Training Is Hard, But It’s Also Soft


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There is a disconnect in many manufacturing companies. This article is not about that disconnect, but rather a topic that gets clouded and the objectives made more difficult by that prevalent disconnect. Business owners, vice presidents, and operational executives are expected to have a vision for the company strategy. But what is not always fully known is the broad strokes of how to get there.

The result is that these businesses can’t effectively communicate company vision to the tactical team they have employed to ensure the proper execution of the day-to-day tasks. Too often, these teams are left to focus on the immediate needs of today. The constant call for operational metrics—too often focused on the bottom line—draws the attention away from long term investments that will most likely have the greatest overall impact on the bottom line. This investment is one that will increase the value of the most valuable asset of the business, which is human capital. The investment is training.

In my job, I’m in a position to have conversations with dozens of EMS and fabricators as they book their employees in for IPC certifications and recertifications. Customer requirements demand that they employ certified technicians. But what about those skills that are not “required” by their customers? What about communication and team-building skills and customer service or time management? I have worked in and served industries with the most stringent of requirements like medical, DoD, aerospace, telecommunications, and automotive, and I have never seen a requirement for soft skills training or training of support job functions for employees. The question is, “If it is not required, does it merit our attention?” The answer is that it absolutely does because it benefits the bottom line.

It is no secret that more efficient operations yield better profit margins. Operations managers endeavor on a daily basis to improve processes and find other means to optimize. Oftentimes, this is done through the application of more efficient machinery and equipment. Other times, it is accomplished by removing redundancies in the workforce. All too often, we overlook the opportunity to make our workforce more effective and efficient through the proper application of training, but why? Well, for one, it’s difficult to measure. In a metrics-centric world, we prefer direct correlations. We like it when the new machine is two times faster than the old one or uses 75% of the process inputs for the same output.

Training our employees in soft skills, such as leadership skills, communication, conflict resolution, and reinforcement of general math, unfortunately, does not directly correlate to our production metrics. There are, however, several proven results that come from investing in training your employees, including attracting and keeping great employees, creating promotable employees, and keeping employees engaged. Disengaged employees can be poison in the workforce. At best, they are unproductive. At worst, they can actively work against the company and damage the culture that has been put in place. There is one more key aspect: It forces you to look to the future. There is a correlation between forward-thinking employers and successful employers.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the December 2020 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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