Building custom control panels requires a similar type of skill set; that is, a customized one. In our quest for constant improvement in our processes, technology and product we’ve also discovered the best way to train our new employees.
“This is such a specialized industry,” says Garrod Massey, Operations Manager, “We’ve actually found we have more success with people who have less direct experience. It’s easier to train them in our processes, our quality control, our technology, than to try to break bad habits from somewhere else.”
The Operations team at UCEC approach training collectively and each help a new employee get up to speed.
“All new employees join on a trial period, but we’ve never not offered someone a place on our team at the end of that time,” says Paula Zangari, Operations Manager. “Our approach to training helps our new employees find their niche.”
Finding the Right Fit
Previously, the shop was split into wiring and assembly, but to create more transparency and mobility, the team has been working towards a goal of having at least half of the workforce designated as “floaters.”
“We’re working to cross train almost everyone in the shop to be both assembly and wiring,” says Garrod. “This helps a lot when one team is overburdened or another team is stalled on a project. We’re able to use our full workforce to their full potential.”
So, when we’re ready to add to their team we know we’re bringing someone in who will be asked to float between the departments of assembly, wiring, engraving and shipping and receiving. How do you find someone with such an amalgam of aptitudes?
“Dependability and reliability wins half the battle,” explains Paula, “If someone is eager to learn and willing to work, they can usually find success here.”
From there the new team member will begin a rotation with several mentors throughout the shop. They’re exposed to every area one project at a time to eventually learn how a custom control panel gets built from quoting to shipping and everything in between.
Adaptive on-the-job training
We’re aware of how people learn in different ways,” says Garrod, “We’ll modify how we teach to help match an individual’s learning style.”
Most of the training we supply is hands-on and project-based. However, for more repetitive training, like how to make a cable, the team has created in-house videos, instruction sheets with photos and lots of process documents.
“It’s important everyone learns those basics in the exact same way,” adds Paula.
“We’re also at a point now where we have five different generations in the workforce,” says Garrod. “Every generation is motivated differently, is used to being trained differently, they enter employment environments with different expectations.”
The operations team, spanning a few generations themselves, agrees that diversity throughout the organization helps them accommodate these varying expectations and motivations.
“There’s a mentor in our company for everyone,” says Garrod.
Work Life Balance & Increased Efficiency
In November 2017, the shop changed its scheduling procedures. Now, instead of working five, 8-hour days, employees work four, 10-hour days.
“This has been a great change for our employees to have more flexibility in their lives and it’s also increased the efficiency of our shop,” said Garrod. “In reality, our production across the board has increased 20%. Take the Steinhauer, for example. Instead of operating for 40 hours a week, now it’s at a 50-hour workweek.”
“Efficiency has really been kicked up a notch,” agrees Paula. “It also enables each person to get a lot more 1:1 time with a supervisor when only half the crew is here.”
The cross-trained workforce makes this schedule possible. Everyone can be more fluid with their projects and their time when they’re properly equipped to succeed in various roles.
A Team Effort
Our approach to training mirror what we value as a company: skilled craftsmen working together to deliver a superior product to their customers.
“Cross training in different areas doesn’t just allow us to be nimble, it also creates more internal understanding about everything that goes into a panel,” says Garrod, “Structuring our team this way fosters an even greater team environment.”
It also helps with customer service. Creating a quote or answering a customer question is easier than ever since everyone is aware of what everyone else is doing and how long different projects take to complete. It also helps us make sure we put the right team on a customer’s project for the best results.
“Our jobs are very project-based,” says Paula, “Training our team in this way helps us get to know skills holistically so you can properly assign people to the right custom projects. If someone is really great at wiring electrical panels but not pharma panels you know that and are able to schedule projects around that.”
We always put the customer first. One phrase you won’t hear in our office is “That’s not my job.”
Enabling Professional Development
One additional benefit to training a team in multiple areas? Mobility and professional development. The operations team encourages people to learn new skills and gain exposure in new areas without leaving a void in where they’re already trained and contributing.
“It can be challenging for smaller companies to offer inward mobility, this is one way of providing that professional development,” says Garrod.
This model has been honed over the decades that UCEC has been in operation and implementing it has been a team effort.
“There can be hurdles, initially, to get people to share their knowledge,” says Garrod, “There might be fear there that someone else is going to try to take their job.”
“But those were easy to overcome once everyone realized the truth of it: that we succeed and we fail as a team,” adds Paula.
Of course, this approach can make it challenging to source employees. That’s why UCEC develops relationships with work rehabilitation programs and other similar organizations. Interested in learning more about what it’s like to work at UCEC? Keep up with our blog by subscribing below!