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The Industry Needs Structured Training

Walter Urbanchock
By Walter Urbanchock Director, Manufacturing Engineering, Aerojet Rocketdyne

Big things are happening in the U. S. Space program. The expert personnel who engineer and manufacture the equipment and technologies for the A&D industry are fewer in number now than prior to the end of the shuttle program. Engineering the current and future missions requires its own expertise, difficult to transfer from other industries.  To support the growth of this industry requires more professionals—fast.

Walter Urbanchock

Personnel in this industry tend to be either legacy or novice employees. The legacy employees are industry veterans with specialized knowledge and skills forged from years of experience. The novices are highly capable but usually lack the on-the-job knowledge and skills needed for aerospace. To remain competitive and grow, knowledge and skills need to transfer from the veteran to the novice, effectively and efficiently.

My experience in implementing solutions for this transfer of organizational knowledge points to the need for structured and scalable training programs for all.

Evolution of Training at Aerojet Rocketdyne

Beginning in 2017, we noticed the need to build confidence and professional abilities in some of our new engineers. This was coupled with the need to teach our new professionals to effectively communicate at all levels of the organization. We recognized that a formal training program would significantly increase critical knowledge transfer to these new hires.

Our solution: a training program called AR Strong. The AR Strong program started to not only expedite our training program but also expand my team’s self-confidence. Aerospace is a team sport. AR Strong was named specifically to capture the spirit of inclusion of all stakeholders. Inclusion, respect and a non-judgmental environment to transfer knowledge is the program’s foundation.

Training cannot be done the same old way. It is inconsistent. The buddy system of mentoring can be mediocre or highly beneficial. Some are given the most basic information while others have an effective mentor, who by inclination and/or experience can give a new person a meaningful period of transition.

Our company, and our industry, cannot afford such a wide gap in training experiences. This is where a structured approach is key to developing and sustaining effective training. This is a goal of the AR Strong program.

We have utilized both internal and external resources to build and expand the AR Strong program. The most helpful external resource for me was Tooling U-SME.

A big opportunity and challenge was how to transfer what our internal subject matter experts knew into effective training modules for everyone. The solution was to have Tooling U-SME deliver Train-the-Trainer Training (T3) workshops to internal subject matter experts.

Subject Matter Experts as a Key Resource

Some subject matter experts, quite frankly, were skeptical of the need for this kind of training. However, by sticking with it, these skeptics not only found value in creating the trainings, as well as teaching, but also came to enjoy it.  This further fostered a learning culture, and employees appreciated the practical and effective trainings their peers created and delivered.

How were their minds changed? These subject matter experts participated in T3 workshops that focused on instructional design elements that make trainings effective. They were taught the foundational aspects of what is important to create and deliver an effective training session. This included methodologies of learning styles, ways to structure information in a training session to maximize retention of knowledge and skills, and effective ways to present information.

Employees in these workshops selected a topic in which they were considered an internal expert, and over the course of the workshop they developed a training module to teach what they knew. These new training modules were further reviewed by the leadership teams and incorporated in the AR Strong program.

The result? We have an effective way to transfer organizational knowledge and provide training and growth opportunities for our employees. Aerojet Rocketdyne is confident we will meet the challenges of this next round of space exploration—and provide a satisfying and meaningful experience for those choosing to help us on this journey.

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