Human Resource Management: The Missing Link to Reliability Excellence

What part does the Human Resource Department play in the reliability of your facility? In today’s industrial environment, the HR Department is becoming less involved in the areas of recruitment, training, and succession planning of qualified craftsmen. Some of these areas have disappeared through years of cost-cutting measures made by management. Since there is no quick return for time and money invested in these areas, they become easy targets. In addition, On-the-Job Training is viewed as an adequate all-inclusive training program. Just place the new employee with one of your more “senior” craftsmen and after a couple of weeks he should be ready to attack most of the problems he will encounter. The few he has not been “trained” on, he will have to figure out on his own.

Do the statements above characterize your company’s philosophy? Human Resource Management plays a key role in the selection and development of skilled labor. Management’s lack of understanding this role has contributed to the decline of qualified craftsmen in Facilities and Manufacturing Maintenance. A facility will not be able to reach Reliability Excellence without adequately addressing these areas. Furthermore, those companies that manage to reach increased reliability by focusing on other areas alone (Planning & Scheduling, Reliability Engineering, etc.) will not be able to sustain their improvements without effectively executing the three HR areas:

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Succession Planning

There are several factors that have enforced the neglect of these key HR functions. Most of these factors are rooted in cost-cutting measures driven by shortsighted management philosophies. This article will discuss why recruitment, training, and succession planning have failed (and will continue fail) to meet the needs of the industrial labor pool for maintenance departments. This pool is currently supplied from the vocational, apprenticeship, OJT and two-year degree programs. Let us consider some information that will help shed light onto this discussion.

Secondary Vocation Programs

According to the 2004 National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE) report published by the U.S. Department of Education, there is “little evidence of an ongoing drop” in secondary vocational education. Though participation did decline between 1982 and 1992, it appears to have reached a steady level (1992 – 2000). However, there has been a significant decline in the number of students that have chosen to concentrate in the Trade and Industry vocational courses.

Moreover, the data reflects that a greater percentage of students have taken vocational courses as “Occupational Investors” (i.e. students who do not take all of their credit hours in the same vocational occupation). This could signify many high schools students are taking vocational courses for reasons other than preparing for an entry-level position in industry. Finally, the assessment alludes to potential future declines in secondary vocational programs resulting from “academic reforms” like expanded graduating requirements and grade assessments.

Apprenticeship Programs

The Federal program office responsible for the National Apprenticeship System (NRAS) reports on data retrieved from the Apprenticeship Information Management System (AIMS). The information in AIMS is collected from 36 participating states. The reports from FY2000 to FY2003 show a 15% decline in registered apprenticeship programs. Of the registered programs, those classified under the Manufacturing category have declined 14% during the same time period. This reduction translates to a 14% reduction of apprentices from FY2000 to FY2003. Though the Manufacturing category does include programs other than industrial craftsmen occupations, the data is still statistically significant for the discussion in this article.

On-the-Job Training

In today’s environment OJT has often become the sole training requirement at a facility. In most cases, any resemblance to a formal training program has been cut from the budget. OJT can be a very effective training method if administered correctly; however, many companies fail to do so. The OJT training normally comprises of a two to three week period of working with a “qualified” technician at which time the technician is deemed fully qualified and ready to work alone. As you can see with this scenario, an employee that has been onsite for less than one month can potentially train a newly hired technician. This practice will definitely introduce selfinduced failures into any operation. Those failures are termed self-induced because they are avoidable if the right practice or process is put in place.

So where does your HR Department fit in with the background information provided above? Well, before we delve into that discussion there is one more topic that should be broached. This topic deals with the demographics of today’s labor force in the United States. In the 2004-05 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Labor (Bureau of Labor Statistics), projects 43.6% increase in the 55 to 64 age group from 2002 to 2012. On the other hand, the 35 to 44 age group will decrease in size for the same time period. This decrease reflects the expected void following the baby boomer generation. The same document projects a 4.3% decrease in the “primary working age group,” which is defined as 25 to 54 years old.

These projections compounded with the increase of “service-providing industries” and the decrease of “goods-producing industries” will create an environment where the primary age group will become biased to service related occupations, not to industrial maintenance occupations. Though these occupations will see some growth (approximately 5%) between 2002 and 2012, it will have a smaller labor pool to draft from. Of the approximate two million projected openings in the installation, maintenance, and repair occupations (2002 – 20012), less than half are expected to be due to growth. The majority will be due to replacement needs.

In addition to all of the obstacles discussed above, there is also a cultural phenomenon that is contributing to the availability of qualified maintenance technicians. The age of computers and the internet has brought upon industrial America the advent of a generation of young adults that feel more comfortable sitting behind a computer in a cubicle than working with tools in a not-so clean industrial environment.

So, how can your Human Resource Department help deal with this impending problem? Quite simply by getting back to some of the basics. The basics referred to are those of recruitment, training, and succession planning.

Let us begin this part of the discussion with recruitment. There are various methods and tools available for recruitment like the use of internet sites such as Monsterboard® and Hotjobs®. Whether or not an HR Department chooses to have an internal recruiter, the use of professional headhunters can be helpful in filling maintenance positions. There are also other creative ways to hire skilled candidates. For example, most military installations have something similar to a placement agency where personnel ending their enlistment are helped to transition into the civilian workforce. As it was mentioned in the previous paragraphs, the labor pool for skilled labor will become smaller in during the next several years. Employers will, therefore, have to become resourceful in their recruitment efforts.

Maintenance Managers are encountering more difficulty in dealing with the next two areas of HR management: training and succession planning. Some of the general concerns with OJT have already been highlighted, but there are two other critical issues to point out. First, let us consider the use of OJT to train technicians for lower level skills like lubrication and inspections. Though these may seem as skills that can be easily developed in a couple of weeks while on the job, they take time and dedicated effort by a truly qualified trainer to provide quality training. For instance, how to properly lubricate equipment as well as the negative effects of both underand over-lubricating would be covered in a good OJT program. Best practices on collecting lubrication samples should also be covered. Preventive Maintenance inspections are critical to maintaining equipment reliability. A common pitfall maintenance organizations today fall into is assuming lower-level skilled technicians can handle these inspections. Secondly, OJT should be utilized with a disciplined approach to ensure best practices are taught instead of bad habits.

For higher-level skill requirements OJT will, more often than not, prove to be insufficient. Skills in areas like mechanical equipment alignment, welding, PLC programming and equipment calibration require formal training programs to be successful. The bottom line is that OJT alone will not provide the level of training required to maintain a sustainable level of reliability at a facility. There is definitely a place for OJT in a craftsman’s training program. However, it should be accompanied by a controlled and verifiable process. Here is where your HR Department can and should assist. Their expertise in developing Job Task Analysis (JTA’s) can be utilized to create a list of criteria required for each craftsman position.

So, how do you deal with those training requirements that need formal classroom-type teaching? Once again, here is an area that usually is non-existent at most facilities. The attitude many companies have in today’s market is that training dollars are better spent by someone else. They will hire individuals that have gained the needed training and experience at their previous job.

Those individuals will be placed on a quick (and uncontrolled) two week OJT program and then turned loose. Well, it is true that if a technician is not going to be placed through some type of apprenticeship program it is best to hire experienced technicians from the outside. Even the most qualified technician when introduced into a new facility will have a learning curve to overcome. Your HR Department can help you identify these gaps in knowledge so that a detailed training program can be created. However, it is recommended that a generic training program be created to handle all incoming knowledge levels. This program can be, if needed, tailored to an individual’s weak areas.

There are few companies in industry today that have a formal 3 to 4 year training program used to groom incoming technicians. Those programs that are still out there are normally used to train former site operators that have been accepted into the maintenance department. These programs are normally comprised of a combination of classroom, hands-on, and OJT. In some cases, they meet state and federal apprenticeship requirements. The key, once again, is that there is a formal process, which lends to a consistent and comprehensive training program. Your HR Department can work with your maintenance organization to formalize such a program. As previously discussed, apprenticeship and vocational program memberships are beginning to decline. So, it will become harder to find new hires with the basic fundamental training needed for these positions. It will be left up to the employer to fill in the gaps, and ensure the technician is capable of performing his job. Otherwise, companies will continue to experience self-induced failures due to improper installations and repairs. The effect of the future labor pool will be compounded by the demographics of the next 10 to 15 years.

The data presented earlier in this article indicates there could be a large number of retirements in the U.S. workforce within the near future. As explained above, this change will be the result of many of the baby boomers reaching the 55 and above age group. This projection becomes a reality as you begin to look at maintenance departments throughout the U.S. It has been my experience that the median age of craftsmen in the manufacturing sector is within the 45-55 age group. The stage is now set for a dilemma that will be plaguing industry in the U.S. for the next several years. The number of retirees will outnumber the number of available qualified technicians. This leaves companies only one alternative. Create a training program that could be utilized for any individual regardless of his previous training or experience. Once a gap analysis is done with incoming experienced technicians, you may choose to fast track their training. On the other extreme, those new hires that have no previous experience or training would have to complete the entire program. Now there is one fundamental problem that will not be addressed by your newly created program, and that is how to deal with succession planning. Now its safe to say that, based on the statistics shown, if an organization has not begun to plan for future replacements it is behind the eight ball.

Succession planning is not hiring someone’s replacement two days before they retire. Though this seems to be common practice, it is not recommended. When you consider the obstacles that will be encountered in the future with the availability of qualified individuals, it is a daunting predicament companies are going find themselves in. All of the issues mentioned throughout this article should be taken into account to ensure a smooth transition of knowledge as the senior technicians begin to retire. Otherwise, the consequences will be detrimental to a facility’s productivity as it faces failures resulting from knowledge gaps in their maintenance departments. Proper Human Resource Management will be the link to maintaining this continuum. HR management can and will affect a company’s ability to reach a world-class state of Reliability Excellence. Both Maintenance and Human Resource Managers should become aligned on how to best handle these impending resource issues before they become a problem. Reliability Excellence is everyone’s responsibility, not just the Maintenance Department.

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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