EMPLOYEES and their skills are often the largest determinants in how good a company performs.
Employee performance was the topic of a seminar in Indianapolis, Indiana, during the National Truck Equipment Association's 35th annual convention and exhibition in February. Speakers at the seminar were manufacturers or distributors of truck equipment including John Princing of Scientific Brake & Equipment in Saginaw, Michigan; Rod Robinson of Waltco Truck Equipment Company in Tallmadge, Ohio; Vic Tedesco of Zoresco Equipment Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Terry Wieseler of Truck Equipment Inc in Des Moines, Iowa.
If employees are a company's key asset, the challenge is to treat them well and make sure their skills are maximized, said Rod Robinson of Waltco Truck Equipment. In Waltco's business plan, a key belief statement is that employees play an important their role in the company.
Education and training are important for employee retention, he said. The difference between education and training can be confusing.
"Intellect does not ensure success," Robinson said. "Success comes from good choices. But education and training does help make sure the employee is aware of all the choices available."
Communication is Important
Education is the accumulation of knowledge, he said. In the simplest form, we need math to help make logical decisions and must know how to read, communicate verbally, and receive written instructions.
"How else can we solve problems and communicate solutions," Robinson said.
Training is investing in a persons skills to enhance their performance and optimize productivity. Education is the foundation on which training skills are maximized.
The benefit of education is that the employee has a broad-based understanding, he said. Bigger problems are often created because people sometimes do not have a basic understanding of a situation.
"Certainly education increases an employee's ability to make creative solutions," Robinson said.
Sales dollars per employee indicate a company's efficiency, he said. Waltco has a tuition-assistance program for employees pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. Employees are reimbursed based on the grade received, but tuition is not reimbursed for classes in which a grade of C or below is received.
Waltco has videos for employees to watch on customer service, Robinson said. Waltco has programs for technical training for welders and machinists. A lot of training for employees is received at local vocational schools.
Safety and regulatory training classes are offered by Waltco. Insurance companies and equipment suppliers provided some of these materials.
Safety Training Classes
The third program at Waltco is for manufacturing systems and personal development. This training is based on the companies needs. Employees attend the NTEA convention or the Center for Advanced Manufacturing Practices (CAMP) in Cleveland, Ohio. Waltco has consultants that developed other training programs for team building, problem solving, and facilitator training.
"What I believe is a fact and the reason we budget 2 1/2% of our payroll each year for education and training, we see results in sales dollars per employee shows it's a good investment," Robinson said. "A company's ability to survive is related to how well it adapts to change."
The annual review is a two-way street where employees and employers can learn a lot, said John Princing of Scientific Brake & Equipment. Scientific has many expectations of its employees.
Princing said management at Scientific never wants to give an employee a review in which an employee says they received no training. Supervisors and employees bring a list to reviews indicating the type of training they need in the next 12 months.
Scientific determines the most important training programs, he said. Then the company attempts to incorporate training for the employee during each quarter.
"As a result, we received a lot of information from employees about the type of training they needed and wanted," Princing said.
Multi-Step Training Process
Scientific has six universities within 50 miles of its main branch, he said. But the curriculum is not well-suited to the truck equipment industry.
Another truck equipment distributor, Zoresco Equipment, believes the performance of employees is enhanced through education and training, said Vic Tedesco of Zoresco. The NTEA has helped to expand our education and training program.
Tedesco said Zoresco addresses six areas relative to education and training: Company philosophy, specific goals, assessment and planning, budgeting, implementation and discipline, and measuring.
The company philosophy says growth will only occur if customers are satisfied. This happens only when employees including managers are highly trained and motivated to achieve clearly defined goals.
The second step involves setting specific goals to meet or exceed customer needs and expectations. To achieve this, employees at all levels need the skills to find the right suppliers and produce and sell quality products and services.
The assessment-and-planning step begins with determining the starting point, he said. Managers need to assess the skill levels and abilities of co-workers.
Assess Skill Levels
Tedesco said he assesses the skill levels and needs of managers. Then consultants affirm our findings and determine if Zoresco has any other needs for education and training.
The consultant assesses the skill level needed for each position and then assesses the employees in those positions. Consultants also conduc customer focus groups.
"No opinion is more important than the customer's," Tedesco said. "Customers are telling us what to do all the time. We have an internal assessment process and our external assessment is by an independent consultant."
Once the needed and actual skill levels are determined, a plan can be developed to achieve the company's goals, he said. Zoresco's plan is simple.
"Just provide your employees with the training they need for the needs identified," Tedesco said.
The fourth step in Zoresco's program to boost employee performance is budgeting funds for training. The training budget is a line item in Zoresco's yearly budgeting process. In 1999, Zoresco will spend an average of $363 per employee for training. This figure may increase depending on recommendations from the consultant.
"One complaint I've heard is that when you send employees for training, a month later they're working for a different company," Tedesco said. "If a company has a lot of that, it's not a training problem."
Zoresco employees sign an agreement that states if they leave within a year of training, they must reimburse the company for the training they receive, Tedesco said.
"If we spend $1,000 on training an employee in January 1999 and he leaves in November 1999, upon his exit he owes us $1,000," Tedesco said.
The fifth step in Zoresco's plan is implementation and discipline, he said. Once training needs are identified, managers and coworkers meet and implement the process.
Our managers are responsible for ensuring employees are making progress, he said. Managers must make progress with implementation of the training program and ensure employees have the opportunity to attend the appropriate training sessions.
The sixth step is monitoring and measuring training results, he said. Tests must be administered and results quantified to show employees really learned something from the training.
Customer satisfaction is the first indication of where employee training is needed, Tedesco said. Customer satisfaction is measured by Zoresco on a quarterly basis and also helps identify customer perceptions of our abilities.
Quality work boosts employee morale, he said. If employees are part of the mission to move forward a company will be successful.
Boost Worker Morale
This is part of the reason Truck Equipment Inc in Des Moines, Iowa, has a long-standing tradition of employee training, said Terry Wieseler. Shortly after being hired, Wieseler was sent to a Dale Carnegie course. Now, as general manager, Wieseler remembers the course as one of his first experiences at the company.
"Dale Carnegie courses seem to draw people out of the shell they have," Wieseler said.
After employees are at the company 90 days, they attend a Dale Carnegie course. The distributor was sending employees to Dale Carnegie training before the NTEA began its education and training programs.
Other training Truck Equipment sends employees to are industry-specific seminars such as those offered by the NTEA. The distributor relies heavily on manufacturer's sales and technical courses.
Truck Equipment uses area colleges for training. Two years ago, the distributor started a program that offered a raise of 25 cents an hour to employees that attend courses selected by the company. The raise takes effect when the employee attends the class and receives at least a C grade.
"To our surprise, all our employees enrolled in a course that year," Wieseler said. "It was a good plan and helped with morale."
Mechanics receive a period of informal training with another technician for the first 90 days of employment. One drawback is that the new employee often acquires the bad habits of the trainer. Truck Equipment is developing a more formal training course to solve this problem.
Specific job-training procedures will be placed on a company intranet to ensure consistency and avoid any personal biases of a trainer. Truck Equipment is considering computer software courses and video conferencing training with manufacturers in the future.
It is very important that management follows up when offering training courses to employees, Wieseler said. Supervisors attend management courses and must implement ideas learned in the course.
Each panel member said making training and education programs available to employees is an important part of showing them they are vauled by the company. Education and training programs have long-term benefits in employee retention, higher morale, and enhanced job performance.