February 2, 2009

If You Think Cross-Training Is A Shoe, Read On

By Paul Bieber

Cross Training is the easiest, least expensive and most important concept you can introduce to your glass company during this period of slowness in the industry.

By now, you have reduced your work force, shifted hours and stopped new hiring. You, like all of us, are keeping people working with paint and fix-up around your shop. Here is a better project: cross training is the best use of time for your glass and metal business. The more skills each of your people have, they more productive they can be for you.

Here are some simple steps to implement a successful cross training program:

•Make a list of your employees, write down their current skills and rank them A, B or C for skill competence. The A people will be your teachers.

•The most important part of the program is to get the A people committed to being teachers. Have a short meeting with all of them, explaining your goals of sharing skills so that the entire company will be more productive. Some A people will be very hesitant to share their skills. They feel that if they are the only ones to know a task, their jobs are safe. The next lay-off or trade-up you do should be to replace this person.

•Help each teacher come up with a plan for the teaching. How many hours to learn a certain job; or materials needed to practice with.

•Encourage the teachers to do a run-through of their first lesson with you as the student.

•Set your schedule for training. It may be one hour a week, or one hour a day! Whatever fits.

•If your teacher’s ask what’s in it for them, explain job retention and more prosperity for the company when the economy turns around. Do not offer any extra compensation now. At the same time, give the teachers time during the day to prepare. If you ask them to prepare at night, then a small extra compensation is appropriate.

•Post your list of classes (it may be only one or two to start), and ask for volunteers who want to learn more. The ones who do are your keepers. You know what to do with the ones who say they know it all.

•Give out work assignments to teachers and students as a team. This may take more hours to get a job done; so what else are you going to do?

•Accept the fact that you will expend time and effort to train people, and someone will go to another shop now that they are better trained. You still come out ahead by retaining any of your better trained people.

•Hold a graduation ceremony when students finish a course. Make up a diploma on your computer, and have a pizza lunch to celebrate.

You can place a PR piece in your local paper. Editors love this kind of news…it shows a local business fighting back against the economy and improving life for their employees!

If you are dealing with a multi-lingual work force, be sure to hold your lessons in the language that will teach the most to the students. You can hold English as a Second Language (ESL) classes as well. Contact a local community college to check their ESL offerings. Our firm found that our local community college came to our building for free with an experienced teacher for ESL training.

Go to www.glasswebsite.com, the home page of the Glass Association of North America. There are many educational manuals and cross-referenced sites listed. Give out copies of US Glass magazine and discuss articles. Ask your vendors to send in a speaker to train your employees. Attend trade shows, going to seminars, and see if any of the teachers will come to your shop.

And there is more to training than glass and metal. Teach everyone how to answer a phone politely, how to surf the web, how to ring up a customer sale in your showroom. Bring in a physical therapist to teach stretching exercises which will reduce injuries; teach safe driving practices, teach emergency first-aid.

Good luck with your training. I promise you that your firm will be better off for it!