After conducting hundreds of interviews in the industry, we’ve uncovered that the challenges of blue-collar training are similar, regardless of whether you work in manufacturing, production or in logistics.
In this article, we will sum up the obstacles and solutions for blue-collar training programs based on expert knowledge of the training experience.
Challenge: What is the best way to document my knowledge?
Having proper documentation of knowledge and basic processes means any person can perform a job. It also empowers employees to refer back to this information whenever they need to refresh their memory.
The most efficient way of structuring information is to write it out as standard operating procedures (SOPs). This makes processes easy to understand and accessible at all points of the employee journey.
One way to begin structuring your knowledge is to use the cookbook approach where you perform the task and note down the minute details of each action.
Be sure not to assume any knowledge: if you’ve ever tried to bake a cake using a recipe and failed to get your desired result, it’s probably because there was some vital information missing in the instructions.
You can refer back to each of these actions and then organize them into consecutive steps. Defining a step-by-step process makes it easy for anyone to follow the instructions and arrive at the same result.
You should also explain the reason behind each action so employees can internalize the knowledge and apply it consistently.
Keep in mind that each SOPs you write should be granular enough to be understood and applied independently of each other.
Challenge: How can I adapt training for different groups of workers?
Workers come from different backgrounds. This is something to keep in mind when devising a training strategy. Successful blue-collar training manages have in mind the different needs, abilities and motivations of workers.
One of the key factors for successful training is training efficiency. Particularly in the logistics sector it is battling against the clock to get new employees working as fast as possible. Address your managers for help in planning training realistically. Cutting corners by doing shorter training may initially feel like you’ve saved time. In the long run, you’ll end up investing more resources into fixing mistakes and retraining.
If you’re onboarding a large group of workers, consider dividing them into small parties to maximize learning. You can group them by common denominators such as language, which can pose a barrier in training. The increasing demand for employees in the logistics sector has often resulted in hiring workers who have come from abroad and haven’t yet learned the language. This is easily countered by having translations of all your training materials already in place.
Another challenge increasingly affecting the blue-collar sector is dealing with big age gaps among your workers. Generational differences can help determine training techniques. The best results we’ve seen in the industry combine different generations so that both younger and older groups learn from each other’s strengths.
For example, older employees might not feel as comfortable using computers and smart devices in the workplace. Younger employees could help them adapt to using technical devices on the job.
Simply asking your employees about their experiences and preferences with digital devices makes it easier to devise a successful blue-collar training program.
Another task in managing blue-collar workers is to be transparent about the mentality they will need. Some people are ready to do the heavy lifting without so much as a grunt while others will need to be pushed into approaching hard work with a positive attitude. It often helps to offer a trial day to show the employees what a typical day can look like.
Challenge: How can I overcome talent shortages?
Across blue-collar industries, we see the reputation for low wages, inflexible shifts and high pressure affecting recruitment and retention.
In recent years, historically low unemployment rates coupled with a huge increase in jobs in blue-collar industries, particularly during the COVID-19 epidemic, means there simply aren’t enough applicants to fill the available positions. This has been amplified by mismanaged recruiting processes for blue-collar workers.
In order to deal with this competitive employee market, recruitment processes need to get with the times, and companies must brand themselves in a way that appeals to candidates.
For one, consider shaking up the traditional recruitment process. Make applying more mobile-friendly by eliminating daunting and often unnecessary steps in the application process, such as uploading a CV.
This becomes even more important when you begin to rethink the channels where you advertise jobs. Candidates are using their smartphones to look for jobs on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. This means you not only have to adapt your job advertising accordingly. But also make it easy for them to apply directly from these mobile platforms.
Challenge: What can I do to prevent churn?
In blue-collar sectors like manufacturing, logistics, and transportation, turnover rates can reach a whopping 70%. Constantly losing and hiring talent can cripple daily operations and profit margins.
Furthermore, we’ve seen how it’s becoming more and more difficult to replace lost talent because of overall shortages in blue-collar workers. Frequently onboarding new employees is inefficient and even trainers face job frustration as they endure answering the same questions with each new group of employees.
You can take some comfort in the fact that 75% of voluntary turnover is preventable..
One recurring pattern we see affecting this number is that people quit their jobs because they want to earn more money. The high demand for blue-collar workers means that they can easily jump from one company to another in search of better pay. However, simply paying your employees well might not stop them from jumping ship.
It’s equally important to offer them good working conditions, flexible shift scheduling and benefits like paid vacation time.
Another solution for preventing churn is to show them a future career path. It’s rewarding to celebrate success stories from within the company and champion promoting internal employees.
Just be careful not to try to push all the employees into leadership positions; respect that some people just want a safe workspace rather than an upward career path. Hear out employee needs and ambitions by touching base frequently to check if anything has changed.
Challenge: How can I motivate workers to train?
For blue-collar workers, training can feel like extra work piled on top of already busy days. Additionally, getting employees to partake in new training programs can be a challenge, because we, as humans, are apt to resist change. Training can sometimes feel threatening to employees, undermining their existing skills and expertise, as we often see when introducing new technology into the workplace.
One way to motivate workers to train is to be clear about the reasons behind the training and the benefits it will bring. Workers should see their training as a pivotal part of the company’s success. For example, a warehouse picker should recognize that their packing skills are the reason a customer is satisfied and happy when they unpack their delivery.
It is critical to combat short attention spans by training frequently and incrementally. It’s no good trying to review a year’s worth of materials and information in a jam-packed training session because it’s unlikely to be incorporated by the workers. Additionally, make sure your training materials are easy to read, engaging and accessible to workers to review at all times.
Challenge: How can I train and monitor my team if I am not always there?
In the era of globalisation, trainers and managers often have to split their time between locations and tasks. Offsite work makes it difficult to train and continually monitor employees.
One way to keep an eye on employee performance is to establish a set of smart key performance indicators (KPIs). You can compare historical data from previous years with the current performance number to see areas that could be improved. For example, in logistics, you could look at perfect order numbers or order capture speeds to assess the success of your pickers.
Routinely testing employee knowledge is another great way to gauge how processes could be better optimised with training. While theoretical tests are a good option for when you aren’t onsite, scenario testing is better for observing procedural deviances. It’s not about catching employees making mistakes on the job but to see if they can self-correct if something goes wrong. It can identify key areas for re-training while also helping to build up the confidence of your workers.