Yesterday, while performing a quality audit on an insulating glass line, I was introduced to one of the happiest production workers I have ever met. Let’s call her Linda.

I immediately noticed her enthusiastic attitude and zeal for her job. I perform these audits periodically, but this was the first time I had met Linda, so I assumed she was a new hire. But when I asked her how long she had worked with the company, she replied that she had been there several years. So, I asked why we had never met her before. She replied that she was being cross-trained on many other aspects of window production, so this was something like her fifth job assignment. She explained with a great sense of pride how, for each department she had worked in, she contributed new ideas for production efficiency.

Yet each new assignment was a welcome change of pace, she said. “It is an opportunity to learn something new and a chance to take on a new challenge. I like to see how I can impact each department into which I am placed, thereby contributing to each aspect of window production,” she said with a huge smile.

This had me pondering about the value of cross training and how it contributes to long term efficiency gains in production. Just about every window plant that I visit complains about how hard it is to find good production workers, and also how hard it is to keep them. “We are constantly training new people because we are constantly losing them,” complained one plant foreman. This makes it harder to keep up with our quality standards because many of the employees in each department are being trained and are not fully tuned in to the job at hand. However, if someone leaves the company, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fill that position internally and immediately with another employee that has already been cross trained? Yes indeed.

So, the value of cross training employees has two very important advantages. First of all, it gives you a pool of employees who can immediately step into a new job function performing at a very high productivity rate while meeting quality standards. In the heat of the busy season, when daily production goals are peaking, this can be a crucial factor.

The second key advantage of cross training, as evidenced by Linda’s attitude toward her job and her overall sense of job satisfaction, is simply happier employees who are more motivated to come to work every day. This means less turnover and more valuable workers who are well poised to move up in the organization as they step into larger roles. Also, when other employees see their colleagues being promoted, it boosts their overall sense of job satisfaction as well and provides them with valuable foresight into their own desired career path.

So, does cross training take extra effort to accomplish? The answer is yes. Does cross training temporarily slow down production rates? You bet it does, which is why it is best accomplished in the off-season when production demands are lower. Is it worth the extra effort to cross train employees? The final answer is “absolutely yes,” as evidenced by the big smile I saw on Linda’s face as she started another challenging day on the insulating glass line.

1 Comment

  1. Another benefit is that cross-trained employees see first-hand how product from one area of the production process affects the next, helping to bring about changes resulting in improvements in safety, quality, and efficiency.

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