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New training program receives top grades at Robinson Foundry.

By improving its workers' literacy and job-related skills, this Alabama company is increasing productivity and quality.

Robinson Foundry has built a national reputation for innovation in process and technology. For the past decade, we have been heavily involved in research and development and have become the largest "job shop" iron casting company in the U.S. using expendable pattern casting (EPC).

We also are introducing more sophisticated technology to our green sand process. Our company motto is "What we do today will not be good enough for tomorrow."

Training is an essential part of our commitment to continual upgrading. With a recent U.S. Dept. of Education Workplace Literacy Program grant for a quarter million dollars, we are working with our local college--Central Alabama Community College (CACC)--to upgrade the skills of all our 300 hourly workers and production supervisors.

Our monetary match in the project is $100,000. A large part of that figure is accounted for by release time for our workers to attend training. CACC also contributes resources, including $60,000 to help pay staff salaries and materials. In all, $400,000 and 18 months of effort are being directed toward our workers.

The training's goal is twofold: to upgrade workers' skills and, thereby, increase productivity. Scrap rates, employee absenteeism and turnover, and machine downtime will be monitored throughout the program to determine the training's effectiveness.

Background

In the early 1980s, we invested heavily in training programs for statistical process and quality control, but evidence collected over four years indicated that 17 critical incidents were the direct result of basic skill deficiencies. Some examples included not interpreting numerical printouts accurately during the melting process and not correctly reading instructions for mixing or adding ingredients.

Interviews with supervisors and hourly employees and reviews of accident reports provided additional evidence that a lack of basic skills was a key factor in problems related to quality and productivity.

This led to a series of meetings on workplace literacy with CACC. A team of professionals from Robinson and the college then began to evaluate the basic skill needs of our supervisors and hourly workers.

A basic skills screening test was administered to all employees. In March 1990, a cooperative grant proposal was written and submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education's National Workplace Literacy Program. If the project were funded, we agreed in the proposal to assign personnel to it, to provide facilities and to shoulder the costs associated with training 300 hourly employees during regular work hours.

After the grant was funded in March 1991, an advisory board with Robinson and CACC representation was appointed. A college coordinator, industry coordinator, full-time director, two instructor/counselors and a computer specialist began working immediately with the program.

Ten computer workstations--all networked--were purchased along with a mobile facility to house the Training Center established within 15 ft of our main office.

Almost overnight, the program became known by the acronym JOBS (Job Oriented Basic Skills). Since Robinson supervisors are responsible for training hourly employees, we decided training should have two tracks: one for supervisors and one for hourly employees.

Through interviews with supervisors and workers' observations, literacy audits and job analyses were conducted by the JOBS staff for each of the nine departments: core room, pattern shop, EPS, cleaning, melt deck, cope/dragline, maintenance, pattern setup and Disa.

We identified the need for skills such as sequencing, securing information, reading and filling out charts and graphs, computer and technical equipment knowledge, use of measuring tools, and numerical and written skills.

Then each job in every department was analyzed. The next three months of the program were spent developing foundry-specific instructional materials that included reading, math, language, problem solving, critical thinking, computer and communication skills.

To launch the program, we publicized through all local media and held an open house for the community and employees. An orientation was conducted with all supervisors to assure them of executive support for the program and to explain how it would operate. From that point, pilot programs were started for both tracks of the program.

All classes are held during regular work hours beginning at 7:30 a.m. Since classes are required, all individuals must make up any absences on Fridays.

The supervisory training program consists of eight, two-hour sessions with classes of 8-10 people who are supervisors or lead people selected from each department. The two-hour sessions, which meet twice a week, focus on communication, motivation, absenteeism, discipline and three diagnostic tools for self-awareness.

The project director, who has a strong background in industrial training, instructs the supervisors.

The Overall Picture

The hourly employee program, with 8-10 students in each class, also consists of eight, two-hour sessions. At first, trainees are provided with an overview of the total foundry process. They are introduced to Robinson terminology and become familiar with a flowchart showing their department's contribution to the total process. They learn to fill in forms and read schedules that are used plantwide.

This part of the program helps each trainee understand the bigger picture of our organizational structure, personnel procedures, equipment, facilities and resources.

In addition, part of each employee's training is concentrated on his or her particular job. Individual training packages have been developed based upon an analysis of the reading, writing and math skills required of each job at Robinson.

Standard high school or technical college level teaching materials would have been ineffective in meeting our goals of improving workers' job performance. Foundry-specific instructional materials incorporate process and safety vocabulary, defect studies, production forms, viscosity tables and process control sheets.

Any single training session may involve trainees in reading, talking, writing, doing math computations and working in groups to solve problems. Since computers are used in the training, workers gain some basic computer literacy.

The computer training packages being developed during the JOBS program will be used by Robinson trainers after the grant period has ended. These packages, which are written to match the literacy skill level of trainees, will cover various parts of the foundry process.

When the packages are complete, a newly hired core room worker, for instance, could train at the computer learning lab, working through the appropriate lessons at his or her own pace. A typical package will consist of a pretest, lesson and post-test.

The pretest is followed by a lesson using written passages, charts, graphs, diagrams and photographs. The trainee participates in various kinds of learning activities such as labeling machine parts or computing the percentage of jobs scheduled for a particular machine.

The pretest, lesson and post-test are all part of the training package. Educational software automatically stores trainees' scores.

The nature of the training in the JOBS computer learning lab is in line with current training theory. Workers are not back doing "regular schoolwork." Instead, they are upgrading their "job oriented basic skills."

Industry's New Training Role

Publicity about illiteracy in the American working population, and in our share of that population, has caused most of us concern. However, we in business have not generally felt responsible. We have taken for granted that the schools would ensure that people learn to read, write and do basic arithmetic.

In the past, our training function has been limited to preparing workers to do the manual labor required in their part of the manufacturing process. Rarely have jobs involved reading and writing. We have been accustomed to providing specific technical training only.

Yet all of the data points to industry becoming more involved in providing basic skills education. A recent report by the Ford Foundation, Toward a More Perfect Union, concludes that "in an interdependent world economy, the skills of the nation's work force are becoming an increasingly important determinant of American industry's competitive position. Basic skills bear a distinct relation to the future well-being of workers, families, firms and the country itself."

With jobs becoming more complex, both entry-level workers and our regular work force have to be trained and retrained. Today, much of a job may be physical, but increasingly, such work is interrupted regularly by tasks such as filling in forms, reading safety information, accessing computer data and functioning as members of working teams.

Upgrading is necessary because workers need to understand the total foundry process and their department's contribution to it; technological changes and greater complexity of jobs; workers' low levels of formal educational attainment; and workers' forgetting or never mastering skills despite reaching appropriate levels of formal educational attainment.

It makes good sense to simultaneously train workers for today's jobs and prepare them to adapt to and learn for future jobs. In other words, training should provide not only the routine steps of how to read gauges and fill in forms, but also provide an understanding of the data being recorded.

Similarly, while teaching the routine steps of logging into a data base to check inventory, an instructor can teach basic computer literacy skills. The worker who understands the numbers he or she enters on a form will be quick to adapt to a revised version of the form, and the worker who has mastered keyboard skills is ready to use the computer for other assigned tasks.

We have incorporated a computer learning lab because this method of delivering education is highly effective. An article in the November 1991 Training & Development emphasized this.

The author, Jay M. Orlin, predicted a computer-dominated training future: "Training technology is on the threshold of a major transition. Computer-based training has long been a sideshow. But now it is maturing into something that will become a dominant training methodology in the near future."

Training experts today emphasize another principle of optimal adult education. They stress that learning to read, write and do math should not be separated out from the everyday applications of these skills. Our JOBS training packages are designed to give practice on job-specific basic skills. This approach results in greater measurable gains in learning and longer retention of the learning.

Adult Basic Education

Most industries that are training hourly workers identify some very weak readers and nonreaders, and Robinson is no exception. We are providing these people with longer-term educational opportunities. Our instructors indicate that a nonreader will need, on average, two years of study to read newspaper-level materials. Learners will reach that level by working with a volunteer tutor twice a week, two hours each session.

Our local Adult Basic Education (ABE) office is matching our nonreaders with volunteer tutors. In addition, we have on-site classes for workers who want to study and take their high school equivalency test, the General Education Development (GED).

Employee interest in other educational opportunities is a valuable spinoff of JOBS. Trainees experience success in the JOBS program and enjoy working on the computers and in small groups. This experience prompts them to assess their working futures and to set personal educational goals. Some choose to learn to read better, earn their high school diploma or return to CACC to take computer literacy classes.

Workers want more training at Robinson Foundry, too. They indicate this on the surveys they fill out at the end of their training. This interest in self-improvement demonstrates the success of our program.

Training Proves Successful

Grant money from the federal government is awarded with stipulations for its use as well as requirements for measuring results. Table 1 shows the employee outcomes being monitored in the JOBS program.

Some of the assumptions we had about our workers' reading, writing and math capabilities were refined when the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) was given to them. The level at which the training should be aimed was made clearer as individuals' strengths and weaknesses became apparent to the instructors. (Individual performance in testing and training is confidential.)

Ongoing measurements will show which parts of the program are effective, rated highly by trainees and where training efforts should be directed. Other baseline data will serve as a benchmark to assess the effects of the training on productivity. Table 2 shows the industry outcomes we are monitoring.

The complexity of factors that impinge upon the industry outcomes will not be ignored, but at the end of 18 months the impact of JOBS should be apparent. Our goals are to reduce industrial scrap by 60%, equipment downtime by 6% and our annual employee turnover rate by 50%.

Other workplace literacy upgrade projects similar to ours have achieved the kinds of gains for which we're aiming. Educators generally agree that training programs boost employee morale, and an increase in morale, as much as mastery of skills and understandings, can show up in productivity indicators.

TABULAR DATA OMITTED

Another way of looking at the impact of JOBS is to acknowledge that people will succeed at training if they feel they need it. Training that is designed specifically for a group of workers will result in useful skills and understanding. Furthermore, increased job satisfaction can be expected.

Early test results in our JOBS program confirmed this. On average, trainees have increased two grade levels on the TABE and have mastered 87% of the Industrial Process content. Just as important--or maybe more so--surveys at the end of training indicate that trainees and their supervisors gave high grades to the program. Following are survey questions and their percentages of "yes" responses. Did the training:

* Improve your job performance? (57%);

* Help qualify you for future job postings? (48%);

* Help you to read and understand better? (65%);

* Improve your ability to talk so that others understand your ideas? (65%);

* Improve your ability to think clearly and solve problems? (70%);

* Help you write clear, correct messages? (48%);

* Improve your math? (74%);

* Help you to learn to use a computer? (45%);

* Improve your work as a team member? (72%).

The positive ratings given to JOBS by the hourly workers are matched by supervisors' favorable assessment of the program. Supervisors rate the effects of classes on each worker. Their ratings to date are: 73% improved in job attitude; 56% in quantity of work; 45% in quality of work; 45% in attendance; and 64% in job knowledge.
Table 2. Industry Outcomes Monitored under the JOBS Program
Measurement device Outcome measured Type of measurement
RF(*) certification Certification RF quality control
report standards records
RF productivity and Productivity, scrap RF manufacturing
scrap report records
RF equipment Equipment downtime RF manufacturing
downtime report records
RF turnover rate Employee turnover RF personnel
report records
* Robinson Foundry


Management's Philosophy

The introduction of a major training program disrupts normal daily operations. Human and physical resources must be devoted to the project, and initially, some supervisors were reluctant to release workers for JOBS classes.

When confronted, one supervisor said, "If I send the people, I have to take the heat when the work doesn't get out."

The area of the foundry in which that supervisor worked wasn't committed enough to the program. When the training priority is made clear, the goal of both meeting production and supporting training can be achieved.

Robinson's training philosophy is linked to our management philosophy. Traditionally, American management directed workers to perform the labor required of them and to ask few questions. Workers have had little understanding of company operations.

The current self-directed team management approach, however, requires workers to contribute more than that. In their teams, employees collectively are responsible for planning and controlling their work, handling most problems and improving the product. Teamwork and employee commitment can result in a better competitive edge for the industry.

JOBS is moving us closer to such a team approach, in line with our move toward a more upmarket customer base. We're actively seeking more customer certifications, doing layout and dimensional checks with a coordinate measuring machine, and introducing computer and numerically controlled machines. We will be introducing barcoding in response to our customers' demand for traceability. If our customers want to know what happens to the product throughout the plant, the workers must know as well.

Our current training informs workers about the industrial process and about basic financial considerations in that process. Included in the JOBS curriculum are the cost of producing each mold, our workers' compensation costs in relation to wages paid and how many employees are idle when any machine goes down.

We don't just tell workers that our goal is 100% on time, 100% complete, 100% quality. We tell them that when the second mold doesn't fit, the customer sends the whole truckload back, and another customer just won't accept an order that is short, under any circumstances.

The message for the workers is the same one management has been dealing with for some time: It is every bit as important that we prove the product is correct as it is that we get the product out.

Our JOBS training confronts workers with solid information about the manufacturing process and gives them basic insights into the costs of production. This approach taps the full potential of our workers by informing them and improving their skills.

When work makes sense to employees and is something for which they have been carefully trained, they contribute in good faith and are willing to do their share. They are naturally committed to the common good of the organization when they understand the benefits to themselves and are capable of doing what is expected. Training is essential to getting that commitment.

Applying for a Grant

State and federal grant money directed at upgrading workers' basic skills is much more plentiful than it was just a few years ago, but the number of applicants is increasing as well. We competed with more than 300 applicants for our grant and were one of 75 to be successful. To our knowledge, we are one of if not the first foundry to receive one of the grants.

The stiff competition means that experienced people with grant-writing skills are most likely to succeed. Once you've found such people (check training consultants and local colleges), you will have to work with them for several weeks to determine your needs and how they fit into the grant regulations. Guidelines provided by your potential funding agency should be followed closely as you plan your proposal.

Funding agencies look for projects dependent upon outside money but that are supported by considerable matching funds from both the educational and industrial partners. The grants are intended to help the geographic area retain and increase employment, to foster upgrading of worker skills (especially in response to new technology) and to encourage companies to do their own training. A particular employee group, industry or geographic area may be targeted.

Proposals must include detailed information about the trainees, the curriculum, the training timetable, the expertise of the project staff, the way outcomes will be measured and the budget. Often, the granting agency is encouraging research and will require a project to collect data and generate training materials and methods that will be shared throughout an industry.

Before you get involved in the lengthy process of writing a proposal, find out what percentage of applicants is expected to be successful and whether follow-up funding will be available. If you are satisfied with the answers and have a grant writer with a record of success, it is probably worth your while to make an application.

Even if your application is not successful, the proposal writing process will help you develop a prioritized list of training needs. You then can investigate alternative ways of meeting those needs and apply for other similar grants with less initial work.

Editor's note: Robinson Foundry and CACC recently were notified that a second grant of $279,108 for worker training has been funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education's National Workplace Literacy Program.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Robinson Foundry Inc.
Author:Robinson, Joe, Jr.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:3270
Previous Article:Understanding ISO 9000: its impact on American foundries and diecasters.
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