Pro Tip: Have your new maintenance associates shadow production people so they thoroughly understand the needs of their customer — the production department.

When I started my career as a mechanic in the early 1980s, I was taught the “Voice of Customer.” At the time, my dad was also a mechanic at the bakery, and he would say, “production is the customer and our job security.”

Forty years later, and I believe it is even more so today. Along the way, I have picked up some best practices for onboarding maintenance associates and giving our customer — the production department — what they need.

All departments should have a well-developed onboarding schedule plan, but this is especially true for the maintenance group. All manufacturing plans should begin with human resources (HR) and safety prerequisites. This is often glazed over, and the results can be dangerous. Trust but verify.

Once HR has turned the new hire over, I recommend having the new maintenance associate work for 4 hours shadowing a production associate, performing each of the following positions: scaler, mixer, makeup (on each line), proofer/oven, pan handling, wrap (on each line) and pack-out (on each line).

During this initial period — and under proper guidance — the associate should try to perform the role and learn what’s required of the equipment to aid the operator in their effectiveness.

This may seem like a waste of time to many, but it is important that the new maintenance person understand that the operator is tied to a fixed point. They’re dependent upon the equipment operating properly, and when it doesn’t, the maintenance department needs to respond in a timely manner.

This truly is our job security and stresses the importance of effective preventive maintenance, accurate setup charts, as well as good inter-departmental relations.

I’ve never seen a plant with stellar operational performance that didn’t have great “Voice of Customer” between all departments. Production serves the quality and fulfillment needs of sales. Engineering and maintenance provide equipment reliability and accuracy for production. Maintenance and production assist sanitation to obtain effective food safety along with good facility and equipment hygiene.

After the new maintenance associate has worked in all the production roles, assign the new hire responsibility for performing building rounds and preflight. Obviously, this associate should begin by shadowing a more senior mechanic to learn the ropes.

The pre-described technique helps improve customer service and relations while also fast-tracking the learning curve for operational process.

With today’s talent gaps, department heads sometimes tend to throw new hires in the deep end of the pool. This shortsighted approach will always have long-term consequences and should be avoided.