quality, cost effectiveness, and continuous process improvement than the newest, sleekest, and fastest automation on the market.
This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of SMT Magazine.