Henry Ford once said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” But often, employee training falls by the wayside, especially in busy, growth-oriented companies where it takes a backseat to tasks that can appear to have a more direct impact on the bottom line.
Until recently, this was the case for our company, WCCO Belting, a North Dakota-based manufacturer of custom rubber belting products for agricultural and light industrial conveyor equipment. For a decade, we crossed oceans and sold to new markets, completed four facility expansions, and almost quadrupled our total number of employees. The WCCO Belting team relied on hands-on learning and tribal knowledge to keep up with demand.
About five years ago, the output variance between our experienced and novice production employees was prevalent. The deeper concern for WCCO Belting leadership, however, was the cultural impact of new employees not feeling as invested in their career with the company. Leadership then made the strategic decision to prioritize training and professional development to ensure all employees had the resources they needed to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
Today, WCCO Belting’s training program has not only increased employee retention and strengthened our culture, but also improved our product quality and streamlined our manufacturing processes.
Identify Training Needs Early on
Before implementing a training program, ask yourself these three things:
1. What are the areas of focus for our training?A great place to start is by identifying your company’s main concerns. For example, as a manufacturer, it’s our responsibility to keep employees protected on facility grounds, so we kicked off our training program withsafety. After creating courses to address the most common injuries of WCCO Belting’s production team, we found the injuries targeted decreased substantially.
2. What can we do to support these areas? Talk directly with the people on the front lines to determine the most optimum form of support you can provide. After catching wind of a potential area for improvement, WCCO Belting’s training team hangs up an Interest Notice on the topic for people to sign up for at will. This helps us prioritize training needs and prevents us from going through the work of developing a course that misdiagnosed a problem area and/or the solution.
3. How will we address these needs through training courses? Depending on the topic and feedback provided by employees, you should have an idea for what materials will most effectively deliver the intended solution such as a procedural document, graphic, hands-on activity, video, etc.
Perfect Courses Through Beta Testing and Continuous Feedback
Before launching a new course, the WCCO Belting training team found that using beta classes with supervisors and relevant employees helps ensure the successful delivery of our message. We take as much feedback as we can get from participants to fine-tune the content and activities before introducing the class to a larger audience. Today, after every course, we ask for employee feedback to gauge how we’re doing and to continue to better the course for the next time it is given.
Keep People Engaged by Varying Content and Delivery
Varying the way we teach courses keeps people engaged and interested. It also increases retention by stimulating all types of learners. Instead of relying on a generic video or flipping through a presentation slide by slide, utilize several tactics during the class. Group activities are well received at WCCO Belting because they promote teambuilding.
Be Creative When Measuring Success
Creating and implementing a successful training program is a marathon, not a sprint. Critical to WCCO Belting’s training program has been leadership buy-in. They approached workforce development as a strategic initiative and didn’t threaten cutting resources when there weren’t immediate direct effects to the bottom line.
As a result, five years later, we are producing 20 percent more product with 20 percent fewer employees. Credited for the success are both the measurable and immeasurable benefits of workforce development such as reduced turnover, improved product quality, increased engagement in WCCO Belting’s process improvement program, even cleaner work areas, and a healthier amount of coworker camaraderie.
As trainers, it is our job to encourage the professional growth of our company’s employees, but we also have the special ability to directly impact a person’s job satisfaction and personal growth. When an effective training program provides a deeper understanding of how an individual’s performance impacts the business as a whole, we are best prepared to achieve both professional and personal objectives for the benefit of the company and the employee.
Mary Shasky is the Training and Standards manager at WCCO Belting, Inc., a North Dakota-based manufacturer of custom rubber belting products for agricultural and light industrial conveyor equipment.