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Training employees on lean processes

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“You can’t go [into lean manufacturing mode] expecting to drop 25 percent of your workforce,” says Kevin Kelly of Globe Canvas Products. “Ideally, you would like to keep them all and retrain them, because the efficiency will be high enough that you will be more productive.” Training employees in new processes, he notes, is harder than training them on new equipment “because you have to break habits.”

Greg Schmieler of Laurel Awning goes through the process first himself, building a manual with each step. “We follow the ‘see it, do it, teach it’ method; so I will be the first to jump in—or one of my partners jumps in,” he says. “Then we will show somebody how to do it, and then we make them teach somebody how to do it.”

Andrew Morse of Ohio Awning & Manufacturing Co. relied on Miller Weldmaster to train the head of his sewing department on the company’s new heat sealer, then had that employee cross-train another employee.

Kelly says businesses need to consider how training time on new equipment can be scheduled to least interfere with production. Another consideration is overcoming resistance to unfamiliar equipment.

“I try to relate it to what else workers see in their typical day,” he says. When operators said a new machine was too complicated, he pointed out the technical complexity of the iPhone® in the palm of their hands. “They’re afraid of making mistakes. We encourage them to run samples so the likelihood of mistakes is reduced as much as possible,” Kelly says. “We try to make the big new thing seem not that big or overwhelming.”

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