Free in-house training can be beneficial and cost-effective!
I have always loved to teach. In High School, I was a ski instructor. At camp, I was a counselor. As a parent, I can’t help but to tell my children “Let me tell you what you should do” or “this is how you do it”. Some time ago I was explaining something to my kids, and I used a storyline from the old “Fat Albert” cartoon show; It made them laugh, and I got the point across at the same time.
Speaking of old shows, I having been in the powder coating industry since I was a child laborer. Without even trying, I have picked up a few things over the years. I have done everything from plant maintenance to designing fixtures to building and installing complete powder coating systems. All that information is just sitting in my head looking for a way to get out and teach someone.
As a business owner, I find myself constantly looking for skilled workers. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of skilled powder coaters out there looking for work. Most of our sprayers are spraying simply because they had a good work ethic and were interested in learning. Our policy has always been to let interested employees shadow one of the veterans and see how they do. If they seem to pick it up, they become a sprayer. Some of our sprayers have been doing it for over thirty years now. Though they do a good job, they sometimes make simple mistakes that can cause significant problems. I recently realized that none of them have had any formal training. They go through the motions, but they do not necessarily understand the principals and fundamentals of what they are doing.
All the sudden it hit me! I should start a powder coating training class for our sprayers. A few years ago, I called the managers and line leaders together and we discussed the idea. We created a syllabus outline and set the meetings for one hour on the last Thursday of each month. We discussed some of the problems that frequently occur, and what we should expect from our sprayers. We agreed that, if nothing else comes from it, at least it may create discussions between them, and allow them to learn from each other.
We started the program in January with an overview of the class and what we are trying to accomplish. As a teacher, I tend to use analogies to get my points across, and I draw a lot of pictures to explain things. Our conference room has a dry board and enough seats for all the employees that have sprayed or currently spray powder. We had them wash up early and asked them to come into the conference room with nothing but an open mind, and a positive attitude.
The first class went well, and the discussion lasted about 45 minutes. We went over the purpose of the class, and some of the basic topics we would like to cover over the next few months. At the end of my presentation, I opened up the floor for questions and opinions. Surprisingly, the discussion was almost immediate, with booth lighting being the first order of business. They all agreed that better lighting in all of the spray booths would be a great place to start making improvements. We adjourned and I met with the guys in charge of maintenance to discuss plans to improve the booth lighting.
The second class was held in late February. The topic was simply “Equipment”. We went over all the elements of a powder coating line, from conveyor chain to cure ovens, and everything in-between. We briefly discussed the spray booth and spray guns, but they will be discussed in much more detail in another meeting.
At the end of the class, we discussed how we were coming with the booth lighting, and how we can develop a repair/maintenance sheet for each line. When the class ended, some of the guys stayed and talked with each other for another 20 minutes. The overall opinion was that this was a good idea, and we should keep it up. We replaced burned out lights, cleaned plastic lenses, and added more light fixtures to our spray areas. The attitude of the sprayers really changed, and the line leaders saw an improvement in team spirit.
Our next meeting was in late March. In the past, I had considered spending hundreds of dollars to send some of my top people to professionally sponsored classes, but we just have not had the extra funds to do it. I am pleased to say that everyone learned something every time we met, and the impact on the company was noticeable. Because we did it ourselves, we could even afford to have the rookies attend.
Even if you never felt that you had a desire to be a teacher, or that you have a lot to teach someone, simply getting your people together is a great way to motivate your sprayers and improve your business without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars. Most powder reps can schedule a half hour to discuss the materials they sell, and the equipment manufacturers are always happy for a chance to demonstrate their products. So, you might consider setting up your own informal program to help bring new ideas to the people who are responsible for the most critical and intimate part of the powder coating process. Not only will you get to play professor for a day, but you get to have some fun too. And in the words of Fat Albert, “If you’re not careful, you might learn something!”