Sep 23, 2009

Companies freezing training budgets are going backwards

This year, workshops and seminars all over are being cancelled because not enough people are signing up for them. At the same time, companies are trying to economize by issuing “no travel, no training” orders to employees. Think there’s a connection?

Case in point—Last week the Association for Manufacturing Excellence Northeast Region offered a 2 day workshop at the Toyota Parts Distribution Center, a program that’s had a good turnout in years past. Only four people registered, so it was cancelled.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of hours with AME Northeast Region leaders Bob Gallagher of Toyota and Scott Gauvin of Macrescoedge that included a tour of the parts distribution facility.

You could have spent a couple of days there. What did you miss?

Kaizen the Toyota way was the topic. The first day you would have heard an overview of kaizen at Toyota. Perhaps you’re new to kaizen thinking. Perhaps you think you know about kaizen but haven’t experienced the Toyota way. Toyota does things their own way, and you would have found out how.

That evening you missed a networking session with Toyota representatives and a chance to meet a group of peers interested in kaizen and Toyota.

The second day, you missed a comprehensive and idea-packed presentation about how Toyota does things. You missed the tour I took. Bob Gallagher showed me how the warehouse was organized for optimal flow. He showed me how packaging changes were saving space and reducing damage of parts. I saw the results of years of employee improvements—low cost changes that made work more effective. I learned how Toyota associates had conducted kaizens with drivers from the facility’s contract trucking company, integrating and strengthening relationships through the supply chain. I learned how parts suppliers continuously improved at their end of the chain.

Most importantly, I learned how the distribution center worked with the Toyota dealers--the facility’s customers. They get parts next day. Trucks go out every afternoon to the farthest dealers and through the evening to the nearer ones. Drivers have keys to the dealers’ receiving areas and leave the parts there.

Damage claims are infinitesimal. Bob Gallagher answered all my questions. Your group would have asked much better questions and opened up many more learning opportunities than I did.

In addition to the tour, you would have practiced a kaizen activity with your colleagues.

You would have used THE SAME WORKBOOKS AS TOYOTA USES! You would have been able to take them home with you. You would have learned from the report-outs from the breakout teams in your group.

I missed something too. If the event had gone on as planned, I would have been there for the whole thing, learning right next to you. I would have learned what you are doing and what you’d like to learn from AME’s publications and other sources.

You’re probably as disappointed as I am, and just as frustrated with your company’s decision, as desperate as it may be to cut costs.

Just to give you a contrast, DTE Energy (which I wrote about in the most recent issue of AME’s Target magazine) needed to cut $150 million in cost this year. But they told employees to think about travel and make only those trips that were really worthwhile. They are sinking a lot of dough into training. They trust that employees will work together to make those investments pay off in sustainable continuous improvements. They demonstrate respect for people.

Making a workshop worthwhile to your company takes some structure. We’ve all gone to an inspiring event and come back with workshop euphoria that evaporates within a week. That’s not going to pay off.

Your company could bite the bullet and send a big enough team to create a critical mass when you return. Your team could go with detailed expectations, and outcomes. Your team could start work before the trip, and determine how you will share what you learned and where you want to apply it. When you come back, your team could revisit those expectations and outcomes, see how your experiences fit, and discuss any unexpected epiphanies. You’ll be ready to bring others up to speed, and get started making change for the better.

Looking at budgets for next year? Make a case for training, on site or at a distance. If you can’t do that, make a case for benchmarking tours. Use organizations like AME to network with people who can open doors to opportunities for you to learn. Slack time is perfect for learning.

Make the most of it.


Anonymous said...

Overall content sounds great. I could not agree more that training should be intensified during these times. Yet, at what cost? For the return AME workshops are overpriced. $100.00 an hour or $800 for a one day event in most cases + travel. I've been to a few and quite frankly there is nothing earth shattering. I do agree that the ability to benchmark and share with a company as mentioned in the blog is good. My boss, the CEO and I are very picky about what we invest in. Quite frankly, instead going to an event, like this one, the dollars and time can be invested in one's own plant, where the most tangible interchange is required for change. In summary, I agree with all that you said. I do not agree that the return on investment can be justified in all cases.

Karen Wilhelm said...

Thanks, Anonymous,

You make a very important comment. Organizations are really struggling over the question of how to add value and they need to know if the workshop model from the past no longer fits what their customers need.

How to calculate ROI from education is difficult, however. There's the value of benchmarking, making connections that give you access to other companies, getting the one or two ideas that make a difference, and so on...

But when you compare it to another opportunity for investment, you may very well be better off investing in your own plant

So, as in many things, it depends...

Hope to hear from some other readers about their decisions.

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