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Aug. 27 2008 03:29 PM

The turnover rate is high in the logistics industry, and training is critical. But what is the first item eliminated from budgets? Training! Stop already! Many companies dont focus on training or retention plans, especially in the supply chain area, only to lose the A players that they have diligently searched for and hired. These companies many times pay recruiters large fees to obtain such individuals. The average cost to hire, recruit and train a new employee is over 60% of the salary. With that number so large, you would think that many companies would focus on 1) obtaining the right person 2) training that person and giving them the tools to perform the job in a superior manner and 3) motivating or retaining that person to stay within the company.


Details, Details

The first program implemented in your facility should be a detailed training program. Design the training program with the right information. Dont just train how to do something say why it is important. Involve the people to be trained; most people learn better by doing the action they are being trained to complete. The worst training programs are implemented by a trainer from HR who really doesnt understand what she/he is training, and they talk in the conference room for three hours, declaring Voila, you have been trained! Sound all too familiar? Then you have opportunities galore. Training should be interesting, fun and repetitious. The quality of the trainer is just as important as the content. Unfortunately, after beating the training drum, some people give in and say Okay, well train the people and give the task to a supervisor or manager. They put together a lackluster training program and say, We trained them, so there. Then they wonder why the increase in productivity is not realized. To effectively start a training program, you must pick a person that understands how to train. As you know from your school days, there are good teachers and bad teachers. Think about how much you remember from the class the bad teacher taught. The same goes for training. Once you have the person that will implement the program, design the curriculum to match the person being trained. Keeping it simple is a good motto.


Once training is completed, a validation program should take place. This is not a fail, and you are fired scenario. Positioned right, associates understand that the validation is just to confirm that they now have the tools to complete their job in an exemplary manner. Training is not a one-shoe-fits-all program. Some people are fast learners; others take longer but become very valuable after they finally get it. The validation program will help you determine if they are getting it or if they need another review.


You can get big gains and add dollars to your bottom line by building a strong program. [Often, companies buy expensive software programs and the initial team was trained well.] But over the years, turnover has taken place, and unfortunately, much of the domain knowledge has been lost. In many audits, it is not uncommon to find that users are utilizing only the bare minimum of functionality. All those bell and whistles that cost thousands of dollars have gone by the wayside. Be wary of buying generic training programs from your vendors. If the training is not customized to your particular facility, it may confuse the user more than it helps.


Incorporate training tools that keep it simple. Laminated cards hooked with rings on a storage rack, forklifts or packing stations all add value when someone forgets the process. They can easily check the process instead of using the guessing game. Turnover across the country ranges from 20-80% per year. Training is the number-one program to get a new associate off to a good start. Also, develop training tools like shadow boards to show how to pack a product or apply a label, etc.


Other Factors to Consider

In a recent poll of industry professions, over 48% only train when there is a new employee. Do you remember when you were new? The first week when there was so much being thrown at you that it was hard to retain anything? Each new associate should be trained in the beginning, again in 90 days and again in six months. After each training session, use a validation test to determine if the associate has clarity on the training.


Another area that is getting the utmost attention and is critical to the facility is the language barrier. If you are hiring people where English is not the language, then you better be prepared to support it. Many are not prepared and wonder why this process is failing, signs are only in English, training is only in English, and announcements over the intercom are only in English. You get the point. Focus on the individual and develop the tools to help all succeed. Dont forget counting! If your order fillers need to count, give a math test.


The best supply chain or distribution networks that I have experienced are led by a leader that understands the value of passion. Its usually not the ones that have invested millions of dollars in automation but the ones that have invested in their associates that run more smoothly and have a lower turnover rate. Unfortunately, creating passion in your network is not something you can buy in a shrink-wrapped box. Its not that easy! But vice presidents that understand the importance of passion have implemented a plan to develop a culture that not only builds teamwork but complements the companys goals. A vice president who has never been on the warehouse floor will have a hard time instilling passion in his/her organization.


How do you keep the productivity rate consistent? Consider pay for performance another motive to assist in training. Order picking is usually an area in the distribution network that requires self-motivation. Short of walking behind people with a cattle prod, the best way to have consistent performance is to pay for it. It is important to develop fair standards and measure those standards. When work areas change or the mix of product changes, standards should be reviewed because they probably will change too. Pay for performance works when it is fair.


Remember, we are human beings. Sounds funny, but we dont usually like change. There was one facility where the human resource director demanded that each warehouse employee needed to be rotated every 30 days. This was done in the auspices of fairness. Productivity suffered, and the warehouse manager was frustrated. There is a benefit of others learning to do new jobs for a duplication security, but people usually take 90 days to become productively efficient in one task. If you are moving every 30 days, your whole facility is less productive. Most warehouse workers like to be assigned an area. They come to know the area, comfort level increases, and they can identify errors immediately because they know the area so well, this is long-term training. Avoid moving people around in an effort of fairness.


Listen to your people doing each job; theyll tell you what they need to do their jobs better. They will also tell you what they have to do that doesnt make sense, and theyll tell you ways to improve.


Susan Rider is the President of Rider and Associates, specializing in Supply Chain, Operations and Marketing Consulting. Previously an executive of two of the leading supply chain software companies after over 20 years experience in the material handling industry, Rider is Past-President of WERC. She serves on the board of CSCMP, Editorial Advisory Board for Modern Material Handling, Distribution Center Management and University of Louisville Logistics School. She can be reached at 270-324-4762, 847-910-6288 or