Growing your Own Workforce
By Bill Wilder, Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in the Plant Engineering
The demand for qualified people is estimated to be twice the supply over the next 20 years. In the state of South Carolina, the Chamber of Commerce projects that between 2010 and 2030, total employment demand in the state, based on U.S. projections, will increase by approximately 16.3%, while the traditional labor pool available to fill these jobs will grow only by approximately 7.0%. The retiring workforce and shortage of qualified “technical” people is a primary driver of this gap. Several factors contribute to the lack of available qualified people. One is the gap between the education people are seeking and the needs of the workplace.
Since manufacturers are not likely to find qualified candidates who have the educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge or work experience needed, they will have to hire people based on character attributes and equip them with necessary education, skills and knowledge. This approach is consistent with Jim Collins’ advice in Good to Great – first who, then what. Focus first on getting the right people, then on the role they will play – their “seat on the bus,” as Collins said.
Consider character, work ethic, intelligence, responsibility and passion for learning when evaluating candidates. Pay special attention to the passion for learning. In The Living Company, Arie de Geus suggested that, “The organization’s ability to learn faster (and possibly better) than the competition becomes its most sustainable competitive advantage.” Once manufacturers find the right people, they need to maximize their learning abilities and make the most of the expertise they have already developed. This can be achieved with a well-defined learning process.
Learning is a process
Learning takes place when behaviors are changed to achieve a desired result. John Alexander, president of the Center for Creative Leadership, said that “Learning is a process and not an event.” The learning process has three phases.
The first phase takes place before training begins. It is the time when the participant’s prior knowledge and experience is aligned with the manager’s expectations. The phase clearly defines what is expected of the participant.
During the second phase, training takes place. A class or learning event, it should be driven by active, measurable learning objectives that are designed to advance desired business results. Often, this is the only phase that is actually executed, and the measure of learning is how many of these activities have taken place – not the results.
The third phase is the follow-through period, where learned behaviors and techniques are applied. The participant applies the new skills and knowledge as encouraged and supported by management. This is when the real learning takes place.
Focused attention on all three phases of learning drives results. Each phase offers a multitude of opportunities for manufacturers to grow and develop their workforce. A specific review of the phases can reveal some applicable concepts.
Learning is change, and all successful change initiatives involve management engagement and support. This requires a partnership between managers and participants – a contract. Management must have a clear idea of the business value to be gained in training; otherwise, maintaining focus and support will be difficult.
One approach to engaging management support is to use a Learning Impact Map (LIM). A LIM is a contract document that facilitates management support and alignment of expectations. It determines if the chosen training can achieve the desired results by linking desired behaviors with organizational performance and overall business goals. Using a LIM prepares the participants to learn and change their behavior based on their training goals and objectives. Achievement of the goals should be the measure of success.
Malcolm Knowles, author of The Adult Learner, identified what makes teaching adults different from teaching children. Adults need to know why they need to learn; they’re more self-directed. Adults bring much more knowledge and experience to educational settings than children do, so they require more experiential learning environments and more individualization.
Attention should be paid to at least these four specific attributes of effective adult learning interventions:
- Relevance – People want to know that the skills and knowledge being taught applies to them
- Prior knowledge – People bring a “mental model” that may enhance the group learning experience through anecdotes. On the other hand, a participant may arrive with preconceived notions that conflict with what is being taught. Skilled facilitators know how to leverage the former and mitigate the latter
- Active training – People have short attention spans and many learning styles. Good circulation and oxygen enhance engagement and retention. Passive lecture delivery should be limited to a third of classroom time
- Self direction – People often know what they don’t know and want to focus the learning on these deficits. Engaging participants in setting learning objectives produces higher engagement in crafting solutions. Participant teaching is valuable, and it often raises retention levels.
Learning retention is also influenced by repetition. When exposed to an idea or process once, people typically remember no more than 20%. When a participant is exposed to the key content six times, with intervals, retention can reach 90%. Introducing intervals – breaks – is important. Sustained practice over time, called distributed practice, is the key to retention.
You may have heard the anecdote: “What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember; and what I do, I understand.” Applying knowledge and skills in the classroom builds retention. Retention is raised further when the knowledge and skills are applied on the job, in the real world.
The greatest barrier to learning transfer is the lack of reinforcement on the job. Research on why training programs fail to achieve their desired results includes this as a top factor. The best tool for overcoming this barrier is the contract – the LIM. This is what the participant agrees to deliver with their new skills and knowledge. It is expressed at the conclusion of Phase 2 as a personal action plan.
It is important for management to follow up. Mentors and/or coaches work with participants to apply what is learned. This can be a cumbersome administrative burden, but tools are available that automate some of the process and document the results.
Some of these tools also create the documentation required to justify the investment and support continuous improvement. The only way to prove that the resources have been well-spent is to document the results. Results are produced by rigorously applying a Plan-Do-Check-Act system. Continuous improvement is an infinite process of planning improvements, implementing them, measuring impact and acting on results.
Training delivers maximum results when a class inspires retention, a LIM is documented and a follow-through plan is in place. Bringing these elements together can provide a training program that changes behavior to achieve personal and organizational goals.
Overcome the shortage of qualified people by recruiting people who fit. Recruit people with work ethic, intelligence, responsibility and a passion for learning. Then teach them to be “qualified” with the three-phase learning process. Invest in developing talent. It could be the best competitive advantage.
Active learning is an important component of any training program. Getting the trainees out of their seats not only helps them retain previously covered material, it refreshes and re-energizes them for upcoming lessons.
Everyone learns in different ways. Vary training sessions with different techniques and tasks to keep everyone interested and engaged.
Keep speeches to a minimum to maximize training results. Using more than 1/3 of training time behind a podium can be detrimental to trainees’ retention.
Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].
© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.
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