It's an age-old problem but one that manufacturers still face today - how to train your staff without causing major disruption to your business; not to mention making sure the training is worthwhile.
With over 20 years' industry experience, John Craig, founder of Halo Training, believes he has developed the solution with On Demand Training (ODT) - a modern e-learning package designed to improve training while increasing operating efficiencies.
An ODT solution is provided on CD or via the Internet and each package incorporates animation, video and audio commentary to demonstrate plant processes and equipment operating functions and procedures.
Most recently, ODT was put into practice at Wiseman Dairies' Bellshill facility.
Recognising that traditional training manuals were either not read nor sufficiently understood, Wiseman approached Halo to develop an e-learning programme to help familiarise new personnel with the Line Production System (LPS) used in the filling halls. It also wanted a reference aid for existing engineers who only used the equipment occasionally.
The first step in any scenario like this, explains Craig, is to complete a needs analysis. "We speak to the managers, but we also speak to the staff that are going to receive the training, because often their view is quite different to their manager's in terms of their needs," he says. "People are also more open about telling us things as we are from an outside organisation."
Having viewed the situation from both sides, the next step is to develop a structure for the training. In Wiseman's case, Halo split the ODT programme into several categories: overview of the dairy operation from milk procurement through to depot delivery; how to operate the LPS computer; how to fault find major components; how to access information from the database; reference documentation; and fault finding charts.
Calum Robertson, automation training engineer with Wiseman says: "The ODT programme offered an easy-to-use, engaging and visually stimulating learning environment without the need for dedicated training staff. Its modular approach was particularly appealing."
A formal trial was carried out using experienced and new engineers as test students, who were equally impressed. "Both found the content useful and learning interface intuitive," adds Robertson.
However, one of the most significant benefits of this style of training is that it is tailored to a company's needs and offers guidance in the most efficient use of the equipment, claims Craig. "The equipment manufacturers won't tell you how to use their machines in your particular factory, but we will."
It's also more than just a training package, he says. "A typical training scenario is that people are trained but then don't need to use it right away. But if you don't use information you quickly forget it, so six months down the line when something goes wrong, you can't quite remember what to do. But with ODT you have an electronic reference manual, to which you can instantly refer back to remind yourself."
And, says Craig, as the name suggests, it's instant - the employer doesn't have to wait for a course or for several people to all need training at once.
Long-term cost benefit
Admittedly, this sort of service doesn't come cheap. ODT will cost between £5,000 and £10,000 compared to about £500 for a standard, one-off training course.
But as Craig points out: "You get something totally different: bespoke training and a reference facility; and once you've got it, you can use the training again and again, without the need for a trainer or taking people off-site for a course." He claims that compared to the cost of traditional training methods over a 12-18 month period, ODT is highly competitive.
"However good classroom-based training is, it is always open to misinterpretation, particularly after the event when you look back at notes you've been given," says Craig. However, being mainly video-led, ODT eliminates this potential problem. "They say a picture tells a 1,000 words - well a video must be worth 1M!"
This is all very well, but how can an employer be sure his staff have not only completed the programme, but also taken on board the information? After each module there is an assessment to be completed by the employee at the company's discretion.
Having worked in the food industry for 25 years, Craig says he saw first hand the need for this style of training. "ODT is a logical, analytical way of looking at processes and training procedures. Because of this, it will always be able to help improve procedures and find things that are missing. It helps avoid what I call the 'blatantly obvious syndrome' where something is obvious to someone who has been doing it for five years, but not to a newcomer being trained."
So why is it not more widely used in the food and drink industry compared to other industries? According to Craig it's because e-learning for the food industry has to be bespoke. "You can do generic programmes on things like hygiene, which are the same across the industry, but without taking the ODT approach, it's difficult for areas like operational and maintenance procedures, because every company is different."
However, he believes several things are now coming together, which will eventually increase the demand: the technology is now available to set e-learning up in an economic way; and the motivation is there from companies, which realise they need to invest in this sort of training, particularly when staff turnover is so high. FM
For more information on Halo Training telephone 01635 201768 or visit http://www.halotraining.co.uk