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Training: the challenges and the opportunities

20 May 2019

Nik Watson looks at the training challenges and opportunities that now face managers and their staff in the food and beverage sector, whether they are an SME or a global corporate. 

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Taking a holistic approach to business strategy is the way to optimise efficiency, add value and see a real return on your investment.

An effective training and staff development programme for both employers and employees will not only help UK manufacturers make the most effective use of Industry 4.0 ready equipment and smart factory operating systems, but will also help address the industry wide skills shortage too.  When implemented as part of overall business strategy, it can also improve productivity by introducing more efficient working practices and production line troubleshooting, which can reduce unexpected machinery downtime.

SMC supports many of its manufacturing industry customers and their Tier One suppliers with advice on staff training requirements.  The company is also able to develop and deliver bespoke courses on customer’s own sites and through workshops held at SMC UK headquarters in Milton Keynes.  

This article reviews some of the most common staff training issues identified by SMC and presents some proven solutions for addressing them. It also looks at how to ensure the training programme delivered is always an empowering and relevant experience for the people receiving it. 

Training challenges 
Any responsible, successful manufacturer, regardless of the industry they work in, should understand and appreciate the value of good staff training.  In the food processing industry one of the major challenges to achieving this is the vast difference in size of production facilities that are involved as this will govern the type and diversity of the staff training that is required.  For example, a commercial potato farmer is very unlikely to be employing a maintenance manager to check harvesting and bagging machinery yet the implications for the business if it goes wrong or is being operated incorrectly are just as business critical as a production line failure would be in say, Europe’s biggest sugar beet processing plant.

Many such problems are caused by a failure in basic skills training and a lack of in-line problem solving ability and this often results in production loss and extended machine downtime.

Training issues are certainly not just limited to traditional food manufacturing and processing methods.  Many factories now operate with equipment that is Industry 4.0 compatible but the managers procuring this kit, the maintenance teams monitoring it and the shop floor staff operating it have often not been trained in its full functionality and production capabilities.

No business can afford to ignore this new technology and the business edge it can deliver in today’s globally competitive manufacturing industry

Every manufacturing business also has a duty of care to employees working on their production line to ensure that the equipment they are using is not only safe but that the working methods used are too.  Appropriate training and its enforcement are critical to delivering this.

An effective training strategy
The most important first step for any manufacturer looking at their staff training and development strategy is to recognise how it will improve productivity and reduce staff turnover.  People who work within a structured training programme have been shown to feel more valued, that they will be able to progress their career and are actively supported in this by their line manager.

These values need to be imbued across the whole organisation from the boardroom to the shop floor to be effective and deliver long term benefits to the company. That said, every organisation is different, as has been previously mentioned, so all have different training issues and requirements.

To address this, SMC offers a unique partnership-based approach to its customer relationships that takes a long-term view to improving staff training and development. SMC also has ongoing partnerships with the National Fluid Power Centre to deliver the industry recognised Basic Pneumatics and CTOP courses as well as working closely with the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA), the trade body for fluid power in the UK and the British Compressed Air Society which monitor air quality in food production and packaging.  This ensures that the whole training structure remains relevant and industry compliant while being flexible enough to meet individual client needs.

Working in close conjunction with a customer’s training manager or HR team, SMC conducts a training audit that focuses on four core elements of the manufacturing process in order to devise a bespoke Staff Learning & Development Strategy:

• Optimising equipment productivity and functionality: Identify the pneumatic products and control systems that are Industry 4.0 compatible – or where upgrades to installed equipment can be made – so productivity and functionality can be maximised throughout your manufacturing operation from processing to packaging.

• Operator usage and maintenance: Assess all aspects of operator usage and machinery maintenance in the manufacturing chain and improve practice and resource deployment through appropriate training and partner seminars.

• Change attitudes: Devise and implement routes to optimise new thinking and attitudes towards training and staff development within your management, workforce and sales team.

• Embed training and staff development values: Build an understanding of the business’s staff learning & development policy to ensure delivery and best practice across all aspects of the manufacturing operation and engineering staff training.

Based on the results of this comprehensive data collection exercise, SMC will work with the customer to develop and deliver a tailor-made, and relevant, business-based solution for staff training and development with defined goals.  

For example, the company has worked with one of the world’s leading food, drink and nutritional health products companies, spearheading a strategy to empower machine operators to undertake first line maintenance as well. This has reduced machine downtime and allowed maintenance engineers to focus on business-critical issues rather than having to deal with every minor machine fault. SMC devised a bespoke training programme to do this which even included its own design engineers writing the software code for fault finding. The customer’s own training team were then able to cascade this knowledge out across the production line staff. It has been so successful at the company’s UK based operations that this training programme is now being rolled out across the organisation.
To book an initial free consultation which includes a site visit and assessment and an outline report on your Learning & Development Solutions Strategy, email Nik Watson on

Nik Watson is learning & staff development Specialist at SMC UK.

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