Is 40 Hours Enough?

Are shops sufficiently investing in continuous training of seasoned employees?


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Like previous Top Shops benchmarking surveys, our 2013 survey (open through the end of February 2013 at this site) asks about the amount of formal training shops offer employees each year. Data from 2012 revealed that 45 percent of shops provided less than 8 hours of training per employee, 33 percent provided 8 to 20 hours, 13 percent provided 21 to 40 hours, and 9 percent provided more than 40 hours.

These values were surprising, and I’d bet Erick Ajax agrees. Mr. Ajax is vice president and co-owner of E.J. Ajax, a leading metal stamping and forming shop (with in-house tool-making capability) located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. E.J. Ajax requires that all employees—from president to new hire—complete at least 100 hours of job-related training per year. The cost of the training is paid upfront by the company, but the employees complete the courses on their own time.

According to Mr. Ajax, the shop implemented this policy because it recognized that ongoing training of employees is just as important as bringing new hires up to speed. Both efforts are necessary to help the shop remain nimble, productive and competitive. In turn, the employees appreciate that it enables them to expand their skill sets (and their value to the company) while providing a clear pathway for professional growth.

Read these four reasons why E.J. Ajax invests in its employees in such a way and consider if you are offering a suitable amount of ongoing training.

• Training establishes a diversified workforce. An employee trained to be proficient with multiple machines makes a shop more flexible and responsive. In fact, E.J. Ajax maintains a “resources matrix” to chart the skill level of each employee for each machine. This enables the shop to identify development opportunities, offer adequate cross-training, balance the workload, generate accurate production estimates and make appropriate capital investment decisions.

• Training ensures a safe working environment. Effective training at E.J. Ajax combined with employees’ strict adherence to company policies has yielded an impressive safety track record. Over the last 20 years, only one employee has missed time due to a work-related injury (the employee missed just one 8-hour shift). To ensure safety, employees can perform only those tasks that are within their current skill level (per the resources matrix). However, employees of any skill level may perform higher-level tasks with the consent and direct supervision of an employee who is proficient at the task.

• Training minimizes wandering eyes. Only one employee has voluntarily left E.J. Ajax over the last 12 years. Although the shop does offer higher wages than most competitors, continuous investment in its employees through ongoing training reinforces the notion that the company is a source for a long-running career, rather than just a job.

• Training increases profitability. A skilled workforce yields higher productivity, which leads to higher profitability for the shop and more competitive pricing for customers. It also makes the company more globally competitive (to the point that one-third of its stampings are purchased outside of the U.S., including China).