How One Small Shop Develops Shopfloor Talent

Here are a few of the workforce development practices a 30-person shop uses to grow its own shopfloor talent while providing pathways to manufacturing careers.

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My column last month presented ideas from Mike Griffith, chief operating officer of Major Tool and Machine (Indianapolis, Indiana), about attracting and retaining shopfloor employees. Most of you don’t manage a 400-person operation such as that, so I thought it would be helpful to highlight the workforce development efforts of 30-person LeanWerks, located in Ogden, Utah. Like Mr. Griffith, Reid Leland, LeanWerks’ president, was part of a workforce development panel I moderated at our recent Top Shops Conference. Here are a few of that shop’s successful training efforts that he mentioned during our panel discussion, most of which required more of an investment in time rather than money:

  • Provide a path. LeanWerks’ Technical Excellence Training (TExT) program is the cornerstone of its workforce development approach. One of the first steps in creating this program was finalizing a 10-level career path and identifying course segments. New hires begin with a 90-day shop fundamentals course that explains what LeanWerks and the TExT program are all about, and it also introduces them to very basic shop concepts. They then begin the career development portion of the program, which starts with a machine operator course, but offers additional courses covering senior operator, change-over technician, programmer and process engineer. This program also includes courses for those who would like to become certified mechanical inspectors, quality technicians or quality engineers.
  • Use video. TExT uses a web-based learning management system (specifically, an inexpensive WordPress website with a LearnDash plug-in) to administer the program and present training lessons to employees. Many lessons include instructional video taken of actual LeanWerks shopfloor processes and practices to clearly outline the steps required to complete tasks safely and effectively. To date, the shop has produced more than 200 such videos for its TExT program. It hired an intern from nearby Weber State University who was studying multimedia journalism to film and produce the initial batch of videos. Videos are uploaded and accessed from Vimeo, a common video-sharing website.
  • Practice open-book management. OBM is a big part of LeanWerks’ culture and consists of three primary elements. The first is financial training, which explains concepts such as gross profit to operating expenses (GP/OE). The second is feedback with respect to business conditions, especially metrics such as GP/OE. That’s because this metric clearly shows days when the shop makes money (the GP/OE ratio is higher than 1), loses money (the ratio is less than 1) and breaks even (when it is 1). The third is profit sharing. A monthly GP/OE of 1.2 or higher means that month’s profits are shared with employees.