Investing to train your workforce or to develop the likely candidates who will be available to join that workforce in the future is essential in today’s highly competitive manufacturing environment.
And who, after making the necessary continuing investment in employee development and training, wouldn’t want results like these: reduced turnover rate of 3% vs. 23–30% industry average; lower absenteeism of 1.8% vs. 3% industry average; and increased productivity with fewer associates in a leaner organization?
Those results and more were experienced by Kyocera SGS Precision Tools Inc. (KSPT; Munroe Falls, OH), a solid-carbide cutting tool manufacturer that developed and implemented an integrated, sustained training program that is vitally connected to its business goals. KSPT employs 235 associates, has four manufacturing sites in the US and England, and sells its high-precision cutting tools in more than 60 countries to customers in the aerospace, medical, power generation, automotive, and mold-and-die industries.
More than a decade ago, KSPT recognized the challenge that a shrinking workforce due to retirements, a growing skills gap, and lack of interest in manufacturing among young people would pose to the pool of qualified candidates available to it. A
strong proponent of a learning culture for his company and education, CEO Tom Haag supported developing a training and development program, mandating an ambitious 50 hours of training per associate, per year.
Working in conjunction with Tooling U-SME (Cleveland, OH), KSPT adopted a structured training and development program that included online training and focused on establishing a pipeline of future associates by building strong relationships with area schools from the middle school to college level. In addition to developing internships and apprenticeship programs, KSPT recognized the need to develop a comprehensive training program for new associates and a program for onboarding new hires.
KSPT’s approach to workforce development focused on continuously improving training, building employee engagement and retention, and creating community relationship and programs to attract a future workforce. Tooling U-SME worked closely with KSPT’s established in-house development team to support its training initiatives. KSPT began updating training plans annually and created position descriptions, competencies and training plans that cover new machinery and new processes for all production jobs.
To ensure accountability and involvement, KSPT manufacturing associates are evaluated at six-month check-ins and annual competency reviews. In addition, they are measured monthly on time-in-class (hours spent on each course), final exam test scores (meeting a goal of 80%), completed classes, and progress on assigned class completion.
As a lean manufacturing organization with one associate responsible for setting up and operating up to four machines, KSPT needed associates to obtain training hours and remain productive without leaving the building. “Our training philosophy is to train as much as you possibly can, and use a blended approach including computer-based instruction and on-the-job training,” said Gary Miller, director of training and occupational development.
As part of the formal training program, the KSPT development team also created an in-house computer lab that allows employees to train during downtime and implemented a structure for advancement that requires successful completion of courses in order to be considered for higher level positions. The team developed class groups with a required set of courses for new job opportunities. Associates interested in pursuing promotion are encouraged to voluntarily take required coursework in preparation to bid on a new job. “We set up computers in our manufacturing facilities and allowed our associates time on their own shifts to take classes, which improves productivity,” said Miller.
To attract future associates, KSPT created programs to encourage the next generation to explore the benefits of a career in manufacturing. They built strong relationships with local schools, including developing customized programs with Stark State College and the state of Ohio and creating intern/co-op programs. KSPT introduced a certified apprentice program recognized by the Department of Labor. Tuition reimbursement of 100% was offered if the student receives a grade of an A.
With a strong learning foundation and culture in place, KSPT has been transformed into a high-impact learning organization. HILOs such as KSPT have been shown to significantly outperform their peers in productivity, customer satisfaction, quality, and market share. The company supports this overall philosophy by employing Hoshin Kanri, a management system that focuses all employees on understanding the company’s strategic direction and fosters their participation in achieving it through continual improvement training.
The KSPT model is based on strong metrics called Associate Integrated Management (AIM) objectives. All company department heads meet monthly with the CEO and COO to review the AIM goals, including individual, department, and company goals related to sales increases, customer satisfaction, quality standards, and associate development.
The KSPT development team communicated the value of training to upper management based on the AIM goals and regular reporting. To achieve these goals, all associates throughout the organization—from entry level to CEO—receive the required 50 hours of training a year. Typically, manufacturing associates take 10–20 Tooling U-SME courses per year to fulfill the requirement.
To ensure the accuracy and company-wide acceptance of the training plans, everyone was involved. Subject matter experts developed the drafts which were distributed for review by all who do the job, including new associates for each person’s contributions. In addition to training shop floor associates, KSPT uses Tooling U-SME for training all of its coaches (supervisors). Coaches take Tooling U-SME classes on lean, 5S, and other subjects related to growing in their roles.
Sense of Belonging
Strengthening KSPT’s hiring and sourcing practices includes a formal onboarding and orientation program that creates a sense of belonging and sets an important foundation for training and expectations. Interns from colleges and high schools provide the company the chance to “try out’ future employees. Internships may be eligible for grant money through national and local sources.
At KSPT, after 90 days, associates are eligible for apprenticeships that mix work experience and schooling. Associates might start at a state college and supplement that with 8000 hours of on-the-job training with classes applying to an associate or four-year degree.
Other important benefits of the KSPT’s training initiative included improved morale as associates began to see clear career pathways. Eliminating time away from their stations increased associate’s productivity, and overall employee participation in training and development improved, while the gap between older employees and new technologies was closed.
“Building a pipeline of employees is a byproduct of community involvement. It is important to us to give back, help the community, and raise awareness of manufacturing,” said Miller.