Over the course of several articles, this column has touched on the importance of effective training of operations and support personnel, both line workers and supervisors, as well as on some of the techniques for conducting effective training programs. As many can attest, employee training is one of the most essential investments a company can make. However, providing workers with efficient tools to do their job is just as important.

Since the 1970s, the shortage of skilled workers to fill production and maintenance positions has been confronting the baking industry. How is it after all these years we have not been able to resolve the issue? As an industry, we talk about it a lot, but we don’t seem to get anywhere. Many baking companies have departments dedicated to training and development. It is always on the short list of priorities that our various associations focus on, and there are always committees and task forces assigned to tackle the subject. We employ various consultancies to provide instructional programs that range from improving foundational skills, to teaching necessary operational skills, to advising on successful organizational leadership. Yet, 40 years later, we still are confronted by the skills shortage problem.

I believe this is because we have not identified how much the skills shortage, turnover associated with inadequately trained employees, process loss created by employee practices, downtime resulting from protracted diagnosis and repair of production equipment is costing our companies and the industry.

In many ways, we have systems that by design obscure the information we need to quantify these costs. How many of your downtime reports focus on the response time to repair a piece of equipment, rather than the time a piece of equipment is down? Consider the last time you looked at a Pareto chart. What did it tell you? It was probably either the number of times a particular event happened, or the cumulative minutes it was inoperative. What it did not tell you was how often that downtime was associated with operational factors, or how the downtime was related to protracted efforts at trying to identify or repair the problem.

Maybe it is time we develop a method for determining the true cost of unskilled and untrained workers. When we identify serious issues that confront our industry — and put a cost to them — we address the fundamentals of those issues and taming those costs. Working as a united front, bakers, equipment manufacturers and others who support the baking and snack industries are successful in the areas of worker safety, improved sanitary design and energy conservation. What would it take to elevate the training of our employees to the same level of commitment as has been given to energy reduction, GMP compliance and worker safety programs?

It would seem the first order of business would be designing tracking systems that take into consideration the softer issues of operational performance and equipment maintenance: the impact of skills on line performance and operational cost.

Second would be identifying the skills required to perform a task — not the generalizations that state, “Adjust divider to maintain weight” or, “Troubleshoot 3-phase motor control circuits.” Rather, it would look more like, “Use a digital scale to take and record dough ball weights in grams …” or, “Use a digital volt meter to check voltage on a 3-phase power source using the proper safety methods and equipment.” Once the skills are established, the next step would involve a qualitative assessment of the individuals who are expected to perform these tasks.

The skills assessment also provides background information for two other  critical tasks. It can be used to develop screening questions and work requirements for interviewing prospective employees. The skills assessment can also be used when speaking with educators about the educational programs that are necessary to support our industry.

Armed with a grasp of the skills required, tasks to be performed and knowledge gained from the assessment, it is time to develop an ROI model for having an effective training program. What does such a program look like? It is one that enhances product quality and consistency, reduces downtime occurrences and improves maintenance repair times, and increases employee retention. Just as in any other ROI model, it will need to consider yield and efficiency, cost of downtime including idle labor and lost sales (if any), cost to make up the lost volume, and cost of labor and material. In addition, the ROI model needs to factor in costs associated with employee hiring and orientation and the organizational impact of vacancies.

Certainly, the basis plugged into such a model will vary from company to company. However, the skills required to maintain common equipment, measure performance and construct an industry-accepted model are all tasks that can be undertaken by the industry — just as safety, environmental, sanitation and BISSC Standards have been. It seems timely to approach training and education in a unified way.