Training Top 125 Best Practice: Applied Materials, Inc.’s Data-Driven Learning for Business Success

The continuous training effectiveness improvement program uses a data-driven decision process that identifies and institutes training improvements, supported by multifaceted data-measuring methods.

Materials engineering solutions provider Applied Materials, Inc.’s Applied Global Services Training Services (AGS-TS) established a continuous training effectiveness improvement program using a data-driven decision process. It identifies and institutes training improvements, supported by multifaceted data-measuring methods. The focus of the program is the comprehensive Multi-Level Technical Certification (MLC) for the field service workforce. 

The MLC uses specialized certification job families to support installations, service contracts, advanced diagnosis, escalation support, and software support in order to ensure the correct skill set is matched with the job role. 

The goals of the program are:

1. More than 85 percent of service engineers certified on a primary tool for multiple product job families. 

2. All service support resources are certified on tasks performed during install or warranty labor activities with a year-over-year improvement to service performance.

3. New hires are certified within 150 days from hire date.

Program Details

All 10 business units are part of this program, which spans eight regions (China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, North America, Singapore, and Taiwan). Many product courses are 8 to 10 weeks in length for new hires or new to product. In fiscal year 2019, there were 46,000 total training days for internal and external students, resulting in 9,000 students trained. Students are required to complete up to 28 prerequisite Web courses (approximately one hour per course) per product family prior to attending training. In FY’19, additional skills practice training was added to high-volume products to allow two to four weeks of additional practice for activities that fall in the top 25 percent of labor hours for the specific product components (i.e., the most frequent and critical tasks).

As part of that project (then and ongoing), the training effectiveness improvement program measures performance of service technicians who have completed the MLC program since 2014. The program utilizes a DMAIC-governed (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) methodology, consisting of Black Belt, Green Belt, and subject matter experts, along with executive-level champions and a Master Black Belt serving as mentors. From the ongoing data collections, projects are continually initiated, using Lean principles when applicable, with each project charter typically including productivity improvement or cost reduction, with targets normally between 20 and 25 percent.

Monthly reports, quarterly reviews, regional reviews, and strategic planning reviews include progress for several certification programs, including goals and progress to plan. Monthly reports are sent by the VP of Training to the VP of Service and managers. The reports describe progress of the various Multi-Level Training programs. Each notes status, goal, and timeline. Quarterly reviews are presented by each regional field manager/director to the VP of Service. Training-related reviews include certification status of field engineers and new hire cycle time for their customer accounts. DMAIC results are reviewed with applicable stakeholders. The strategic planning process looks to the future for new programs and goals. The upskill program (skill assessment + high frequency labor + material costs) is included in the corporate 2020 strategic plan for improving workforce capabilities based on coaching, mentoring, and custom training for the workforce. 

Active measurements include: 

  • High-frequency labor activities vs. course content
  • Corrective maintenance symptoms vs. troubleshooting training
  • Median labor hours before/after training
  • Labor hours vs. student region and grade level
  • Installation cycle time
  • Material costs by product
  • Senior engineer training effectiveness
  • Student grades vs. median labor hours
  • Instructor survey score vs. student labor hours after training
  • Survey scores between instructors
  • Course development cycle time
  • Training forecast effectiveness

The project and the changes initiated by the findings are driven via cross-functional objectives and program reviews for progress, along with individualized meetings with regional managers on project progress, plans, and issues based on the results. Change management training also has been deployed to the global service organization that is being used in the DMAIC projects. Regional change agents provide communication flow and drive completion to goals. Quarterly skills assessment gaps and training plans are reviewed during quarterly reviews with the VP of Service. Quarterly labor vs. training content reviews are continuous, resulting in the development of new programs and revisions of existing course materials on an ongoing basis.

Results

In FY’19, Applied Materials changed its Level 3 evaluation process from surveys to an online system leveraging the certification system to document skill assessment scores for each certification task. It has 625 active certifications and more than 60,000 unique tasks. The company implemented a change management process using engineer meetings, manager meetings, document releases, and face-to-face training events at regional conferences. It also retrained mentors who perform the coaching and evaluations. More than 400 mentors support this program. The system provides monthly tracking of scores; managers report progress to the VP of Service during quarterly reviews. The skill assessment score tied with the labor hours and material costs drives training plans for each engineer.

For those trained and certified in FY’19 compared to those untrained, there was an 18.5 percent reduction in labor hours after training. Total hours decreased from 9.7 to 8.3 hours for trained engineers. Average preventive maintenance hours dropped from 12.3 to 8.6 hours. Average installation hours after training dropped from 8.6 to 7.1 hours. And new hire time to certification is 133 days, which is below goal of 150 days.

 

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