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By: Virginia Shram
November 7, 2022
Manufacturers are always under pressure to improve the skills and knowledge of their workforce. With the adoption of digital technologies, manufacturers have an unprecedented opportunity to improve efficiency and productivity by delivering training when and where it's needed most.
But this presents a challenge for many companies: how do you make sure employees receive the training they need with minimal downtime and clear communication?
By borrowing from another popular manufacturing methodology, just-in-time production, manufacturers can implement effective and sustainable just-in-time learning opportunities.
Just-in-time production is a concept that was first introduced by the Toyota company within their methodology of lean manufacturing. It describes production that occurs as-needed instead of production that is immediately stocked in inventory and pulled from there.
Just-in-time (or JIT, for short) standards reduce inventory cost and production waste, as well as aid smoother workflows. In this way, factories are able to cut costs and wastes, and operate more responsively to demand. This in turn leads to better production quality.
Using the same meaning of “just-in-time” then, let’s see how manufacturers can provide learning and skilled training in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Just-in-time learning means having accessible knowledge at one’s fingertips in easily digestible chunks. It takes place as needed, and is easily – often instantly – applicable to specific work situations.
Just-in-time learning is an effective way to improve your workforce because it allows employees to learn from their mistakes as they happen, rather than having to wait until they make a mistake again before they can learn from it. This helps reduce waste and costs associated with retraining new workers.
Learning manufacturing-specific knowledge instantly is crucial to maintaining a skilled, healthy workforce. Just-in-time learning is accessible knowledge at one’s fingertips rather than formal training or certifications. Therefore, it syncs critical learning with busy work schedules for a combined culture of continuous improvement.
There are many examples of how learning has become JIT-oriented. Here are a few examples, from the most common instances to ones specific to manufacturing environments.
Ever been in a casual conversation when you suddenly needed to look up some relevant information – a celebrity’s height, the first day of daylight savings, what the warning signs of an upcoming flu are?
We live in an age of technological advancement where anyone with an internet connection can google a question for instant answers. At its basic form, googling questions as they come up is an iteration of “just-in-time” learning because the information found is instantly shared.
Aside from highly coordinated zoom conferences, virtual announcements and short events can be classified as just-in-time learning when they are imparting small yet crucial bits of information for immediate application.
Take for example a video that a company projects during a daily morning meeting that updates workers of the latest changes in health and safety regulations. It may just take a few minutes of everyone’s time, but it ensures that the team is up-to-date with spontaneous adjustments.
Interactive work instructions are a highly specialized type of JIT learning that ensure professional standards like traceability and quality control.
In manufacturing, for example, if a worker on an assembly line is unsure about the orientation of a component, they can use digital work instructions to swipe or click for additional information, as well as add markup asking for instant clarification.
Keep in mind that structured training and professional development are not JIT, nor should they be adapted for JIT frameworks.
Simply because there are just some types of learning that cannot easily be whittled down into bite-sized nuggets of information.
For example, it is not possible to earn a degree in engineering using just-in-time learning because there is a lot of dense information one must study that is not immediately relevant to situations at hand.
In contrast however, accredited engineers can still benefit from JIT learning by supplementing their knowledge with regular, short updates about systems they work with on a daily basis.
Just-in-time learning has a number of benefits for manufacturers. For starters, it is more cost-effective, efficient, and flexible than conventional training strategies. It can be scaled to suit the needs of any single employee or an entire workforce. It also allows workers to keep up with the latest advances in technology by combining on-the-job training with classroom time at your facility or online.
It's also easier for workers because they get only what they need instead of being overloaded with information from long courses that aren't relevant to their jobs. Plus, just-in-time learning allows them flexibility in their schedules so they're able to balance work and family life without missing out on key opportunities for growth within the organization.
Just-in-time learning helps to:
Implementing just-in-time learning involves many factors, and developing a corporate strategy for delivering information to employees is essential. Here are some guiding principles to begin your comprehensive learning journey.
First, separate what topics need to be learned “just-in-time” and what can be shelved for later – not all learning can be JIT optimized. Additionally, not all learning should be JIT optimized, because it will be better delivered by other means.
Organize the necessary information into buckets – this is done for easy indexing and access so that everyone can instantly find the exact information they need without having to take extra time to dig around for it.
Lock in learning with examples, practices, hands-on assignments, and other tactics that are appropriate to the type of knowledge you are trying to impart. Part of the attraction of just-in-time learning is that the knowledge delivered to employees has higher learning retention.
By taking the time to structure your learning modules according to the buckets you’ve identified in the previous section, you can identify larger training gaps.
For example, if an employee needs to access JIT instructions about a torque tool, they may also want to learn about torque equipment maintenance, or about another tool that is needed for the next step in that assembly process.
Create indicators that will measure learning goals. This will ensure that any JIT learning has been properly enshrined into employee SOPs.
It doesn’t need to be difficult – just ask yourself what the outcome should be for applied learning principles. For example, once the employee has accessed and implemented the instructions, how do they know the action has been performed correctly? Will an indicator light switch out, or will an individual component rotate smoothly? Perhaps after the JIT instruction, the employee will know how to pull data from automated machinery.
Make sure the tools you are using to impart information are intuitive. The last thing you’d want is for employees to identify the knowledge they need but have difficulties understanding or pulling it up.
Many companies choose to have their managers and supervisors design training plans for new hires from the ground up. This can be helpful, as it ensures that employees are getting what they need to succeed out of the gate – but it also means that this process is highly time-intensive, which makes it important for leadership teams to stay on top of things.
Instead of agonizing over which basic LMS (learning management system) to use, narrow down the unlimited possibilities by trialing systems built specifically for manufacturers. VKS’ own digital work instructions service includes everything a manufacturer would need, but it is modular such that you don’t waste tons of time on setup before seeing results.
Just-in-time learning is a surefire way to train your employees more efficiently, but here are some important things to keep in mind when building the architecture of your knowledge base. Here are five quick tips & tricks for those just starting out in their JIT learning implementation journey.
Just-in-time learning is a powerful tool for manufacturers. It allows them to train their employees in a more efficient and timely manner, increasing productivity and reducing costs.
The benefits of this technique are clear: it improves employee retention rates, reduces turnover costs, increases sales opportunities by allowing staff to sell more effectively, and increases customer satisfaction through better product delivery.
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