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The School Without Walls Pushes the Envelope
By Ron Labrie, founder and senior consultant, HumEng International
ATLANTA, avr.. 29, 2008 (RISI) - "We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them" (Albert Einstein). This is a very strong statement that typifies the forest industry's response to its current productivity problems.

The School Without Walls (SWW) is a concerted attempt by four partners: Albany International, HumEng International, Metso Paper and Nalco, to help address the North American forest industry's competitive challenges. The four partners all agree that a new approach to a very old problem is required to increase the industry's workforce productivity through training.

Three relatively recent changes in the industry are making training more important than ever. The first is demographics. Much of the experienced workforce is retiring and taking its acquired knowledge with it. The second is the decrease in the number of employees working in a mill, leaving the onus on the remaining employees to produce more pulp and paper. This increases the importance of each employee. The third is decreased budgets, including training. This increases the importance of using the dollars allocated to training in the most effective way possible.

Figure 1 - Four major challenges to training

Training Standard

Training is a non-disruptive lever that helps change ways a task is done through the synergy of two key ingredients: "What to do" and "Why". This is the first of four major challenges to training in a mill (Figure 1). They are all related to training standards. Training standards are defined as the minimum of what a person needs to know to effectively and safely do his job.

The four School Without Walls partners are combining their know-how to define the "why" portion of the training standards, which is the theory, principles and concepts that a person needs to know to be able to troubleshoot and solve problems. For instance, the Albany field experts know what a machine tender needs to know about pressing and press clothing. They have repeated it over and over on mill sites.

When we ask what a third hand needs to know about winding, who but Metso field personnel know better? Or, who is better placed and equipped than Nalco field personnel to define what a stock man and machine tender need to know about wet end chemistry?

Once Albany International, Metso and Nalco technical experts have defined what mill employees need to know, HumEng International content and adult education specialists re-engineer this implicit knowledge of industry supplier experts using an adult-learning methodology that has been proven over the years. And, based on the experience gained in developing combined standards of "what to do" and "why", HumEng is able to organize the eLearning content to support mill training ("what to do").

Let's take the machine tender as an example. One of the machine tender's responsibilities is to adjust pulp consistency. The "what to do" is covered by the mill's standard operating procedures. The "why" is covered in the School Without Walls generic eLearning on wet end chemistry. It is the combination of these two dimensions that help with troubleshooting and problem solving.

Training that addresses the "why" is what is called Tier I training. This is the eLearning content delivered by the School Without Walls via the Internet. The content is organized in a way that lends itself to industry shop floor employee learning and is available 24/7. As compared with classroom training, web-based learning is much less disruptive for the mill and less costly. Tier I eLearning is flexible, self-paced and stand-alone.

HumEng partnered with three well-known suppliers to further develop the School Without Walls concept.

HumEng's technical experts work with Albany International, Metso and Nalco subject matter experts by first establishing an outline of what shop floor employees need to know about the subject. Then, HumEng's technical and adult education specialists prepare a paper version of the content. The supplier's subject matter experts validate this "script". A second validation via the Internet is done once the actual eLearning module is produced. Final modifications are made and the eLearning module gets the seal of approval for industry use.

Figures 2 and 3 are two example of eLearning content pages on pressing and winding.

Training that addresses the "what to do" is called Tier II training. HumEng can help local mill personnel build Tier II training on-site by designing a process to ensure that standard pperating procedures are engineered for training and kept up-to-date.

Figure 2 - Example of eLearning content page on pressing
Figure 3 - Example of eLearning content page on winding

Gap Analysis

Training standards help make training much more accountable. The concepts of gap analysis and connecting the silos accompany accountability.

The School Without Walls offers two types of gap analysis: The training needs analysis (TNA) and the training fulfillment analysis (TFA).

The TNA measures the "gap" between what should be known about the principles, concepts, theory of papermaking for a particular job and what an individual knows. The result of the TNA is either that the person already knows what he needs to know or doesn't know what he needs to know. In the first case, the person does not need Tier I training. In the latter case, the person does need the Tier I training.

On a larger scale, global TNA results by job or department help determine where training investments should be targeted. Along with other measurements, TNA results can also serve as a benchmark metric to measure efficiency of training investments.

Training Standard + TNA What needs to be learned

When compared with the TNA results, the TFA serves to measure the "gap" between what a person knew before taking the eLearning and what he or she knows after the eLearning. The TFA is delivered like the TNA over the web and is randomly generated from the same pool of questions. The use of the TNA and TFA makes learning much more measurable. It tells us what was learned. This, in itself, it is a motivator for learning.

Training Standard + TNA + eLearning + TFA What was learned

The combination of the two gap analyses, the TNA and the TFA directs training to who needs it and documents what was learned. The data gathered from the School Without Walls to date document an average 35% to 40% increase in knowledge obtained from the eLearning.

Figure 4 - Results of the training project at Longview Fiber

Figure 4 illustrates the results of a recent training project conducted at the Longview Fiber mill in the State of Washington (Pulp & Paper, November 2007, p. 40). The increase in knowledge from before to after the training was an average of 40%.

Figures 5 and 6 show examples of TNA questions.

Figure 5 - Example of a TNA question
Figure 6 - Example of a TNA question

In the book "Art of War", the Sun Tzu lists 10 principles that have to be considered in a holistic analysis in order to win the war. The first principle is "know yourself and know the enemy". Applied to the pulp and paper industry, the enemy is world markets or the mill next door. "Know yourself" refers to knowing your mills' or company's' strengths and weaknesses.

One important thing to know is the competency of your employees, be they production or maintenance. Knowing this helps target training investments to the areas of strategic weakness. It provides an orientation to energies and peace of mind. Every day, the war rages on and the fittest survive. Would you not rather fight a war with employees that are 75% competent as compared with 45% competent? Or, at least, would you not appreciate knowing with whom you are going to war?

Figure 7 - Connecting the silos

Connecting the Silos

As stated earlier, Tier I training (the "why") is addressed by the School Without Walls. The Tier II training (the "what to do") is usually contained in standard operating procedures.

The Tier II training is most often delivered through on-the-job training (OJT).

OJT is often given with very little attention paid to whether what Joe learns by following Bob around is in fact what he should be learning. The objective of OJT is to pass on best job practices to incumbent employees. Standard operating procedures, on which OJT is based, should document the skills of the best site operator. They should be in the form of a checklist. It is also essential to use this checklist to verify that the best practices have effectively been transferred to the incumbent employee.

OJT needs to become much more structured. That is why the School Without Walls partners will support the industry with a workable model of getting all the silos connected; from training standards to how OJT should be done and how standard operating procedures should be written to permit adults to learn their jobs. The next article will discuss the OJT model as well as the steps required to implement more structured OJT, based on standards and supported with training management software.

Thus, the silos will all be connected and training will become more accountable, measurable and instrumental to productivity improvement.

Ron Labrie is founder and senior consultant, HumEng International Inc. Email: rlabrie@humeng.ca . For more information, call 1-866-444-1612 or visit the School Without Walls web site at www.schoolwithoutwalls.com.