Lessons in Learning

Three “Top Shops” for 2011 explain the value of providing in-house training and a healthy compensation package to their employees.


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At last year’s imX trade show in Las Vegas, MMS Publisher Travis Egan and I presented findings from our inaugural “Top Shops” benchmarking program. Representatives from three of last year’s 10 Top Shops joined us, shedding light on some of the machining and business strategies that have contributed to their success over the years. The participants were Mike Dufford, vice president, Altech Machining; Paul Heanue, president, High Tech Turning; and Ron Wosel, president, C&R Manufacturing.

It was interesting to note that all three touched on the value of in-house training combined with a healthy compensation package to minimize turnover and maintain loyalty. Although I encourage you to view the entire presentation, I thought it’d be helpful to briefly highlight some of their training insights here.

Have a mix of machines. When training a person who has little or no machining experience, it helps to have a mix of machines on hand, including some that are easy to operate. Inexperienced employees can be trained to run basic machines in a matter of hours, enabling them to begin making chips in short order. In doing so, they’ll learn how to properly measure parts, too, while developing an understanding about the characteristics of the materials your shop machines. After that, they can move to more complex machines and responsibilities, building on the knowledge gained from operating simpler equipment.

Facilitate learning on the fly. Having a quality control system in place that provides immediate feedback is helpful because it minimizes production of bad parts as well as scrap or rework. However, it also is a great learning tool for the operator. By identifying a problem while a job is still running, the machine operator can correct the issue in real-time. This is a good learning experience because the issue is still at the forefront of the operator’s mind. If you revisit the issue days or weeks later, the operator is likely to have forgotten about the job and what might have caused the problem.

Schedule frequent plant-wide meetings. Regular production meetings improve overall shop communication and enable employees to learn about the status of projects flowing through the shop. Such meetings also serve as a forum to discuss issues that are affecting production and identify potential solutions. In addition to helping the person experiencing the specific problem, this shows others how to approach similar issues they are likely to encounter in the future.

Pay accordingly. The most effective way to retain the employees you’ve trained is to pay them better than competing shops and provide enticing incentives, such as a healthy benefits package. That’s the basic key to minimizing turnover as well as the amount of time you must dedicate to in-house training. Of course, you must also look for ways to make those employees more efficient, effective and productive to make up for their higher costs.