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Revamping On-The-Job Training

Montez King
By Montez King Executive Director, National Institute for Metalworking Skills

The “complexity gap” is a reality all manufacturers must face as they prepare their workforces for modern manufacturing methodologies. This gap is widening as new and emerging technologies demand more and more varied skills than the average worker can master in the time frame that employers need to compete in our economy.

From one generation to the next, occupational requirements in manufacturing have been expanding rapidly. For example, the conventional journeyman track may list five times more duties today than it did 30 years ago—plus each duty now has additional facets. Creative companies are adapting to this evolution by assigning different roles and certain duties within each role. For example, Machinist 1 may have different roles and duties than Machinist 2.

Complexity and Training Gap

How can we take 30-year-old occupational training models that take years to complete and make them fit today’s manufacturing? We can’t.

However, there is hope and a solution in a new training model that is still based on current standards, validates performance, and provides credentials. Its advantage is flexibility. Employers simply identify various occupational roles, choose from a menu of standard duties within each role, and the training program is outlined, started and validated. Skills are judged using customized performance measures. A credential is then earned—usually in weeks rather than years.

This new concept allows organizations to respond to emerging technology and marketplace changes. When describing this concept, I often use the example of Build-A-Bear, the store where customers get a basic, stuffed teddy bear and then customize it with an array of clothing and accessories. Similarly, an employer can select basic roles for its machinists, who then customize those roles with a choice of specific duties.

Also, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) has put forth “Smart Training Principles” and “Smart Performance Measures” to help companies structure and stabilize their on-the-job training (OJT) programs. Our team is available as a technical assistance resource as companies implement these principles. During our typical consult, we begin with a simple, seven-step process to help organizations embark on an effective path, with specifics about how to apply these guidelines in their companies and adapt them for their needs.

Training Involves Not Just the Trainee

Other stakeholder parties are involved in this process. There’s the trainer, the organization, and the community, such as the feeder educational institutions and other manufacturers. Therefore, the new paradigm provides guidelines and assessments for not only the trainee, but also for the stakeholder community within the NIMS universe. Over time, NIMS will provide a complete digital platform for assessing the performance of all stakeholders that accounts for privacy and robust security. There are also opportunities to embrace and work with nearby secondary and post-secondary schools in order to ensure that what they are teaching is aligned with required roles for manufacturers in a community.

It’s a challenge today to fully understand what skills are needed in manufacturing and identify the best ways to ramp up the workforce. Having provided industry-recognized credentialing to manufacturers for the last 25 years, NIMS is in a unique position to understand what works and what doesn’t. One thing is certain: manufacturers have needed a new way to think about and carry out their OJT efforts for the last decade, if not longer. That new way has arrived.

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