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Tapping Unused Resources in Lean Times

October 14, 2001
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Basic Skills Training, Training Technology, Featured Article
Few companies have the courage to recognize that slow times are the right times for training. Nordenia USA is one of them. Two years ago, Nordenia's U.S. plant in Jackson, Missouri, was in a rapid growth period, hiring new employees, expanding its work space, and adding new products. Karl Mindeman was brought in at that time to identify training needs and develop training programs to keep up with the massive growth. There was a need for new-hire and technical training, and management-skills development. There were no formal programs in place.

Medium Company
Name:Nordenia USA
Location:Jackson, Missouri
Business:Manufacturer of packaging for consumer products
Employees:3,500 worldwide

"During the growth it was a happy time," Mindeman says. Because the company was creating so many jobs in the community, it qualified for training grants. It also had a budget for training development, but things were so hectic that there was little time to initiate it. "The money was there, but the time wasn't. We were hiring 30 to 40 people a month. We were always playing catch-up, throwing Band-Aids on the problems."

This year, however, things have changed. The economy has slowed, and the company hasn't hired new people since last December. But instead of dumping the training department in a financial panic, management agreed with Mindeman that it was the perfect time to develop training programs that would facilitate smooth expansions in the future. Ultimately, the programs would save the company money.

Acknowledging that money for the training budget was not as freely available, Mindeman proposed using what they did have -- time and expertise. By using the grant money that was still in reserve and taking advantage of the in-house experts who had extra time, Mindeman created "a killer new-hire training program" that cost little money but resulted in a completely overhauled training system.

Instead of hiring new trainers, he was given 12 representatives from each of the eight manufacturing departments to work 16 hours a week for three months on developing course material for new hires in every area of the company. The reps documented what knowledge and procedures a person would most need to know.

Because business was slow, Mindeman didn't have trouble getting managers to commit key people to the project. "They see the need to have well-trained new hires," he says. "They are smart enough to know a good business decision.

"It was very good timing," he adds. "Instead of finding busywork for them to do or giving them time off, we are taking the opportunity to prepare for the future."

Once developed, the training materials were translated into the CBT Technical Training System, otherwise known as The Big Giant Head. It was made entirely in-house and serves as a Web-based company encyclopedia. It consists of linked PowerPoint presentations developed by each of the reps, Mindeman says. "It's interactive, like a Web site, and we didn't have to buy software or train people to author content." The company already owned copies of PowerPoint, and most of the reps knew how to use it. Mindeman offered a two-day workshop for those who didn't.

Along with the BGH, Mindeman's team also created a structured 12-week program for new hires to help them develop goals. It requires them to document their accomplishments each week through an online interactive review. They are expected to watch and copy demonstrations in the workplace with the help of coaches, and have written assessments on their progress completed by supervisors. The supervisors now have checklists of key skills that must be mastered.

Before this program was built, new-hire training at Nordenia consisted of a weeklong buddy system in which the trainee was assigned to someone on the job. "They'd learn one thing on one shift and something else on another," Mindeman says. "Now, the training is very structured."

The training cost little to build, but has added significant value to Nordenia's new-hire program. Mindeman hopes that this month, when business is expected to pick up and hiring will begin again, the new program will foster better-prepared employees, a more consistent work environment, and a reduction in turnover.

The project is already being considered as a pilot program by other facilities throughout the world, Mindeman says. "We are establishing standards for training across the board."

Workforce, October 2001, pp. 86-87 -- Subscribe Now!

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