“New Age” TrainingJuly 14th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs
By Drew Vass
Donald Theune isn’t the typical corporate safety instructor. He doesn’t walk into a classroom, hand out copies of standard operating procedures, and then show everyone how to adjust the straps on their goggles. Why? Because, despite the fact that it’s always been that way, simply put: These days, he says, those methods just aren’t cutting it.
“Companies have spent millions of dollars on trainings, audits and equipment. Nonetheless, accidents and injuries continue to defy the best efforts of safety managers everywhere,” Theune suggests. He contends that the number one cause of workplace accidents—and most any accident—is a lack of focus. For this reason, his company, Donnic Consulting Group, begins with a top-down evaluation of company culture, before giving everyone from the CEO to factory workers lessons in mindfulness.
“Our trainings aren’t the usual didacticism,” Theune says. “As instructors, we don’t get up in front of the room and say, do this, do that, do this, do that.” Instead, he aims to, “reach employees as well as supervisors and managers at deep, personal levels.”
Through a two-year process, every employee is trained to communicate effectively, to intervene in situations without intimidating, to take greater responsibility and to be more accountable for the safety of their co-workers. That’s a far cry from the do’s and don’ts of standard operating procedures, he admits.
When you take a functional approach to training, by forcing employees to memorize “things,” statistics show that it can take decades to see significant reductions in workplace incidents, Theune says. By changing a company’s culture, and thereby the collective mindset of its employees, “That’s something that we can do with our process in months, not decades,” he claims. In the process, other areas are impacted outside of safety, such as production, where a lack of focus can wreak havoc, he says. “Rather than shipping to Marcal, in New Jersey, maybe you ship to Moscot, in New Jersey,” he says. “Or maybe there’s a step that’s a little off, and now you’re producing an inferior product.”
The Collective Mindset
To Theune’s point about a culture of collective responsibility, anyone working in the door and window industry knows: you can spend years developing the perfect product; you can scour the earth for the absolute best raw materials and components; you can engineer the most efficient and precise manufacturing processes; but when it comes to fenestration, it only takes one misstep to bring down the entire Jenga stack. Suddenly, the world’s perfect door or window could be letting in air and/or water, says Tim Nagle, market president for NewSouth Window Solutions LLC.
“In maintaining your brand and reputation, you can have the best product in the world, but if it’s not installed properly, it’s not going to function properly,” Nagle says. From that, there’s a domino effect that spans throughout companies, he suggests, which makes training all the more imperative. For example, a few bad installations and suddenly you aren’t getting as many referrals and making as many sales, he says. With a company the size of NewSouth (the company’s sales for 2018 totaled $76 million), even a 1 percent error among installations can be catastrophic. For this reason, it isn’t surprising that Nagle’s company has extensive training programs, many of which key in on installation. Regardless of their level of experience, before any new installer goes out to a jobsite—whether a company employee or an outside contractor—they go through the same steps that would apply to someone new to the industry.
“We have a lot of standards that our installers have to live up to,” Nagle says. “Even when it comes to the process of how they start a job—things as simple as putting down drop cloths, introducing yourself to the customer or re-measuring the openings before you install a window.” The same philosophy, he says, spans back to the warehouse, “to make sure that our staff inspects the product, stages the product, cleans the product, that it’s ready to go out for installation.”
But none of those measures mean anything, he says, if they aren’t tied to ongoing training programs that give employees a sense of meaning. For instance, by systematically gathering feedback from customers for every job performed, then incorporating that information into specific teaching points, installers can gain a sense for how their job performances impact a company’s reputation. Similar to Theune’s concept of a collective responsibility for safety, Nagle says, “I think everybody wants to work for a company that’s successful and has a good reputation. And they don’t want to be the weak link.”
The Big Picture
That interconnective mindset seems to be the common thread among today’s top training programs. And in 2015, it’s what led Steve Dillon, marketing director for Veka, and one of his fellow coworkers, Kevin Seiling, to develop Veka Academy—a two-day training program designed to educate virtually anyone and everyone who works for or with the company about all aspects of door and window manufacturing.
“From the raw materials coming in off the rail car, all the way to the final window leaving the dock and being installed into a home—everybody’s got to believe in the product along the entire chain,” Dillon says. Like Theune and Nagle, he concurs that when people see the interconnectedness of their work with other processes, they take ownership.
“It creates buy-in, through relationships at all levels,” Dillon says. “It’s relationship building, as well as knowledge,” he says.
Veka Academy begins with a full history of the company, then covers what you might describe as Fenestration 101. Whether you’re an incoming floor technician, or a sales rep, participants
learn about materials, reinforcement and colors, performance ratings and standards, glass and related technologies, labeling procedures, and the full breadth of the industry. A panel is brought in for a townhall-style question-and-answer session, then participants tour the factory.
“They need to have a good understanding of those types of things, so they know why to build the product the way they’re building it, why they have to sell the product the way they’re selling it, or why they use the vendors that they use,” Dillon says. “That’s where the retention side of it comes in. Keeping people interested in what they’re doing is certainly, in my opinion, the key component to retention. If you don’t keep them excited and give them knowledge about all aspects of what it is they’re doing, or why they’re doing it, why do they want to do it?”
In parallel with the Academy, the company also operates several internship and apprenticeship programs, along with educational tracks for electro mechanical technicians and plastic extrusion process technicians. Over the past decade or so, Dillon suggests that Veka’s corporate philosophy has come to center on education. With that have come a few fringe benefits.
“The moment we were able to do reinforcement training, people weren’t frustrated anymore,” says Steve Van De Bunt, Veka’s director of training. “Instead of 40 percent [employee rollover], all of the sudden there was 10 percent.” And he attributes those changes, in part, to employees realizing that their roles in the business are valuable and have meaning. As that culture began to set
in, veteran workers—including those who’ve been with the company for as many as decades—began taking part in training programs, in order to change positions or to gain new skillsets. That, too, Van De Bunt says has helped to keep more employees with the company amid labor shortages.
“People leave when they’re bored, or feel like they aren’t contributing to the overall direction or cause of the company or organization,” Van De Bunt says. “If you don’t keep them engaged, if you don’t make them feel that they are part of the bigger picture, that they are needed for the success of the company moving forward, then they’ll go somewhere where they do feel that way,” he adds. “When you start neglecting them, or holding them back from further knowledge, that’s when you get into trouble. I’ve seen the results. I have the numbers.”
Making it [Joy]stick
When it comes to gaining and keeping new employees, one group that’s grabbing a lot of attention in recent years includes millennials. And while some of the aforementioned cultural shifts check a lot of boxes for the millennial generation (see the related article on page 14), there are other disparities to address.
“We have specified trainers; we would train the trainer to make sure that they’re following standard operating procedures; we developed new standard operating procedures; we adopted all the things that our industry considers best practices,” says Pierre El-Hindi, general manager for Tremco. Yet, time and time again, after investing months of training into younger employees, his company would come up empty-handed, he says. To make matters worse, “For the first six months, they aren’t giving you anything,” he adds. In an industry where, “If you make one bad batch [of sealant], that will cost you upwards of somewhere between $10,000 to $30,000, or even $50,000,” that’s about how long the training process lasts. But even in cases when his company got its new, younger employees onto the floor, El-Hindi says he noticed retention among millennials was plummeting.
“A lot of times, they get bored, because they aren’t learning fast enough, and they quit,” he says, whereas with past generations, that wasn’t as much of a problem. “As we start to get into this group, it looks like we’re missing something,” he says. “There was something that wasn’t right. We were doing all of these things, but the stick factor just wasn’t there.”
Then they placed a measure on it: As the age gap between the company’s trainers and its new employees widened, the uptake on training and employee retention decreased. “We had a disconnect,” he says. “Our methodologies, regardless of whether they were best practices or not, weren’t getting through to these new, young employees.”
Meanwhile, the answer, he says, was right in front of him.
“I have a daughter who’s now 17, but she was 13 or 14 at the time,” he says. “You give her an iPhone, or you give her an iPad, and she just goes and does things with it that are amazing. I was like, ‘You know what? I think we’re doing this all wrong. We need to give these young folks who are coming into our organization different tools— tools that they’re wired for, that actually get them engaged and wanting to learn.” He suggested that the same tools could also help to accelerate the learning process.
El-Hindi says he posted a companywide challenge, asking anyone and everyone to come up with an out-of-the-box idea for how they could leverage technology to completely revamp their training programs. Then an idea arrived—not surprisingly—from one of its younger employees: What if, instead of subjecting new hires to six months’ worth of on-the-job training, they did it instead through virtual reality (VR)? If they could duplicate the exact manufacturing environment— right down to its finest details—and replicate the equipment and materials in ways that allow trainees to go through actual processes, that would allow them to not only gain immediate hands-on experience, but also to make as many mistakes as necessary.
“I think some of us may have thought, ‘No … that is science fiction. That’s way out of reach,” says Anne Manno, Tremco’s director of marketing. “But they aren’t daunted by it at all,” she says of the company’s younger employees. “Nick [Fiorella] has really been one who, right off the bat, started to create a demo, showing us that we really could do this.” Fiorella previously served as the company’s video editor, but now serves as its video producer and VR/augmented reality developer.
To develop its VR system, first the company drew on employees who perform the job day in and day out, asking them to weigh in with real-world perspectives. Those same employees then went “under the hood” to fine tune the system’s accuracy—right down to such things as factory noises.
“We simulate this, so folks can see the exact reactor they’re going to work on, and the full environment around it—the forklift, where the products are, and how they go to get them,” El-Hindi
says. “If you drop something, you feel a little bit of vibration. If you turn something, you feel some resistance. You can take this to the ninth degree.”
Tremco’s first virtual reality module trains machine operators for its Cleveland plant, on making a number of urethane coatings and sealants, including those for doors and windows. In a move that parallels Veka’s academy, the company’s next phase, Al-Hindi says, includes rolling that system out to the company’s customers and other partners.
“Ten years ago, we were spending time and effort in building on what we thought—on our best practices and what’s available in the industry,” he says.
Now, the industry’s top training programs are shifting—away from the do’s and don’ts of yesterday’s text books, and toward an interconnected sense of meaning.
Drew Vass is the editor of DWM magazine.
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