Uptime: Training, Qualification, Multi-Skill & Pay-For-Skills…

Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

The 1980s saw record levels of industrial-based skills training and development. The WWII generation was reaching retirement age and Baby-Boomers were moving into jobs vacated by their parents. This generational handoff left industries that had not seriously prepared for the transition with a looming "skills shortage." The resulting "training boom" spawned countless training departments, training programs, training media and training manager positions, as well as the careers of training consultants like myself. These were heady times, indeed, for industrial and workplace training.

During this era, the trend was away from "trade-based" apprenticeship programs in many industry sectors and toward "multi-skill" maintenance training. Considerable research and development, article-writing, presenting and consulting—including much of my own—focused on "training, qualification, multi-skill and payfor- skills" initiatives. We learned from several proven approaches—"instructional systems design" models, WWII "training within industry" (TWI) on-job-training methods and competencybased education/training. Then, during the late 1990s, this movement seemed to stall. This had nothing to do with ineffectiveness. Rather, due to the amount of cost-cutting, down-sizing, mergers and acquisitions taking place, training—and to a large extent maintenance—took a huge hit in many sectors. The thought was "since everybody was trained up, why do we need so much on-going training?"

Well, here we go again! As we Baby-Boomers ease into our later years, retirement and/or late-inlife career changes, the workplace training monster is rearing its formidable head again. This time, however, conditions are much worse than they were in the ‘80s! The "Perfect Storm" discussed in last month's column was only a "tropical depression" in the 1980s! Much of the infrastructure to support workplace training, much of the career education and much of society's emphasis has changed dramatically.

Workplace training is no longer an option for successful capital intensive businesses, it is a MUST! Unfortunately, the traditional approaches to education and training are no longer effective or affordable—or available. So, let's rewind this story and look back at some of the strategies from the 1980s for addressing skills shortages.

Training and qualification
Traditional training in the 1960s through the 1980s tended to be based on "educational" and "academic" principles—pedagogy (child education) and andragogy (adult education). Then, Training and Qualification models emerged. These were based on formal job duty-task analyses, a blend of classroom training, workshops and self-study, followed by structured and formal on-the-job training (OJT). The duty-task analyses identified the job-performance requirements— what people need to know and do to successfully perform job role requirements. Performance objectives outlined both instructional objectives and on-job performance objectives or expectations—onjob- performance qualification (OJPQ) following the formal training processes. OJPQ was not a written test (we avoided these like the plague!), but rather a formal, structured skills demonstration with a simple score: Qualified or Not Qualified. Developed properly, this valid form of workplace "testing" has withstood the test of law since the late 1970s.

Qualification was based solely on being able to demonstrate specific skills and demonstrate specific knowledge required in the actual workplace situation. Written testing cannot prove proficiency in the typical plant maintenance and operations job roles. From a training perspective, we wanted people to successfully perform the tasks on the job. Taking and passing a written test was not important.

Written testing
In certain situations "written assessments" were used to determine reading, writing and math skills, mechanical aptitude, etc. If we labeled them "Tests," the workforce would freak out! The term "assessment" let us discuss the prescriptive nature of the process rather than a grade or pass-or-fail score.

Training and learning progress "quizzes" were used to determine how effective the instruction was. These quizzes provided both the training participant (trainee, student) and the trainer with insights for improved training and skills building. Neither scored nor graded, in many cases they were "self-check" quizzes.

Again, a major goal of workplace training in the ‘80s was "qualification to perform the task on the job, flawlessly."

Multi-skill, multi-craft jobs
From the ‘60s through the ‘80s, traditional job roles in maintenance-related jobs tended to be fall into the categories of "craft or trade based" (millwright, machine repair, electrician, pipefitter, welder, instrument tech, etc.) or "general mechanic." Multi-skill and multi-craft maintenance job roles emerged in the 1980s—something that generated significant confusion, debate and development.

"Multi-craft maintenance" implied a "jack of all trades and master of none." In both union and non-union plants, it was discussed as "breaking down the traditional job classifications and jurisdictional lines." The debate was predictable and obvious. "The person will know enough to be dangerous on the job." "How do you pay a "multicraft" person?" "There's no way a person can truly master all of those craft or trade skills." In many cases, what resulted was a "general mechanic" and a truly multi-craft worker. A spin-off of this concept was "multi-craft crewing."

"Multi-craft crewing" was an approach that some larger companies explored—with significant results—while retaining traditional single-craft job roles. Rather than crews and supervisors (or foremen) for each craft, the new crews contained representatives from multiple crafts under a single supervisor. (I recall having numerous discussions with plant and maintenance leadership at that time, while they were attempting to build the skills of their new "multi-craft supervisors." They were concerned about the role of the supervisor being transformed from a "technical or craft leader" to a supervisor who relied on the technical skills of the individual craftworkers. This was not an easy transition for many supervisors at that time.) The other obstacle related to workplace safety and the supervisors' roles in assuring the safety of those employees in their crews. The new "multicraft crew" supervisors felt very insecure in their knowledge outside of their traditional craft backgrounds. Still, some companies managed to make this transition; when they did, both maintenance productivity and equipment uptime increased.

"Multi-skill maintenance," on the other hand, implied a "blending of skills" rather than a wholesale combination of crafts skills and knowledge into a single job role. This was much easier to sell, to develop and to deploy in the workplace of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The "skills blending" concept was based on several well-founded assumptions, including the fact that all persons retain their "primary skill" (or "primary craft") such as electrical, mechanical, millwright, instrumentation, etc. Their primary proficiency lies in that domain. In addition to their primary skill or craft, they were expected to master skills and knowledge related to 1) their primary skill and 2) the job-performance requirements.

The "multi-skill maintenance" job design would facilitate a "whole job completion" as much as possible. For example, a machine repairman who removes and replaces electric motors would also be skilled at electrical disconnects, terminating wires in the new motor, rotational and pre-start motor checks, related electrical safety tasks, plus millwright lifting and rigging tasks, and crane operation. Likewise, an electrician also could remove and replace a motor while performing the related machine repair and millwright tasks. Formal training and qualification processes made all of this work very well.

Pay-for-applied skills
From the ‘80s through the mid-‘90s, there was a substantial support among compensation specialists for "paying for the person" versus "paying for the job classification." This strategy was based on the premise that many qualified people in a job classification and pay grade were higher-level performers than their peers receiving the same pay for the same job.

The "pay-for-skills" concept allowed different rates of pay depending on the skills and knowledge that each person brought to the job. For example, top-performers in a maintenance mechanic's job could receive higher pay because they were qualified to perform skilled work and apply knowledge well above that of other maintenance mechanics.

An early 1990 example of this was in a union plant with traditional maintenance job roles—mechanic, electrician, instrument tech, lubricator, forklift mechanic and facility maintenance. Over time, all of the senior maintenance employees found themselves at the top pay level. Thus, the top-skilled instrument techs and mechanics were paid at the same rate as the senior lubricators and forklift mechanics. This situation led to the top instrument techs and mechanics seeking employment elsewhere because they were in demand. Union and management had no solution to the loss of the top people until we broached the topic of both "multi-skill job classifications and pay-forapplied- skills compensation."

Multi-skill jobs and pay-for-applied skills
The fundamental, non-negotiable concept here was that NOBODY would have his/her pay reduced or lose his/her job classification. This meant that the new pay-for-appliedskills system had to build on top of the existing pay grades. Basically, to get to the next higher pay grades, there were specific requirements for:

  • Being proficient and qualified in one's current job classification;
  • Meeting the requirements for entering the multi-skill job classifications—reading and math levels, learning ability and mechanical aptitude;
  • Being able to learn and demonstrate mastery of the new skills and knowledge for the higher multi-skill, pay-for-applied-skills pay level—on-job-performance qualification.

10 critical success factors
We developed these multi-skill, pay-for-applied-skills training and compensation systems in a wide number of facilities in the ‘80s and ‘90s—and the results were very positive. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest. Some of the critical success factors of these very effective job, training and compensation systems are that:

  1. A compelling reason to change the existing approach to job design, training and/or compensation levels must exist.
  2. A duty-task analysis must be performed to identify all job-performance requirements of the targeted job roles. The duties and tasks must be job-specific and validated for the plant.
  3. Training in specific skills and knowledge must be based on both a) the specific requirements for improving plant performance, and b) the needs of the individual employee and training must be made available in a combination of during and after work hours.
  4. Four areas of training and qualification must be addressed: a) basic skills and knowledge; b) core skills for the job role; c) multi-skill tasks; and d) equipment, process and plant-specific skills and knowledge.
  5. Supervisors must take a lead role in formally determining the skill levels and developing training plans for individual employees in their work groups.
  6. On-job-performance qualification (a formal objective and documented demonstration) plus continuing application of the new skills are required to advance in pay.
  7. Pay increments must be meaningful, based on the degree of difficulty to learn and perform the new duties. Ten cents per hour may not be worth the effort and two dollars per hour may be more than can be justified financially.
  8. All employees in the targeted job roles must have the opportunity to participate.
  9. Compensation system managers in the plant must be willing and able to support an objective "individual compensation" approach versus a traditional subjective group classification and compensation approach.
  10. Job content validity must be respected. Qualification processes, whether tied to a pay-for-applied-skills compensation system or not, must be consistent with the requirements stated in the 1978 "Federal Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection Procedures." (Refer to www.spb.ca.gov/WorkArea/downloadasset.aspx?id=2560 for a summary.)

Now is the time
We must seriously consider dusting off some of the "old" proven approaches to workplace training and qualification and pay-for-applied-skills compensation. Many of our current approaches to skilled employee recruitment, training and retention will not work well in this era of skills shortages, lack of comprehensive vocational-technical training in many schools and experienced employees preparing for retirement. MT

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