Using innovative knowledge-transfer strategies, the company is well-prepared for future challenges. As a nuclear weapons management site, the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas, has been relatively unaffected by the global economic downturn. After all, "You can't just walk away from our business," says Scott Elliott, technical training department manager. However, Elliott points out, "with ever-tightening budgets, we must be good financial stewards."
The nuclear weapons industry is highly regulated, and much site training revolves around mandatory safety and compliance. Elliott and his 62-member team strive for efficiency as they seek to be good stewards of government dollars. Over the past two years, the entire technical training program has undergone extensive review and modification to increase efficiency.
The review revealed two things: Training, while necessary, can require huge amounts of time away from the workplace; and 20 percent of courses accounted for 80 percent of training hours. "We re-examined those courses from every angle, asking, 'Was the training still necessary? Are the objectives still relevant? Is there redundant information? Has the target audience changed?'" says Elliott. The answers to these questions led the team to consolidate or archive more than 700 courses and to redesign many others, reducing the time-to-completion by more than half.
They also sought efficiencies in presentation methods and replaced many classroom sessions with computer-based training and quick, standup meetings by frontline managers. Since 2007, training efficiency has improved by 49 percent; where employees were receiving an average of 11 hours of training per month, they now receive about 5.5. "Our metrics enabled us to be more efficient, offering higher-quality learning opportunities directed to the right audiences, while still meeting production schedules and stringent safety checks," says Elliott.
The technical training team is guided by its no-nonsense mission: "quality training that is necessary, precise, timely, and behavior- or ability-changing." Aside from safety and compliance subjects, much of that training is driven by critical business issues, including an aging workforce. The plant employs more than 3,200 workers; their average age is 47 years. As the plant prepares for the retirement of its many baby boomers, it is experiencing succession and knowledge transfer challenges. In an attempt to attract future employees at the beginning of their careers, the plant has instituted a tuition-payment program designed to attract personnel into critical-skill positions.
The future employee signs a contract promising two years of employment for every year of company-sponsored school tuition. The plant will pay for up to two years of tuition, thereby gaining a worker for at least four years, and employees perform internships during summer breaks. "This allows the student workers to develop some ties to the area and plant some roots, making them more likely to stay with the company," says Elliott.
Generally, managerial positions are filled internally via the career advancement of incumbent personnel. "Our senior managers are spread incredibly thin in their coverage, so many newly promoted managers have spent little time under the tutelage of a more experienced manager. We have to teach them how to be effective managers," Elliott says.
The plant's new "First Line Management Development" courses teach soft skills as well as HR policies, supervision, and discipline through a hybrid delivery approach that combines instructor-led training with video presentations and role plays. This blended curriculum is scenario-based and takes its cases from actual situations in the facility. "The real-life scenarios help the student identify immediately with the subject matter, because the ramifications of the original issue have driven policy and procedure changes and have been felt by her fellow workers," Elliott says.
Knowledge transfer is one strength of the program because so much of the plant's training is conducted on the job. Many tasks and procedures are taught by subject matter experts out on the floor who have been trained and qualified as instructors by Elliott's team. Most training requires working with someone to demonstrate proficiency before moving on. In addition, some workers return to the plant postretirement as consultants. This also facilitates knowledge transfer.
To address the succession challenge and fill the leadership pipeline, Elliott's team created the "Company Asset Development Program," which is designed to identify and train high-potential candidates from the existing internal labor pool. Candidates rotate through key six-month assignments in various divisions within the company, helping them to develop a broad understanding of the business. They receive direction, supervision, and mentoring from a Staff Utilization Board that includes representatives from HR, EEO, and the training department.
Every B&W Pantex employee has an individual development plan, and learning history is tracked. Searchable reference materials, job aids, and electronic performance support buttress the formal, on-the-job training that every employee receives. Plant workers progress through their learning plan to achieve qualification or certification within the plant. The learning function routinely provides reports to line management to ensure that personnel are fully qualified to perform their assigned duties.
B&W Pantex has received several national safety performance awards. Contributing to that performance is the Technical Safety Requirement (TSR) Awareness Campaign, a successful learning initiative developed by Elliott's team last year. TSRs are operational safety requirements that establish controls to ensure safe operations; there are several hundred, which had been trained to plant staff in more than 150 courses. However, an annual average of 10 noncompliance events was deemed unacceptable, and a new approach was sought.
The TSR Awareness Campaign included a suite of multimedia applications, along with thematic events and contests designed to raise employee awareness and understanding of the controls. Posters, table tents, banners, articles, and a new intranet site promoted awareness, while videos and webcasts pushed out the material. TSR-related games and puzzles were assessable from the Plant's intranet, allowing participants to test their mastery while competing with their colleagues. As a result, only one noncompliance event has been recorded in the past year, and the success of the event broadened the impact of learning across the enterprise to support best-in-class safety performance.
Over the past four years, the B&W Pantex training department has transitioned many of its offerings from classroom-based, instructor-led classes to online and blended learning methods. Although Elliott and his staff are interested in exploring the role of social media in learning, plant regulations prohibit personal mobile phones on property, and Internet access is strictly regulated due to security concerns. The department is experimenting with delivery of courses, via the Internet and mobile devices, and workers can access the Department
of Energy's social media channel while off site.
"We try our best to push the technology envelope, but our real goal is training that is flexible, succinct, and job-driven," Elliott says. T+D