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The Top 10 Plastics Training Mistakes

by Craig Paulson

Paulson Training Programs

Plastics processors all are facing a growing shortage of skilled labor. Many of these companies are taking matters into their own hands and starting in-house training programs to ensure they will have a steady supply of skilled workers regardless of the labor pool. The "grow your own" approach is catching on.

However, there are pitfalls to watch out for when developing a training program. The good news is that they can be easily avoided. If a training program fails, it rarely is because of the training materials themselves. It almost always is a problem with how the training is being implemented and managed day-to-day. With that in mind, here are the top 10 training mistakes that Paulson Training Programs has seen over the years.

1. Not training consistently

Training is a "process", not an "event". Many companies confuse the idea of a formal training event or the on-going "learn from your mistakes" training program out on the injection molding, extrusion or blow molding production floor with a formal, structured training process. On-going training absolutely is critical to getting the most out of the time and money spent on training. Plastics processors that train personnel continuously outperform those that don't. It makes sense. How much does the average person remember of high school algebra? But, if that person was given refresher training once a month, he would be quite competent. The same is true for injection molding skills, extrusion skills or any other expertise needed in a plastics manufacturing plant.

2. Acting too casual about training's importance

If employees do not understand the importance of an on-going training program, they won't take it seriously. It becomes something to sit through, rather than something to learn from. The right attitude about the importance of the company's training program has to start from the top, and it is much better to fully explain why the training program has been implemented rather that simply posting a training schedule. When people understand why they are doing something, they pay attention and get the most out of it. If the "why" is not explained to them, many will tune out.

3. Training too fast

Learning does not happen overnight. The pace at which new information is delivered (especially to adult learners) makes a huge difference in knowledge retention. If a company tries to compress training into too short of a time frame, it defeats the purpose. It takes time for the brain to make new connections and move information from short-term to long-term memory. There is no rush and in fact, rushing through training with all but the most motivated adult learners will result in frustration.

4. Relying solely on in-house training resources

This training mistake falls into the "But my business is different" category. If a company feels it must develop all of its training in-house, it probably is wasting time and money. There is plenty of foundational knowledge needed in every plastics process that can be taught with standardized training.

5. Not properly training new hires

Newly hired employees who have little or no experience in injection molding naturally will feel a little intimidated by the production floor. Big machines, lots of noise, potential dangers seen by the uninitiated ... the list goes on. By giving new hires entry-level training in injection molding, their ability to be both productive right out of the gate and a safer employee is greatly enhanced. Safety training is so important for all plastics manufacturing processes that Paulson recommends that everyone go through recurrent safety training on a monthly basis.

6. Making assumptions about what training is needed

There is foundational training that should be taken by all employees. However, beyond that, training paths for various employees may diverge to a certain extent. It is very important to maximize the efficiency of a plastics processing training program. A common method of determining what training is needed is through a Needs Assessment (sometimes also called a GAP Analysis). This is a series of questions about injection molding, extrusion, blow molding – whatever processing being performed at the plant. The employee's answers are analyzed and with this information, target training can be developed specifically for each employee.

7. Misunderstanding how adults learn

In many cases, employees will have been out of school for months or years, and they are out of "learning" mode. School is an intensive learning environment. A person is in class for a few hours at a time, several days a week. Their brain is trained to learn. Once out in the workforce, formal learning tapers off. If the same teaching techniques that are typically used in schools are applied to the work environment, they will not be as effective. Adult learners need small doses of information. They also need to apply that information to the real world to reinforce what they've learned.

8. Not having a good training administrator

An individual with an advanced degree is not needed to administer a training program. If a company is using self-paced interactive training, the lesson already is designed to maximize information retention. A training administrator should be a well-organized individual who can create training schedules, assign the right training to the right people, make sure that training is being taken, evaluate each employee's training records to find any problem areas and be approachable and trusted by the other employees in the plant.

9. Not tracking training progress by employee

"If you don't measure it, you can't manage it" is a good rule-of-thumb when it comes to training programs. Make sure mechanism is in place to track how each employee is doing. This lets the employees see for themselves the progress being made and also lets them see what areas of knowledge and skills they need additional development.

10. Not tracking how training benefits the plant

When management can look at the numbers and see the impact of the training on key production metrics for an injection molding plant (faster cycle times, fewer rejects, less downtime, fewer accidents, etc.), it becomes easier to justify and the training system is more easily integrated into the overall production process. Seeing is believing, and proof of the impact that training is having on operations sends a powerful message that training works.

Craig Paulson is the president and co-founder of Paulson Training Programs, Inc. Headquartered in Chester, CT, Paulson Training Programs provides a broad range of in-plant interactive courses, machine simulation, worldwide e-learning solutions and Paulson expert-led seminars to help injection molders, extrusion companies, blow molders, part designers and many other plastics professionals in the industry grow and compete on a global scale. Paulson's goal is to provide convenient, high-quality and affordable training solutions to the plastics industry while utilizing the latest training technology and methods. For more information, call 800.826.1901 or email info@paulsontraining.com.