How do you know where to start with maintenance skills training? For many of us, that’s the million-dollar question. That training is needed is usually self-evident. But what kind of training, in which areas, and how much training are questions not easily answered. That’s what a needs assessment is about.
In the beginning
The first step in a needs assessment is to identify the problem. Then a needs assessment can determine if training will provide the answer.
As management looks at all aspects of its maintenance organization, it needs to find the answers to some basic questions:
• Will training resolve my problem?
• How much money will I save by implementing this training program?
• How much will the training cost?
• Is there a payback on this training?
Some hints at the answers to these questions can be found in a study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education with the Bureau of Census, to determine how training impacts productivity. Some of the eye-opening results were:
• Increasing an individual’s educational level by 10 percent increases productivity by 8.6 percent.
• Increasing an individual’s work hours by 10 percent increases productivity by 6.0 percent.
• Increasing capital stock by 10 percent increases productivity by 3.2 percent.
Of course, training alone is not sufficient. In most cases, training is only part of the real problem: the lack of an organized and disciplined maintenance process. The development and implementation of a maintenance skills training program must be part of a well-developed strategy. Skill increases that are not utilized properly will result in no changes. Once an individual is trained in a skill, he must be provided with the time and tools to perform this skill and must be held accountable for his actions.
Will training solve my problem?
To answer the question, we must look into the problem. We know from research that 70 percent of equipment failures are self-induced—that is, caused by the introduction of human error.
Not all self-induced equipment failures are maintenance related. Some will be induced by operator error, by being bumped, by vehicles or other equipment, etc.
Work orders are the best source of information to determine self-induced equipment failures. We must identify the true cause of the failures by randomly sampling the work orders of equipment breakdowns over a three-month period. The question to be answered: Was lack of skill (self-induced failure) the problem?
If lack of skill was the major problem, then you can easily estimate the losses due to lack of skill. First, add together the cost of production losses, the cost of maintenance labor, and the cost of repair parts. Then multiply this sum by the percentage of maintenance labor hours attributable to emergency self-induced breakdown work orders. The final figure will be a rough indication of what your plant skills deficit is costing you.
Perform a skills assessment
The skill level of the maintenance personnel in most companies is well below what the industry would say is acceptable. The technical training division of Life Cycle Engineering has assessed the skill level of thousands of maintenance personnel in the U.S. and Canada. The assessments indicate that 80 percent of these maintenance personnel scored less than 50 percent in the basic technical skills required to perform their jobs.
A maintenance skills assessment is a valuable tool in determining the strengths and weaknesses of a given group of employees in order to design a high-impact training program that targets those documented needs. The skills assessment should be based on the critical skills.
Maintenance personnel have often found it difficult to upgrade their technical skills because much that is available is redundant or does not take their current skill level into consideration. The assessment is designed to eliminate those problems by facilitating the construction of customized training paths for either individuals or groups based on demonstrated existing knowledge and skills.
When the assessment is used in conjunction with a job task analysis, a gap analysis can be performed to determine both what skills are needed in order to perform the job effectively and what skills the workforce presently has. All training must be based on a job task analysis.
You must then fill the gaps with training that is performance based. This analysis detail identifies the exact task needed in each skill area so that all training is developed based on the actual job requirements. Gap analysis also ensures that training is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliant.
Three aspects of assessment
Each skill area in a skills assessment should have three components:
• Written: Identifies the knowledge required for a specific skill. Theories, principles, fundamentals, vocabulary, and calculation should be among the skills tested.
• Identification: Assesses knowledge in specific skill areas. Employees are asked to name components and explain their uses in this oral assessment.
• Performance: Assesses the critical skills required. To analyze this aspect, employees carry out typical maintenance tasks in accordance with generally accepted work standards.
The written assessment may be proctored by the plant’s own personnel, but certified assessors from an outside agency or a local technical school should perform the identification and performance portions of the skills assessment. This practice ensures that the assessor does not have preconceived notions about what someone knows. Here is an example of why this precaution is important: During an assessment at a paper mill, the maintenance manager pointed to one of his employees and said, “See that man? He is the dumbest mechanic I have.” The results proved otherwise. Out of 250 mechanics he rated as the fifth most skilled.
The assessment data should be analyzed and compiled into a series of reports that depict scores in three ways:
• Company summary, showing a composite of all personnel tested
• Skill results, showing the scores of all personnel by subject area
• Individual results, showing scores of all tests by each person
The results should be shared with company management as well as with the individuals tested.
The assessment report becomes a benchmark study on the status of your existing maintenance workforce and is useful as the tool against which to measure progress or as the profile against which to hire new employees in order to round out the department.
After completion of the assessment process, you can begin to establish performance standards for each employee or for the group, develop a training plan to address the identified needs, develop curriculum to meet training goals, or deliver training in the targeted skill areas.
Increasing pressure to improve productivity and reduce costs is forcing organizations to search for innovative solutions. Targeted training is both effective and efficient, regardless of whether the goal is to design a full apprentice-to-journeyman program or just identify skills for high-impact brushing up.
Time and money spent on a training needs assessment will help you get the most out of the limited training dollars available by helping identify the training opportunities, allowing money to be allocated effectively. MT
Ricky Smith is the executive director of Maintenance Strategies for Life Cycle Engineering Inc. For additional information, contact Richard Jamison at 4360 Corporate Rd., Charleston, SC 29405; (843) 744-7110