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It is the perfect storm: an aging workforce is retiring in the midst of a soft economy where many companies have paused, if not altogether halted, their maintenance training efforts. Meanwhile, a scarce, newer, and younger workforce is entering the marketplace largely untrained and yet responsible for maintaining the most complex and expensive equipment with less scheduled access to these assets than at any other time in history.
With the baby boomer exodus occurring, The Great Resignation era taking place, and the looming forecasted shortage of skilled workers (which is staggering), it is imperative that maintenance personnel are trained to reliably maintain their critical equipment and processes. If the younger, largely inexperienced, and undertrained maintainers do not obtain the skills necessary to quickly and accurately diagnose, repair, and maintain critical equipment and processes, companies will pay an incredibly high price in terms of lost production, materials expenses, customer satisfaction, reputation within the market, and overall profitability.
For more than a decade, there has been a void in the American maintenance training landscape. Many organizations eliminated the dedicated maintenance training roles, delegating those under-valued and often overlooked responsibilities to the maintenance leadership personnel or, in some cases, to the human resources staff. In either case, it has resulted in a neglected effort in performing any consistent and effective training for the majority of maintenance personnel.
Like most successful resolutions, the approach to develop an effective maintenance training effort requires a vision of what good looks like and is coupled with a commitment to ensure the solutions are implemented completely and in an innovative manner that measures the sustainability of the new training program. This is absolutely not the time for adopting a “shotgun” approach to maintenance training.
This paper focuses on sharing insights into developing an innovative and effective maintenance training model.
In addition to investing in your site’s greatest assets (your employees), training will impact workplace safety and reduce Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), resulting in less equipment downtime. Further benefits include using fewer spare parts, reduced re-work, greater maintenance productivity and performance, and longer asset life. Additional advantages include improved employee engagement and retention and increased job satisfaction and morale.
It is imperative that the industrial and manufacturing community change their perspective on the importance of craft training and realize they can never operate as cost-effectively and reliably without investing in their maintenance and reliability personnel. That does not mean just throwing dollars at a training program. On the contrary, it means that a thoughtful, innovative, and strategic maintenance training process should be developed.
The following 10 elements comprise an effective maintenance training program:
1. Training Needs Assessment:
Little effort has been expended to ensure maintainers have been trained to accurately diagnose and remedy recurring asset care issues, and seemingly less effort has been spent in identifying the unique skill sets required to properly maintain a site’s specific critical assets and systems.
It is important to start with an objective Maintenance Training Needs Assessment (TNA) that focuses on key areas to address in developing your comprehensive maintenance training effort. At a high level, the TNA encompasses six key areas:
You are now armed with the appropriate information to identify which skill sets are required to maintain those identified critical and frequently failing systems and assets. Although there are over 60 industrial and manufacturing skill sets required, it is beneficial to identify the top 10-20 at your site to begin focusing on.
2. Job Task Analysis:
Once a TNA has been performed, it is time to conduct a Job Task Analysis (JTA). A JTA will assist in further defining the critical skills you need to develop at your site.
By conducting a review of the preventive maintenance activities, job plans, work instructions, Failure Modes, and Effects Analysis (FMEA), reliability-centered maintenance studies, and Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) investigations performed on critical plant assets, you will identify specific skills required to perform maintenance or repairs at your site. This information should be used to round out the top skill sets to be developed at your facility.
3. Employee Skills Analysis:
Once you have identified the prioritized skills required to properly maintain your critical processes and assets, it is time to find out how the current team responsible for possessing these skills is equipped.
Although the mention of conducting skills assessments can be met with varying degrees of interest and support, it needs to be clear that the intent is not to perform a witch hunt in an effort to “slap someone’s hands” if they do not test in the range required to perform accurate, safe, sustainable work done right the first time. Instead, it is to ensure that the investment of future training time and funds are properly spent. Remember, if you or I were paying for the team’s training, we would want to ensure we are spending that investment in the right areas of developing competency.
You may also get some pushback in job descriptions. If your current position descriptions are too vague or outdated, they may need to be addressed before pursuing the skills assessment. It only makes sense to correct these before moving forward.
There seems to be a consistent debate on the value of paper or online testing vs. the expense of demonstrating proficiency on field simulators. That is a consideration you will want to give some thought to. The prevailing mindset is to use online skills testing for basic competencies and save the select few (and more expensive) testing on simulation equipment for more highly developed disciplines.
4. Scoring and Gap Analysis/Learning Development Mapping:
Once the agreed-upon skills assessments are performed, it is time to review where the training opportunities reside and map out a training mitigation plan. Ideally, this is done by person rather than by craft. If, however, your organization is too large or does not allow the individuals to be specified, the next best option is to develop the learning plan schedules by craft (mechanical, electrical, etc.).
Efforts should be made to confirm the alignment between the recent low-scoring test areas and the specific future training that will be provided. Developing a realistic and customized training plan is important. Don’t be too aggressive in scheduling time for training, and do not forget to notify the maintenance scheduler(s) about getting this training into the maintenance techs’ calendars.
5. Scheduling Tool and Tracking Software:
Based on the size of your maintenance staff, you will want to consider adopting the use of a scalable Learning Management System (LMS) to schedule and document actual training events per employee or craft. This electronic repository is ideally suited to capture the details of the site’s maintenance training program and serves as an excellent source of documentation for site leadership or for organizations affiliated with regulatory considerations.
Typical elements present within an LMS include:
6. On-site Training Area:
Where applicable, it may make sense for your organization to develop an on-site training area to store training materials and provide a dedicated place for certain training sessions to occur. This effort will range from identifying the optimum space and location of the area to encompassing the simulation labs, shelving, tables, chairs, computers, training materials, and check-out procedures.
Having a dedicated maintenance learning lab serves to emphasize the importance of training at your site. It also provides a quiet place to focus on course materials and exams. In addition, a dedicated training room provides an optimal place to perform contracted, instructor-led training events.
7. Training Vendor Qualification:
Based upon the outcome from the identified required future training for your site, the next step is to locate qualified maintenance training organizations and programs which leverage the best-of-the-best in each required training area. Although it is tempting to source just one or two training resources to complete this step, it will likely require utilizing multiple organizations to get targeted and effective training based on the various needed competencies to develop. Just be prepared that there is seldom a “one-stop shop”.
Although not all-inclusive, the following list is a good start to evaluating training vendors:
8. Training Coordination and Facilitation:
Based on the size of your staff to be trained, the organizational roles and responsibilities at your disposal and the robustness of the LMS you have in place, the level of effort to manage your training program to ensure it is effective and sustainable will vary. It has certainly been a noticeable trend over the past decade for the traditional maintenance training coordinator role to be almost non-existent. Keep in mind that if your organization is extremely lean, then contracting out this part-time effort may be a viable option. It is certainly better than allowing the training initiative to simply die out.
The essential element is that this function needs to be assigned to someone within your company that has the bandwidth to keep up with coordinating and overseeing the numerous training activities. Anything short of this translates to the entire maintenance organization being neglected and not receiving the right training on the right topics in the right order at the right time.
9. Training Metrics:
In terms of adopting training metrics, you may want to consider the following elements:
10. Reassessment and Training Value Identification:
Although you have likely accomplished a great deal of improvement in your site’s maintenance training program by this point, like any initiative that has been in place for a period of time, it is always a good idea to perform an objective assessment to ensure there are no gaps that need to be addressed. Remember, a large expenditure of time, effort and dollars does not guarantee success in every area. It is always wise to check and see which areas require a little more attention.
Conducting another employee skills assessment 18-24 months after the first one is also advisable. This will allow you to refocus on areas that still need attention and to celebrate achievements accomplished in the other areas. It is not realistic to assume that one pass at providing training after identifying skills deficiencies will get the job done. Realistically, it will require a few reassessments over the years before you can know with surety the workforce is adequately trained; and with technology constantly emerging, an effective Training program is a fluid one that is continuously improving.
A reassessment will also validate the effectiveness of your new training process and provide insight into areas to consider focusing on in the future. Best practices initiatives are typically dynamic.
Like most effective and sustainable initiatives, they do not happen quickly. Manage expectations by recognizing you did not immediately get in the position you are in, and so you will not “turn the ship around” overnight. Be patient, be consistent, and realize that developing life-long skills in your team members is one of the most respected and value-added achievements you can undertake. Stay the course, and may you reap the rewards of pursuing continuous improvements by implementing an innovative and effective maintenance training model.
Douglas Hart will be a featured speaker at the 2023 Reliable Plant Conference and Exhibition.