5In the semiconductor business, time truly is money. Insiders speak not of dollars, but of cycles: r&d cycles, production cycles, sales and service cycles, and training cycles. So kla-Tencor Corp. understands the value in shortening the cycle time of these processes.
kla-Tencor provides hardware, software, analysis, services and expertise to help integrated circuit manufacturers manage their yields throughout the entire wafer fabrication process. Needless to say, it's a highly technical and knowledge-intensive business. "We train around two core themes: electro-mechanical and optical-mechanical," explains Cedric Coco, senior director of educational services for the San Jose, Calif.-based company. "And we cover everything from theory and application to operation and service."
But grow as quickly as kla-Tencor has (its service force doubled in just 12 months) and the training need can quickly outstrip available resources. "We had two curves that were going in opposite directions," explains Coco. "Our growth created a need for trained people; that curve was ramping up exponentially. But the ability to hire qualified instructors could not keep pace."
The rub? Instructors with the right blend of technical know-how and teaching skills don't grow on trees in Silicon Valley—one of America's tightest labor markets.
To further complicate matters, kla-Tencor needs instructors who are not just technical experts, but who also fully understand the ins and outs of the business. In one of those ironic twists of fate, however, kla-Tencor found a solution right on its doorstep.
"We went through some of the alternatives to instructor-led training, like cbt and multimedia, which we implemented 18 months ago," explains Coco, "but there still was a large component that required an instructor and hands-on training for students." Consequently, the company began looking internally for people with good communication and presentation skills (and the requisite technical skill-set) who could step in as instructors.
"We targeted about 50 percent of candidates, and the other 50 percent volunteered," says Coco. "Then we put them through an accelerated instructor's program to get them up to speed."
Without the luxury of being able to take people out of their day jobs, which would disrupt production, the company asked instructors to teach classes during their off-shift hours. kla-Tencor's educational services department created the Instructor Incentive Program to financially reward instructors for this discretionary effort and based the actual payment amounts on classroom performance. "We linked payment of the bonus to class evaluations because we wanted to ensure we maintained the quality of instruction," explains Coco.
The process has been a huge success for kla-Tencor, helping it to deal with fluctuations in training demand. And this temporary, stopgap solution has reduced yet another critical cycle time: recruitment. The company no longer has to immediately turn to the external labor market when it has an instructor position to fill.
Openly shared by kla-Tencor, the Instructor Incentive Program is now recognized as an industry best practice that other companies in the semiconductor industry have adopted.