Having a training plan for your personnel is always a good practice. However, sometimes it’s not possible to find the adequate course because the topic is too specific, the course is not available at that moment or is too expensive.
Many years ago, while working at a maintenance department, I was looking for a training course for our personnel and couldn’t find one that fulfilled our requirements in terms of cost and availability. Still, I really needed to train our technicians so I found an alternative way to do it.
At the maintenance engineering department, we had been experiencing many problems with a filling station, an equipment with hydraulic, pneumatic and vacuum circuits controlled by a PLC. This equipment started presenting a different range of failures and most of the time the engineers who work at the office, had to go to the station to help the technicians solve the problem. Moreover, very often downtime increased during the night shift since we weren’t there to assist in dealing with the failures.
The engineers at the office (sometimes myself included) started complaining about this situation. So, I began to study how to workout this problem. It was clear that our personnel didn’t have the necessary skills to deal with this equipment effectively and specific training was needed. The equipment manufacturer’s training course would have been the perfect option, but it involved bringing people from abroad which was too expensive for our budget, especially because the course was not contemplated in the yearly training plan.
I kept studying the situation and identified that there were some technicians with great experience to deal with the problems by themselves, sometimes better than us. That was when I came up with a good idea to train the rest of our people.
My idea was originally inspired in TPM. When implementing this methodology, the team that manages the process pays special attention to the groups that excel in their tasks. They study them to learn why they are better than the rest, and then pass the information to the other groups to improve the overall performance.
The proposed plan was to gather the fault finding knowledge from the experienced technicians and then organise a course to teach the rest of the personnel how to detect and deal with the most frequent problems. I asked a colleague for help on implementing the idea and also got the approval of our manager to go ahead with the project.
As a result, we scheduled a brainstorming session with all the experienced technicians to perform a Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) gathering all their experience dealing with the equipment’s failures. With that information, we created a troubleshooting guide, several visual maintenance procedures and a course for the rest of maintenance personnel.
The Brainstorming session was a success. The participants, who weren’t used to an office environment, were shy at first but then gradually became highly engaged in the process. They even started proposing improvements to the machine and maintenance procedures that would minimise the time to repair and allow to perform preventive maintenance tasks more efficiently. We also found out that some problems were due to inappropriate maintenance practices during preventive maintenance work.
The course derived from the brainstorming session was also well received. It was delivered during overtime hours so it was not compulsory. After it finished, the voice of mouth was so positive that people who had chosen not to attend, asked me to repeat it so they can now take it!
We also implemented the improvements suggested during the brainstorming session which resulted highly effective and improved the maintenance department performance.
After this initial experience, we did the same with more equipment and other engineers also wanted to engage and participate in the process.
As a conclusion, here are some key points I learnt about this experience:
- This training method not only solved the problem but also improved personnel’s morale and served as a way to recognise our senior technicians’ expertise.
- You will need a lot of time and effort to prepare the procedures and courses after the brainstorming session. Ensure that you or your team can assume that amount of workload before starting.
- Look for support. Talk to your manager and ask for the necessary resources (venue, overtime hours, access to some equipment, etc)
- Tackle one equipment at a time
- Minimise the time of the brainstorming session to keep people focused (you can read this post about effective brainstorming to get some tips)
- If improvement initiatives come up during the brainstorming session and the team decide they are worth implementing, be sure they are implemented. Nothing destroys more the credibility of an improvement process than not implementing the plan. If the proposed measures can’t be implemented for reasons out of your control, find a way to communicate this to the participants.
Although a formal course can have some advantages over this method, there are some benefits derived from it, such as increasing personnel’s engagement and commitment, recognising their knowledge and experience and prompting them to generate improvement initiatives.
Have you tried something like this in the past? Do you have other ways of taking advantage of your people’s experience? Please share your comments below.
Thanks for reading!