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Developing and retaining future craft skills.

"Developing and Retaining Future Craft Skills" is the title of one of two presentations on this subject at the upcoming Pulp and Paper Reliability and Maintenance Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, USA from October 10-14, 2005. ( The same subject was the focus of the largest reliability and maintenance conferences in New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden.

It is often mentioned that this is a future crisis; my observations tell me that the crisis is here, now, and that it will be worse in the future. Table 1 lists some facts from a recent survey: (Reference:

Respondents saying that they can easily find skilled crafts people are located in areas suffering from recent plant closings; the people they hire are typically in their early to mid 50s.

The on-the-job training chosen by 65% of respondents is often referred to as "Follow Joe" training. This means that Joe once upon a time was trained by another Joe. Because he has never received any professional training during his employment, Joe only knows 70% of what he needs to do a professional job. Charles, a new employee, is paired with Joe to learn to be a crafts person. Joe will most probably teach Charles just 70% of what he knows; the rest remains hidden in pride and job security or poor memory. If Charles retains 70% of what Joe teaches him, Charles now knows only 34.3% of what he needs to know to be a professional crafts person. One day Charles will be the one to "train" a new employee!

Only 16% of survey respondents said they have a professional training program for new employees. In the last 20 years, many plants have abandoned their apprentice programs as part of shortsighted cost savings initiatives. I have observed an increased interest in reinstating apprentice programs and pairing training with community colleges. However, most organizations remain ignorant of the shortage of skilled crafts people. I often hear statements such as, "If we train people here they will leave to take other jobs." Your response to this statement should be, "Is it better if you do not train them and they stay?"


Some organizations try to get out of the problem by outsourcing maintenance. I wish someone would tell me where contractors find their skilled people. A contractor recently told me that they had to sell the contract based on lower labor rates than the plant's own employees. This doomed them to hire unskilled people at low rates and poor benefits and then train them on the job. One serious problem was that electricians only stayed an average of 18 months, then left for better paying, permanent jobs.

I would like to know what your organization is doing about developing and retaining future craft skills. Are my observations correct? Please contact me at attn. Christer Idhammar.
* 9% of respondents say they can easily find skilled crafts people
* 65% say they hire and train on-the-job by pairing new employees with
 their own crafts people
* 16% say they have a professional and structured training program for
 crafts people
* 60%+ of plants will lose over 50% of their skilled crafts people in
 the next five years

Two comments from respondents:
* We are currently in the process of reducing our maintenance staff by
 50% in the next year. Senior management has determined that our
 maintenance staff is too expensive so we will contract out as much as
 we can.
* Hiring qualified skilled maintenance personnel is a challenge. The
 training budgets are very hard to "sell" to management.

Table 1: Sampling of results from an IDCON survey.

The 19th Annual Pulp & Paper Reliability and Maintenance Conference for operations and maintenance will be held in Atlanta, Georgia October 10-14, 2005. The program is designed for operations and maintenance professionals. It is highly recommended that you attend as a team. Visit



Christer Idhammar is president and founder of IDCON INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. IDCON is a consulting company providing worldwide education, training and implementation of better operations and maintenance practices. For more information, go to:

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Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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