If you’ve ever sat through a death-by-PowerPoint training session, you know how boring and ineffective one-size-fits-none training can be. Fortunately, training by internal personnel, system integrators, and vendors is evolving to fit the needs of process control end users and to satisfy management demands for real returns on training investments.
Before we look at specific training methods, let’s answer the question, “why train at all?” The first and most obvious reason to train is to increase productivity. Productive employees increase overall company productivity and justify training expenses.
But there are many other reasons to educate employees. “We train so we can accomplish tasks internally without depending on contractors,” says Jerry Wilkey, electrical foreman at Lehigh White Cement, Allentown, Pa. Doing work with existing staff saves money and time, and can also improve morale.
Many end users think training is a great way to solve vexing problems. “Time away gives the employee time to develop new perspectives on solving nagging problems,” opines Jeff Waufle, IT technical services supervisor at Las Vegas Valley Water District in Nevada.
Training also enables teamwork, which can then be brought to bear on other problems. “Training gives us a much larger pool of people to solve customer’s problems,” says Joe Malter, a senior project engineer with system integrator PSI Controls.
Training opens the door to new problem solving methods. “Education can introduce our clients to technologies and solutions they didn’t realize existed, helping them to solve difficult problems,” reports Marc Immordino, product training manager at Wago, Germantown, Wisc. Wago makes electrical connectors and decentralized automation components such as I/O devices, PLCs, power supplies, and signal conditioners.
Training can show employees new and better ways of doing things. “Training enables people to recognize opportunities for improvement beyond requested scope,” according to Dick Ciammaichella, director of control systems integration at CSIA member, the RoviSys Co..
FIGURE 1: THE TRAINING TABLE
Hands-on training in a lab environment with actual instruments used in the students’ process plants is a training best practice. (Photo courtesy of FCI.)
Employees become more effective when trained, but while they’re in training, others must step in to take their place. This can be a good thing. “We find that employees covering the duties of an employee in training get real-time practice in their back-up tasks. This increases our bench strength,” says Waufle.
Companies must sometimes train to address very specific operational requirements. “Training our employees with automation technologies helps us retain valuable data,” reports Joe Mauro, East Coast LFG manager for Minnesota Methane/United Gasco, East Brunswick, N.J. “In our business, lost data can cause large economic losses. If we lose flow or temperature data, local environmental agencies can and do levy large fines for these lost data points.”
Besides direct operational benefits, training helps companies attract, retain and motivate employees—an especially critical benefit in process control industries, where the shortage of technical personnel is chronic.
Keep Your Best Employees
“Training increases employee retention and loyalty. It’s myopic and incorrect to assume that the employee will take the training and move elsewhere. Departure is for other reasons,” says Geoffrey Kerr, electrical engineering manager at automotive covering maker, The Haartz Corp., Acton, Mass.
Others second Kerr’s opinion. “Training gives employees a sense of loyalty to the company, and it also creates a team identity for groups of people that train together,” says Ethan Frounfelker, a sales engineer at electrical distributor Mercer Midwest of Milwaukee, Wis. Employees that feel kinship within their firm are much more likely to stay.
Workers often cite stress as a major reason for leaving a job, and training can relieve stress by making workers more confident and comfortable with technology. “Training creates a less stressful work environment, and eases the stressful transition period for new employees or for an employee changing jobs within the company,” observes Stephen Raines, a project engineer with textile company Albany International.
Training also increases morale. “Employees feel important after training because their company is investing in them, and helping them grow professionally,” says Kelly Hoffmann, director of learning and development at system integrator and CSIA member Maverick Technologies. “This goes a long way in retaining talent, and it keeps the workforce prepared for the future by allowing the company to expand and grow with emerging trends and technologies.”
Training makes managers’ jobs easier for other reasons as well. Managers can delegate more to a trained workforce. “Training our employees thoroughly establishes a clear line of accountability and responsibility for our workforce,” relates Jennifer Rogers, marketing director at wire, cable and networking components distributor Accu-Tech.