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Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

Lessons on Workforce Development Hidden in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

January 19, 2021


First, let me wish you a belated Happy New Year from the team here at MetalForming and PMA. Let’s hope for a much more enjoyable and productive year. This January-February issue, our first for 2021, features a special report (beginning on pg. 14) updating the status of several end-use markets for metal stamped and fabricated products. Cut to the chase: “The U.S. economy, for its part, has stayed resilient through the pandemic,” says a Morgan Stanley report issued in December. “(Numerous) factors suggest a sustainable U.S. recovery, even amid a difficult winter, with projected GDP growth of 5.9 percent in 2021.”

Warning signs appear, however. According to a recent survey from the Institute for Supply Management, the pandemic has put pressure on suppliers’ labor demands. Says one executive from a transportation-equipment supplier: “The resurgence in COVID-19 cases is adding strain on our Tier One and Tier Two suppliers…finding new people is an issue.”

That leads me to my visit late last year to the Martinrea plant in Springfield, TN, where general manager Esau Gardner has been focused on successfully launching some 200 new stamping tools and 40 new welding cells. At the heart of such a huge ramp-up is the required hiring and training of a greatly expanded workforce—no easy task at any time, but even more scary during a pandemic. However, Gardner impresses when he speaks to these challenges, and I’m proud to tell the story in this issue, beginning on page 38. (We also produced a 5-min. video chronicling the plant’s growth spurt, which you can view on our website).

“There are the three things,” Gardner stresses, “that prevent operators from being able to truly focus on building good parts—ergonomics, process variation and waste. We want secure and safe operators that understand the processes and who work efficiently without generating excess waste.”
He also shared with me his training regimen, based on the Harvey Ball process. It starts with safety protocols and job instructions, and then short stints running production under the guidance of a trainer. Rinse and repeat until they can run the process full bore with no defects. But here’s where things take a profound turn.

“Once people are here for 30 days and they’re able to run the process without defects,” Gardner told me, “and if they have initiative and drive and want to do more, we then send them to the train-the-trainer class. Here they learn to understand what a good process looks like, ergonomically and without variability and waste.”

Sounds simple, but we know it’s hard to motivate people to undergo continuous training. So, I looked for advice on how to motivate employees to prioritize training, and voilà—found an article on userlane.com that begins with this quote from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”: 

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” Translate: Make work more like play. The article offers some easy-to-implement tips on how to do this, preaching intrinsic motivation―doing something not for external reward, but because it’s enjoyable and interesting. 

Among the tips for designing a training program to appeal to an employee’s intrinsic motivation: 

  • “Teach them valuable skills that will help them feel empowered and more confident in what they do.
  • “Boost their self-esteem.
  • “And even if the training is compulsory, you can motivate the employees further by praising them throughout the training and offering positive feedback.”
Industry-Related Terms: Run
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management, Training

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