Path to Productivity

Training programs at Applied Materials, Inc., aim to boost continued productivity improvement across the enterprise.

Shelia Patrick, Program Manager, Corporate Quality Senior; Chuck Tully, Managing Director, Applied Global Services Training; Darriel Chavez, Program Manager, Corporate EHS Training; and Mark Derderian, Manager, Manufacturing Talent Development.


For semiconductor equipment manufacturer Applied Materials, Inc., the path to success starts with productivity—with plenty of employee training and skills development along the way.

“Time to productive work output from hire date and continued productivity improvement across the enterprise are key,” notes Chuck Tully, managing director, Performance Improvement and Training, Applied Global Services, Applied Materials, Inc. “Our experts deploy advanced tools and data analytics solutions, which help customers optimize manufacturing performance and navigate future technology transitions with services, equipment, automation software, and supply chain solutions. These offerings increase predictability in customer manufacturing and help them increase better outcomes from R&D to high-volume manufacturing, while making their equipment and processes more productive and sustainable, and their factories more profitable through increased output.”

In the past year alone, Applied Materials—which broke into the Top 5 of the Training APEX Awards for the first time—added a new technical training facility in Albany, NY, with six dedicated training tools. It also invested in new digital training technologies with sup – porting production spaces in the U.S. and India. “These new digital and physical spaces expand the availability of training for our employees and the accessibility to training when and where they need it,” Tully says.


With semiconductor fabs under increasing pressure to accelerate and maximize yield, reduce cost, and improve productivity, Applied Materials aims to provide its customers with a differentiated, technology-enabled field service organization.

In that vein, Applied Global Services-Training Services (AGS-TS) established a standardized, multilevel technical skills development structure called the Multi-Level Certification (MLC) for all 8,000-plus field service engineers. On average, roughly 10 to 20 percent of the field population engages in elements of the MLC program, with at least 80 percent continuing education through other course offerings provided by Applied Materials.

The MLC structure provides:

  • Differentiated field workforce skill levels based on multiple criteria: basic to advanced proficiency, simple to complex tasks; minimal to high-cost impact; and low-decision skills to high-decision tasks.
  • Standardized field workforce technical development and capability reporting.
  • Bi-annual recertification program to validate knowledge retention.

“MLC establishes a sustainable and repeatable transfer of knowledge and skills in an accelerated timeframe based on hierarchal field workforce roles (Levels 1-5), based on a needs analysis of corporate field service goals, identified equipment tasks, factory and field equipment skills requirements, and workforce starting capability,” Tully says.

Level 1: Support daily low-level tasks and frequent preventive maintenance or low-level install move-in and connection tasks.

Level 2: Install start-up tasks.

Level 3: Normal and advanced daily shift operations, preventive maintenance, and common corrective maintenance tasks.

Level 4: Advanced/infrequent problem analysis, advanced installation, and shift lead support.

Level 5: Specialist certified on specific technologies, products, or advanced services.

These technical training programs have directly contributed to successfully realizing a more than 20 percent cost improvement (on average) across all customer ramp sites, Tully notes.



With COVID-19 global travel restrictions still in place in some regions, Applied Materials relies on live distance learning (LDL) to train and certify service engineers on technical knowledge while they are working at their home site until they can travel to a training center for hands-on training.

In this setting, instructors train on theoretical concepts using Microsoft Teams with screen- and video-sharing technology. They use an up-to-date and online “hands-on,” performance-based task list that is completed in manufacturing and regionally by each student with qualified experts. A designated expert verifies and electronically signs off on each task. This allows the student count to increase from six to 10, with the potential opportunity for as many as25 learners at one time.

“The scalability of this delivery technique allows for a more rapid deployment of theory-based training compared to cycling students through a brick-and-mortar learning center,” Tully says. “In FY’22, there were more than 7,000 LDL student completions, leading to $20 million in training cost savings and a 90-plus percent reduction in instructor travel costs.”


The technical training organization within Applied Materials also revamped and restructured the product training for its 8,000-plus global field service personnel.

Focusing on the classroom portion of the technical training programs, the Enhanced Knowledge Delivery (EKD) Program is a first for Applied Materials in that it takes a learning journey methodology approach rather than the traditional static lecture-based mode of learning. EKD utilizes a 50-40-10 model: 50 percent of the instruction is on-demand lessons; 40 percent is synchronous group learning sessions; and 10 percent is formative and summative assessments.

The program takes a flipped learning approach that Tully says is designed to maximize the benefits of the latest theories and technologies in the training industry, while leveraging the latest findings from neuroscience studies and other scientific research applying to learning, retention, etc.

Throughout the course, students engage with the content and progress through knowledge checks and practice opportunities. The self-paced instructional design provides flexibility across time zones and enables students to progress at their own speed.

An interactive, immersive digital student guide contains all the course materials; areas where students can type notes in their preferred language; and links to micro-video lectures, knowledge checks, and software simulations. “The micro-video lectures provide consistent, on-demand instruction while enabling students to rewatch information and adjust the playback speed,” Tully says.

Several synchronous, instructor-facilitated, collaborative group-learning sessions are provided during the course to reinforce the information studied through on-demand lessons. These sessions allow cross-cultural communication, networking, and collaborative problem solving, Tully says. Game activities, immersive virtual reality environments, engaging group events, and facilitated breakout sessions enable and promote smaller group discussions and collaboration.

The Continuous Improvement team reviews student performance quarterly on a Kirkpatrick Level 3 and 4 evaluation basis. The performance measurements include labor results before and after training compared to previous training programs.

More than 900 engineers have completed training using the new program. Average labor hours improved by more than 20 percent after training, Tully says, resulting in cost avoidance of hiring an additional 200-plus engineers to support service contracts or warranty support. “Median labor hours also dropped by more than 50 percent, and the labor standard deviation was reduced significantly,” Tully adds. “Based on the training-related field utilization efficiency improvements and new hire cost avoidance, the technical training programs have contributed to a savings of more than $20 million per year.”


Employees are the lifeblood of an organization. Like most companies, Applied Materials places a high priority on employee growth and retention, primarily generated through internal transfers, experienced external hires, and new college graduates.

The Applied Materials Field NCG (New College Graduate) Program features a comprehensive six- to eight-month onboarding structure designed to transform NCGs into successful customer-facing process engineers. “Focusing on the company’s culture, sciences/technologies, systems, and processes critical to their new role, it incorporates diverse learning modalities, including Web-based training, instructor-led classes, hands-on instruction, independent projects, simulators, modeling, and augmented and virtual reality,” says Israel Ne’eman, managing director, Field Technology Enablement. “Enrollment is diverse, comprising more than 55 percent women and more than 50 percent underrepresented minorities. Emphasis is placed on effective, multi-faceted networking and establishing strong interrelationships.”

Ne’eman says managerial testimonials indicate that NCGs going through the Field NCG Program can immediately deliver equivalent results as a two-plus-year employee, providing a net cost avoidance totaling more than $8 million for the last fiscal year. Applied Materials’ onboarding programs also contribute to the company’s goal of maintaining employee retention rates well above the industry average (the fiscal year 2022 industry average was approximately 82 percent).


For 2024 and beyond, Tully says, “standardized, aligned, company-wide talent acquisition, onboarding, and productivity programs will continue to be our priority.”

The company has formed dedicated initiatives to look at talent and productivity collectively and how the new era of artificial intelligence (Al) will evolve how companies work and prepare their talent for improved performance. “To date, we have initiated adaptive learning for some of our core online classes to improve efficiency for our students,” Tully says. “We are cautiously investigating other AI-based use cases for training in the translation, content creation, and software coding spaces.”

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.