Training Within Industry – Old-Fashioned or Still Cool?


We have built various leadership programs for every kind of topic that our (future) leaders might need. But the concepts are often complex and not as easily implemented as we would hope. One leadership concept that has its origin way back in World War 2nd has many similarities with New Work Concepts, worker empowerment or train-the-trainer approaches. It is called Training Within Industry (TWI). TWI his not only sometimes mentioned as the mother of all lean methods but also is even decades later, one of the best concepts for leadership training for warehouse supervisors. 

Let’s Get Started With TWI

It’s a decades-old debate and one not likely to be resolved anytime soon, but we will ask it anyway: Can you really teach leadership and management?

Regardless of where you stand on this topic, there is a very real need for not only ‘good’ managers so much as great leaders across increasingly dynamic global supply chain systems. These individuals, where they exist, are in high demand for a variety of reasons be it experience, education, or some combination thereof.

What many warehouses and distribution centers take for granted, however, is that these same individuals were not some lucky byproduct of a haphazard training program, but, rather, the aim of a purpose-driven learning environment that took the time to invest in them as potential leader-managers. These same programs were also built with the intent that future team leads and operations managers would return this investment in the form of training up other warehouse associates to eventually take their position and, in so doing, foster a virtuous cycle of internal promotions.

But how does a warehouse or logistics firm without just such a program create one that both lends itself to employee empowerment and exceeding customer expectations that bolster the bottom line?

The answer, as is so often times the case, is looking for those best practices that have stood the test of time and continue to produce loyal employees that want to shape their juniors into effective teams that are consistently doing right by the company.

In short?  TWI, or:  Training Within Industry.

What Is TWI and Where Did It Come From?

Rare is the training program that has not only been around for nearly one hundred years, but that has also been ‘exported’ to more than 26 different countries and employed in industries as diverse as healthcare, manufacturing, and government administration.

Born of the need to get the United States into tip-top fighting shape ahead of WWI, TWI saw the US government partner with manufacturers so as to retrain 500,000 workers on how to quickly, though safely, become expert shipbuilders. The program was formally codified in 1940 as the Training Within Industry Service and, once again, saw the government partner with those critical industries that had skill gaps and insufficient labor in order to get the US ‘war-ready’ in just a few short months.

The storied history aside, many will still be left wondering just what TWI is and how it could even be remotely applicable to today’s digital age and industry 4.0.

To be clear, TWI is not a Lean philosophy, Six Sigma methodology, or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in which to convey to an employee how to complete a job or perform a particular process.

Rather, TWI is a leadership development program, plain and simple.

Simplicity is what truly sets this approach apart from other job training and employee empowerment programs. TWI leverages a five-part construct wherein each section utilizes the four-step teaching methodology of having the instructor prepare, present, apply, and, ultimately, test his or her knowledge.

And don’t worry, you read that correctly:  before a teacher can teach or trainer can train, he or she must first learn by performing the process. This is known as Job Instruction Training (JIT, but not to be confused with just-in-time manufacturing and the like) and also has the added benefit of demonstrating a supervisor’s willingness to conduct on-the-job training as a show of respect for his or her frontline (no pun intended!) associates.

TWI, Then, Is More Than Manufacturing…

…it’s management.

But instead of focusing on the original question of whether one can learn leadership, let’s instead look at what makes a ‘good’ manager great.

Per TWI, would-be supervisors or managers must have a total of five critical knowledge and skill sets, or:

  1. Knowledge of the work
  2. Knowledge of work responsibilities, policies, and agreements
  3. Skill in instruction
  4. Skill in improving job methods
  5. Skill in leading

The most expeditious way in which to attain such organizational capability within a workforce is through JIT. Teaching supervisors how to quickly and correctly train employees begins with the five-part construct previously mentioned and detailed as follows:

1. Job instruction (JI):  this first of four ‘J’ programs is founded on the belief that standardized training will lead to standardized work, which in turn will lead to standardized outputs that are easily repeatable and reproducible. In order to achieve this outcome, however, it is critical that the supervisor ‘in training’ is always looking to identify and solidify the ‘one best way’ of performing a job, step, or process. A best practice is to involve associates and subordinates so that they have buy-in when a routine function changes for the better, be it to improve safety, quality, accuracy, or timeliness.

2. Job relations (JR):  organizations exist in order to meet some market demand and, hopefully, exceed consumer expectations. What new or unseasoned managers too often fail to realize, however, is that along with the end user there are many other ‘customers’ along a value chain and who, not least of which, is your employee. Thus, it is absolutely necessary that when issues or misunderstandings arise each is dealt with in a standardized and systematic way that ensures the warehouse worker feels heard. Other top tips include:

  • Assuming positive intent with each and every interaction
  • Treating every associate as an individual
  • Providing timely and actionable feedback
  • Giving credit where and when credit is due
  • Communicate change [insert internal link to LSS and Change Management piece here]
  • Assign associates to stations or steps that make use of their strengths and talents
  • Listen
  • Don’t argue
  • Define the objective and attack (sorry for the pun!) the enemy (er, competition!) as necessary
  • Get the facts
  • Consider all the possible corrective actions and the best possible timing in which to standardize behavior
  • Don’t jump to conclusions
  • Take responsibility
  • Check results and adjust as necessary

3. Job methods (JM):  this ‘J’ program is the closest to Lean [insert internal article here] and Six Sigma [insert internal article here] as it is assumed all employees are suitably trained to perform their job, task, or function within a greater value stream and know where best to improve the process by eliminating unnecessary movement, combining certain steps, or rearranging a workspace.

4. Job safety (JS):  despite this part being a complementary program in the eyes of TWI, the focus on occupational health and safety [insert internal article here on ISO 45001] should lead to the creation of not just safe workspaces, but also standardized after action reports root causing any warehouse incidents so that they never occur again.

5. Problem solving (PS):  employees should be sufficiently trained and, more importantly, empowered to solve their own problems by either pulling an Andon or notifying a designated ‘problem solver’ when a process is not performing optimally or they have a solution that could improve warehouse velocity or throughput on behalf of a customer-facing issue.

In order to realize this bottom-up approach to employee training and implement each of the five TWI programs, the next step is to design tools that help regulate any changes to the current training plan while also simultaneously creating a sense of urgency around becoming a global learning organization.

But How and Does It Really Take a Crisis?

In quickly returning to what TWI is not, one will soon see that TWI is not generating new SOPs or technical orders for warehouse associates. What TWI can afford the organization hungry for cultural change, however, is a means in which to capture each and every step that goes into complete a job in order to not only help trainers learn to train, but to also look for any wasteful movements when building that training guide or job breakdown sheet (JBS).

Of note, a JBS is also incredibly powerful when trying to enact change within a warehouse or 3PL firm as it lists out the reasons, or ‘whys’, behind each and ever step. In other words, when warehouse associates are told why they must perform a certain action, perhaps for their safety or so as to ensure customer quality, they are far more likely to comply than when told to simply ‘do as I say’.

When build JI cards or the JBS, it is important to recall the four steps of planning to instruct as well as teaching, or:

Other best practices include conducting a TNA, or training needs analysis, when initially setting out on a TWI journey. This may seem like an obvious first step, but many cultural, procedural, and organizational change initiatives have met with failure when employees and leaders did not have a clear target (oops, another bad pun–sorry!) in which to channel their efforts.

In order to avoid such barriers to training success, consider creating a learning strategy based on these four essential elements:

  • A gap analysis that clearly shows where the organization is operating at presently and what it is lacking in order to achieve its desired end state
  • A root cause analysis that identifies the underlying reasons for any problems in the current training plan
  • Identifying, validating, and verifying those training activities that need to be implemented in order to see the warehouse or supply chain realize an empowered workforce
  • Monitoring the scope of potential future topics for training and how they could be repurposed within a broader continuous process improvement

From here, and having clearly defined the problem for all, it is helpful to partner with associates to come up with milestones that can be monitored and completed and, in so doing, provide employees with a sense of accomplishment.

A final best practice, and one that has helped transform how entire regions think about workforce education, is the adoption of supply chain clusters that reach so up the value stream that they are practically embedded within institutions of higher learning.

Case in point, Bavaria has not only created a ready cadre of supervisors that could go to work today in some of the more complex shipping locations in Europe, but also manage a TWI program that continues to support advances in line with those already seen within the industry 4.0 revolution.

To this end, Bavaria’s aerospace cluster is currently building out its infrastructure, employing some 38,000 persons, and recruiting from 14 research institutes where individuals are being coached and mentored on what it takes to empower a workforce that is already highly skilled and technologically savvy.

Maintaining employee engagement and reducing churn or organizational brain drain is likely to be the next hurdle for TWI, but could be avoided by conducting any (or all!) of the following best practices:

  • Take TWI 4.0 to the next level by adding a performance-based support system so associates are driven to advance their own skills and knowledge and, in so doing, become managers themselves
  • Leverage social media for shared learning, offer online tutorials, incorporate interactive training modules, and suggest soft-skill programs to help employees with other career-related training (e.g., resume writing courses)
  • Partner with employees and experiment with building different types of hands-on OJT modules taking care to always solicit for feedback


Despite the fact that TWI is expected to thrive well beyond its hundredth anniversary in just a few years’ time, several questions are likely to remain bothersome for warehouse operatives (bad pun—we know!) and training managers alike, or:

Can you really teach someone to be a team lead or operations manager?


Does it take a crisis on par with WWI and WWII to revolutionize how supply chain personnel are trained?

In the case of the latter, we certainly hope not, but creating a sense of urgency around the global learning organization is critical if that entity is to survive within and beyond industry 4.0.

With regard to the former, the case has been made (see above) that standardized employee training with an eye on documenting processes so as to perfect them within a greater continuous process improvement program benefits not only the bottom line, but also demonstrates to employees an investment in their development.

This will not be enough in the future, of course, as employees come better equipped to handle the technology now inherent in warehouses and supply chains. Thus, TWI will likely soon need to incorporate upstream training and educational programs as well as offer certifications and accreditations that fit both industry and employee needs.

Which is to say, maybe, just maybe, TWI can, and will continue to, turn an employee into a leader.