Building a Training Plan for Employee Development

Michael Meehan

Building a Training Plan for Employee Development

As maintenance managers and reliability leaders, it’s our responsibility to provide team member development opportunities. However, we often find ourselves in a situation where there is no training plan, few available resources (outside of an overworked HR department), and a shortage of skills.

Where do we start, and how do we get traction on this problem?

What tools can we use to help organize and prioritize our team development needs?

Assembling a Team

If we want to address training and competency-based learning needs, we first need all stakeholders at the table. There are many outside influencers that demand our team’s training time, including human resources, the safety department and top-level management.

We need to identify all training demands, including our own, and find a way to get it all done in an allotted amount of time. For companies of all sizes over the past five years, this optimal timeframe has been about 50 to 75 hours per year.

You will need to identify how many hours your organization already has dedicated to mandatory training for regulatory compliance, such as OSHA regulations, and evaluate how much time remains to develop your own training programs for your team.

To help you decide if the remaining time is adequate for your team’s training needs, consider utilizing the “learning days” model. This model, used by the top 25% of business performers in the United States, states that each employee should receive an average of seven days of training per year.  

Using this model, you can identify how much training time you have available and balance it against your training needs. This will likely leave you with a small amount of time to get your training done.

Now that we’ve found that precious training time, how do we decide what to use it for?

Prioritizing Training

When deciding what training to prioritize, you need to know two things:     

1. What skills does my team need to have?

2. What skills does my team currently have?

How do we determine the answers to these questions?

First and foremost, in the maintenance world, your equipment may be telling you what skills you’re short on. To reveal these training or skills deficiencies, have a supervisor, maintenance engineer, or reliability team member review work orders for recurring causes of failure.

If you identify equipment failures that point to skills deficiencies in any topic, such as bearing or seal installation or lubrication procedures, these should be high-priority candidates for dedicated training. Likewise, any task that has repeated re-work associated with it should be considered a candidate for additional learning.

But if we’re strictly talking about maintenance issues, why do we need planning help from a broad-based team?

Developing a Comprehensive View

We assembled our team to help us gain a comprehensive view of our team’s knowledge needs and to help us understand what skills they may or may not currently have.

The safety representative will have a clear view of the latest regulatory-mandated safety training that our teams must complete, along with any additional training that would be appropriate for our team’s specific activities, such as electrical work, rigging, or working in elevated or confined locations.

Our HR representative can provide us with job descriptions for each team member. This ensures that we evaluate and train them in the skills required to fulfill their job roles.

Top management can assist in identifying specific training that may be coming soon, such as those surrounding digital transformation or culture change initiatives.

Combined, these departments will help give us a holistic view not only of all the training we must ensure our teams receive, but also all the skills they are required to have.

But how is a maintenance manager supposed to prioritize all of this?

Creating a Skills Matrix

An excellent way to prioritize all of this information is by using a skills matrix, which can be built into an Excel spreadsheet. This matrix tool not only helps reveal which of your team members are most in need of training, but also which topics have the greatest learning deficits. This will help drive your training priorities.

A sample of a skills matrix is shown below.  

Start by creating rows for the individual skills required by your teams. Make sure to include a mixture of soft and technical skills. Next, create a column for an individual role and assign the required proficiencies under that column for each skill. In the adjacent column, list the individual who is in that role and assign them a proficiency level for each skill.

Continue across the spreadsheet until all roles and employees are recorded and their skills are scored. At this point, you may need to break your department down into a few spreadsheets depending on the number of employees you will be training.

Finally, it’s time to add up the total score. Dedicate the final column to hold your entire team’s score for a specific skill. In this way, you can see what skills surplus or deficit your team has as a whole. Then, for each person, add up their score from each row and place their total in the last row under their name. This will identify which team members are most in need of training.

The skills matrix allows us to prioritize our training to fill the largest skills gaps we have in a rational, needs-based manner. It also gives us a tool to identify which team members need the most training assistance to get to their required skill level. You can then tailor a training program to achieve your organization’s goals based on your largest skills gaps and organizational priorities.

Prioritizing Your Training Needs

Now that you have identified your key training needs, you can determine what priority you will put on meeting those needs. As with everything else we do, any safety-related training needs should be the highest priority and accomplished the soonest to ensure we keep our associates safe and healthy.

Our next priority should be our departmental-related training that addresses deficiencies, failure modes, and rework issues. Prioritize this training based on equipment criticality to ensure we focus on the most important assets.

Next, we need to support any training for new equipment, equipment upgrades, or outstanding maintenance bulletins. Finally, we should plan to provide continuing craft skills training for precision maintenance topics.

Again, how do we cram all of that in, much less manage to provide the training? Who is going to give that training?

Finding a Trainer

Consider what you have available in terms of time, resources, and “out of the box” techniques for getting training delivered to your busy workforce. Not all training has to be done sitting down with an instructor in a classroom. I have successfully used the “toolbox talk” or “skills and practices flyers” methods during shift turnovers to address important, but brief, topics, such as proper gear coupling lubrication.

Toolbox Talk

A quick, to-the-point chat that introduces a focused topic at the start of the shift to help set the tone for the day.
Source: Reliable Plant

Vendors can be a great source for training as well. They are often willing to sponsor “lunch and learns” to train your team on the parts and products they provide. Also, consider outside training providers who have large catalogs of in-person and online training, such as Noria.


In conclusion, you should make a reasonably accurate assessment of your training needs, prioritize those needs, and build a plan to start closing the gaps you found in your assessment. Develop your own internal and external resources to meet those training needs. Monitor your progress as you go, update your skills matrix, and at least once every year, identify your new training priorities and start all over again.

Continuous improvement requires continuous effort. Good Luck!

Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

About the Author

Mike is a reliability professional with over 40 years of experience as a maintenance technician, supervisor, field service engineer, trainer, reliability engineer, and manager. His career in mai...