Training – Investing in your own

Employers enlist trainers to boost staff capabilities
Imagine yourself as the president of a manufacturing company. Your largest customer notified you that beginning in the Year 2000 all of its vendors must be ISO 9000 certified.
No one in your company, including your top manufacturing people, has the experience necessary to implement such a quality control program.
Do you hire somebody with ISO 9000 experience, or seek help in training your own people?
Every day, employers make these decisions. Faced with the current manpower situation, more businesses lean toward educating and training their own people.
At Park Bank, which has more than 150 employees, president and chairman of the board P. Michael Mahoney gets involved with the progress of his bank’s workers.
“I’d rather bet on an internal person than hire someone from the outside,” Mahoney said, referring to the bank’s policy of seeking to promote from within. “Education is critical with the growing focus on retaining employees.”
Not long ago, Mahoney engaged the assistance of Dr. Margo Frey to provide one-on-one coaching in management skills to an employee being considered for promotion.
A noted columnist and speaker, Frey is one of a half-dozen people in Wisconsin to achieve the status of National Board Certified Career Counselor. Her company, Career Development Services, charges about $150 an hour for services.
Individuals such as Frey and organizations which coach and train employees are finding that businesses are willing to make a significant financial investment in training.
Premier Aluminum, an 80-employee firm with plants in Allenton and Racine, engages the services of MRA-The Management Association, spending thousands of dollars for employee training.
Chuck O’Connor, Premier’s corporate production manager, sends his supervisors to MRA headquarters once a month for 10 months to a course on principles of management.
“It costs us about $2,000 a person,” O’Connor said. “After each class, I get together with them to discuss issues covered and to see how we can apply them in our plants.”
O’Connor admits it’s a gamble on whether or not they lose people after the training. “We try to impress on our people the opportunities here. We encourage them to take on more responsibilities.”
Larger corporations such as International Flavors and Fragrances, with a division in Menomonee Falls, find MRA’s training services convenient and affordable.
“We have 22 divisions, so our corporate training staff is kept busy with on-going safety and management training programs in all those locations,” says Jessie Core in the firm’s human resources department.
International Flavors and Fragrances brought in MRA to introduce senior management to team-building concepts during five half-day meetings. Each session costs approximately $1,500.
With more than 1,700 member companies, MRA-The Management Association, conducts more than 600 seminars and on-site programs each year at its Brookfield headquarters. Trainers such as Bill Bonham have job descriptions as “employee involvement facilitators.”
Founded in 1901, MRA functions as a non-profit management association. Over half of its members have fewer than 250 employees. In addition to providing human resource data and temporary on-site HR assistance, it offers a wide range of workshops and customized training programs. Sixty-five percent of its members are manufacturers.
Human resource people have developed a jargon of their own. They talk about “hard skills” and “soft skills” like computer junkies discussing hard drives and software. For example, Allen-Edmonds teaches newly-employed workers at its Milwaukee plant how to sew leather; that’s a hard skill. After work, the company offers soft-skill training – language classes to teach English to Spanish-speaking workers.
“A-E offers two-day classes in English,” says Cathy Jones, director of human resources for the operation. Over half of the workers attend, while a few of them attend both sessions. The in-plant classes are conducted by UW-Milwaukee faculty. For its workers in Ozaukee County, Allen-Edmonds offers Spanish language classes taught at Port Washington High School by instructors from MATC-North.
Hard skills such as basic mathematics, micrometer reading, and product knowledge receive special attention at R&B Wagner and at Advance Stamping in Butler. Both companies share the presidential skills of Robert Wagner, who encourages his workers to teach each other. Mike Kerney, a former shop manager with a background in tool-and-die making, teaches basic math and instrument reading to plant personnel who need it to perform their jobs. Two instructors, Mark Wojtycski and Jay Krickeberg, conduct 20 hours of product awareness classes to everyone who has customer contact.
Krickeberg conceived the idea and everyone from sales to shipping takes the training, Wagner said.
More employers measure their effectiveness against employee retention records because they recognize employee turnover is a loss of valuable company assets. What’s it worth to salvage a skilled employee, one who may have some deficiencies in an area human resource people call soft skills?
“The focus today is on behavioral competencies like critical thinking, problem solving, how to ask questions, and getting along with fellow employees,” says Dr. Daniel Schroeder of Organization Development Consultants in Brookfield. “Attitudinal problems may not show up on the bottom line, but they’re hidden contributors to the company’s P&L statements.”
Schroeder’s staff of 10 people offers dozens of soft-skill training programs under a franchise arrangement with WorkSmart. The cost for services from professionals like Schroeder will vary from $1,500 to $2,500 a day.
Today’s corporate structure is moving away from middle managers to self-directed work teams, Schroeder adds.
April 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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