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The High Cost of Under-Skilled Labor.

By Pete L. Little, PE

I think we've all seen this before: The new bearing is installed with a hammer, by a technician who was never trained how to do it properly. So the equipment on which it was installed fails after six weeks. When the bearing is again replaced, you find hammer marks on the bearing and on the shaft, along with file marks intended to smooth the shaft.

Too many executives don't understand how much it costs to not train. The irony is that these same executives would never take their $80,000 automobile to Dirty Joe's Garage. They'd take it to the dealership where a factory-trained and authorized technician will do the work. Yet these executives have Dirty Joe working on their $10 million machine, through which their entire plant production is processed. This is what I call a disconnect!

I am not criticizing Dirty Joe. It's not entirely his fault, because he hasn't been sufficiently trained. On the other hand, Dirty Joe should be asking for training. "Hey, boss, how am I supposed to work on this new equipment without training?" Empowered team members will ask. But even those who aren't empowered should try.

Best maintenance practices dictate that every failure be investigated. The cause of a failure could be mechanical or it could simply be a lack of training. If you find out that Dirty Joe did the work, the objective is not to beat him up, but to use this as a teaching opportunity. What did he not do, or do wrong? Show him how to do it right. Above all, don't just accept poor workmanship. Do something about it.

The costliest cost

What's the most expensive cost factor in your maintenance department? People who don't know what they're doing! Everyone is under pressure to reduce costs. But it's estimated that work done by under-skilled technicians costs two to four times as much as that done by skilled technicians. I use the term "under-skilled" because the vast majority of maintenance personnel have skills - just not as many and as refined as they should have.

Top reasons for the high cost of under-skilled labor are:

Inefficiency As they figuratively scratch their heads trying to figure out what to do and how to do it, their work takes longer to complete. Of course, their pay continues even during the head scratching.

Repeat failures This results in "do-overs." Why is there never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over?

More parts used This is due to repeat failures and "cut and try" parts swapping. When a good part is swapped for a good part, the second one is rarely returned to stores.

More downtime Taking too long to make a repair, and doing it over when it fails again, increases machine downtime. In most cases, this costs the company more money than any other factor, except poor-quality product.

Turnover According to a recent Harris poll, among employees who say their company offers poor or no training, 41% plan to leave within a year. Of those that say their company offers excellent training, only 12% say they plan to leave. Turnover costs money!


How can you solve the under-skilled problem? Hire skilled workers if you can find them, but that's becoming more difficult. And hiring from outside is always risky (due to falsified resumes, alcohol and drug problems, and other issues).

Another approach is to train from within. Start a pay-for-skills program. And look for "known quantities." A bright employee in another department, for example, might lack maintenance experience, but could make a great technician with training.

When training, keep the following in mind:

Don't just train, educate A monkey can be trained to swap parts. But if you get a new machine, you'll have to retrain him. If you educate a technician in the underlying principles, he or she can adapt to new equipment.

Tech schools have a wealth of courses at low cost They might also have set requirements for time, such as a semester, or number of students per class.

Self-study or Web-based training These options are inexpensive and flexible, but need to be coupled with hands-on exercises.

OJT (on-the-job training) This can become FJA - follow Joe around - and pick up his bad habits. But this can work if Joe is skilled and a good teacher.

High-quality private schools Look for those that offer maintenance education as a speciality.

A four-year study by the Amer-ican Society of Training and Devel-opment shows that companies that invest $1,500 per employee in training, compared with those that spend just $125 per employee, experience on average 24% higher gross profit margins and 218% higher income per employee!

Is there a high cost of not training? You bet.

Pete Little, PE, is president of MPACT Learning Center, LLC, a Greensboro, NC-based maintenance training and consulting firm. He invites IMPO readers to contact him at .
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Publication:Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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