Boeing Frontiers
May 2003
Volume 02, Issue 01
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Commercial Airplanes

'Home' schooling in the factory

New program performs the right training, at the right time, in the right place


Carol Doremus and Mike DempseyA new training center in the Renton, Wash., factory is bringing new meaning to the phrase on-the-job training. Dubbed the Employee Development and Resource Center, the new facility is located next to the 737 production line and includes four state-of-the-art classrooms and a workshop area equipped with drills, pneumatic hoses and other tools.

Eighteen months in the making, the EDRC is a one-stop shop, providing training and knowledge to employees who need it at the time they can apply it. The center is staffed and equipped to provide job skill improvement, certification, and recertification classes, as well as career assessment and counseling services.

Although the concept of an onsite training center is not unique, the EDRC represents an important collaboration between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union.

They conceived and developed the training center during a Lean improvement workshop, which included representatives from Manufacturing, the IAM/Boeing Joint Programs and the Learning, Education, Assessment & Development organization.

"The EDRC is a first-class training facility with all the right people and resources to meet employee needs," said Don Shove, an administrator of the Joint Programs. "It's a great success, and it's a good first step toward successful collaboration between LEAD, Operations and the Joint Programs."

Bill Sturgeon, 737 Wing-to-Body-Join general supervisor, agrees it's a win-win situation for everyone. "Training is inherently competitive with production," Sturgeon said. "When you have an airplane to deliver, it's hard to make time for training. We need a system where training is an integral part of production, and the EDRC is a good start."

Cutting class time

Colocating a training facility in the factory reduces the time employees spend away from the production line. The workshop team conducted studies that showed that, in addition to classroom time, employees lose about two hours each time they travel to other sites for classes.

The close proximity of the EDRC is a convenience manufacturing managers and employees alike appreciate. In fact, employees have discovered another advantage to having classrooms right next to the airplane.

Shirley Allen, 737 shop lead, who recently attended a class in the EDRC, explains that having access to the airplane during training helps people understand complex concepts.

"Sometimes it's hard to describe something on the airplane in a classroom setting, but we've got the real world right here, and the whole class can go down to the airplane to see a part or understand a concept," Allen said. "It's a great way to learn."

Speaking at the recent grand opening ceremony at the center in Renton, Mark Blondin, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 president, said the EDRC fulfils a need for employees.

"We all know how much our industry changes daily, so we really need skills centers like this to help our members stay abreast of the advanced technology they need to do their jobs," Blondin said.

Going for extra credit

The original workshop team has now turned the reins over to the EDRC team, which is setting its sights on transforming the training system and rethinking long-held mindsets of how Boeing should manage knowledge transfer. They are focusing on three primary concerns: delayed training, long-duration training and wasted training.

Sturgeon contends that some training requirements are not necessary and end up wasting the time of instructors, students and production.

"If the person doesn't use knowledge, it's wasted," Sturgeon said. "Having 395 people certified to jack an airplane is not necessarily value-added when only a few people actually perform that job. That's the mindset we were in, but we're changing that now."

The ultimate goal is to provide the right knowledge to the right people at the right time. This can be difficult to do with limited training resources, which is why the EDRC team is working to understand how to integrate limited training resources with manufacturing needs.

One of the solutions provides a place within the EDRC for instructors to spend time between scheduled training days or between classes. The concept, called "hoteling," gives instructors time to visit with supervisors and crews to understand training needs and to provide informal, just-in-time training.

In situations where training is longer than one day, the team is identifying opportunities to organize training content into modules, which can be taught over the course of time rather than all at once.

"If we can break up the content, we can provide training in a fashion that doesn't compete with the production schedule," said Terry Shoulders, 737 Manufacturing supervisor for the EDRC. "It's worth doing."

No more teachers, no more books

As the team implements these systemic improvements to the training system, they also are using some novel approaches to deliver and test knowledge.

An example is how recertification requirements are handled. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration requires employees to take refresher courses periodically to ensure their knowledge is current and skills are still proficient.

Today, trainers come out to the airplane and watch the employee perform the work to verify that employees still know how to do the work properly. It's more convenient for the employee and a more effective way to assess skill and knowledge levels.

E-testing is another technique that eliminates classroom time and frees up training resources.

Taking a page from the Department of Motor Vehicles driver's license–renewal process, the training center tests competency and knowledge by using an online interactive computer program. The e-tests pose the questions, and employees select the most appropriate answer.

A model to follow

Bill Warfield, LEAD manager of the EDRC, believes the training center represents a working-together model that other factory sites can follow.

"This is the factory of the future, where training is an integral part of production," Warfield explained. "By having trainers in the factory, we can better understand the manufacturing business and provide effective solutions rather than just required training. It's all about partnership."

He credits the development of that partnership to the IAM/Boeing Joint Programs, which acted as a bridge between the training providers and Manufacturing.

LEAD Director Bob Kelly believes better and more effective training can provide Boeing with a competitive edge. "LEAD is proud to be part of this new facility," Kelly said during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center. "As a result, airplanes will get built better and be more affordable so our customers can succeed. The many ways we can utilize this space is limited only by our imaginations."


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