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Tami Trout


Digitize Your Onboarding and Training With the Modern Learner in Mind

Keep your company relevant to the local workforce

Published: Thursday, May 18, 2023 - 12:02

It’s time for a digital workforce transformation. Modern manufacturers must juggle evolving expectations for workplace flexibility, pay, career paths, and benefits. They also have to take into account the changes in the ways employees learn and access information. The most obvious example of this is how employees turn to their smartphones—whether for a quick answer to an unexpected problem or as a replacement for traditional training and development channels.

The digital transformation of your workforce is similar in many ways to the digitization of your manufacturing operations. Easy access to information when and where it’s needed saves time and money. We have learned from our work here at the Oregon MEP (OMEP) that the benefits of going digital with training will help you:
• Attract job seekers by being modern and relevant, and by creating a learning environment to help employees be successful
• Streamline productivity
• Improve collaboration and communication
• Reduce onboarding time and development costs
• Promote employee-owned development in which people get what they need when they need it, and they don’t have to wait for someone to find the time to train them or provide reference materials

‘Today’s employees are overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient. Flexibility in where and how they learn is increasingly important... and they’re taking more control over their own development.’
—Josh Bersin, author of Deloitte’s ‘Meet the Modern Learner

Keys for a successful digital workforce transformation

Digitizing your workforce—from onboarding to standard work training and career development—is similar in many ways to changing initiatives in your operation or supply chain.

Keys for a successful workforce transformation are:
• Leadership buy-in: This is a commitment to the decision, direction, and implementation, as well as a commitment to allow employees time for learning and growth.
• Inclusion: You must communicate and engage across the entire company. Be inclusive, not exclusive. Even if you don’t have many new employees in a particular department, at some point you may. This should touch everyone.
• Structure: Create processes for implementing change. It requires steps for accountability and documentation.

Transformation isn’t an event—it’s a journey. The world continues to evolve, and so do people, so there must be continuous improvement to keep up or get ahead. Without learning and transformation, your company could become irrelevant to the local workforce as well as to your customers.

Four keys to connecting with the modern learner

The newest generation in the workforce demands more personalization in their career journey. Employers should be ready to change as needed to match these wants. Deloitte points out that employees spend only 1 percent of a typical workweek focused on training and development. This means every training minute needs to be robust and keep up with current trends. This strengthens the case for a digital approach to training and development to provide maximum flexibility.

We’ve learned that there are four keys to training that result in a digital workforce transformation:
1. Be brief: Digital learning must take less than four minutes per session.
2. Be up to date: Workplaces need to offer current, easily accessible information and resources. Information is power, and people with information can pivot more easily and offer better solutions.
3. Live in real time: Mobile learning is essential. Just-in-time information and learning is attractive to the modern learner. You may not remember something you learned in a classroom setting 10 days ago, but a quick lesson as you’re about to do a task will stick.
4. Prioritize learning: Employers must allow people to stumble as they try new things. That’s how learning works.

Also keep in mind that people have different learning styles. Some prefer visual learning, others do best by listening, reading, or writing, and still others learn best with a hands-on approach.

As an example, one way we introduce manufacturing principles of one-piece flow vs. batch production is through a hands-on exercise where participants build a small truck with toy bricks. When training on a standard work instruction, learners get step-by-step instructions with illustrations and a short video showing how it all comes together. Combined, we significantly increase understanding and reduce time to proficiency.

Leverage benefits and ease of use with QR codes for training

A digital approach to training is more versatile, makes it easier to update materials, and removes the need for binders that often get misplaced or worn out. Most employees are comfortable using smartphones and QR codes. Some organizations do have guidelines on the use and creation of QR codes, so it’s always best to check with your company’s IT/security team before going “all in.” Your digital approach to training could include:
• Embedded QR codes in standard work, which can provide access to videos, audio, or written information
• A QR code in written training materials to add video and sound capability
• Group QR codes on bulletin boards to create a training library

You can use a document management system to help manage and deploy changes. A digital approach also makes it easier to provide a consistent look and feel to the learner. Anything with a QR code can also be printed or exported.

How to get started on your digital transformation

One company got started by shooting smartphone videos that showed machine operators performing a task and describing what they were doing in the process. A video editor combined video clips, audio, and screen grabs to capture institutional knowledge and create standard work instructions and training materials.

There are some infrastructure needs to consider. Be sure to account for:
• A platform for hosting videos. OMEP has a cloud solution, and there are similar applications available. You can keep videos or documents on a local server. YouTube and other video platforms have hosting models, including secure and private settings. Be sure to check compliance requirements for your customers.
• Internet access throughout your entire facility, including production areas, warehouse space, and offsite locations
• Templates for standard work instructions. Any information with a QR code can be exported to take to a workstation.

Other uses for QR codes in your digital workforce transformation

A digital workforce transformation includes more than training and standard work instructions. You can use QR codes on business cards and in other ways to help with your recruiting efforts and promote the company and your workplace culture.

Some examples of how a digital approach will benefit your workforce:
• Onboarding: Group QR codes for new employee onboarding
• A welcome video from leadership that helps tell the company story
• A video that describes the onboarding process and timeline
• A welcome video from the immediate supervisor that talks about the training
• E-learning: QR codes can offer access to career development or supplemental information such as a glossary, job aids, and reference materials.
• Feedback: You can use QR codes at training venues to inform attendees of logistics, collect feedback, and provide post-class reinforcement.

There are many additional occasional job functions that can be explained via QR codes, such as videos and quick reference guides that describe how to unpack and assemble machines for installers and customers.

Your local MEP center can help with your digital workforce transformation.

The MEP National Network has a holistic suite of workforce development services that are tailored to the needs of smaller manufacturers. Contact your local MEP center to talk with a workforce specialist about how to begin your digital workforce transformation.

First published April 21, 2023, on the NIST Manufacturing Innovation Blog.


About The Author

Tami Trout’s picture

Tami Trout

Tami Trout is a principal consultant for the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership. She works with companies to maximize organizational success and profitability by developing effective human resources systems, workforce hiring and development, and performance management.