The Increasing Importance of Training in a Post-Pandemic Era

“Post pandemic” is not a term I’d throw around lightly. But the signs are everywhere that we’re finally emerging from a period that has seen COVID-19 impact all areas of how we work and live.

This is unambiguously a good thing. In the United States case numbers are down significantly and we continue to see many states lifting virus-related restrictions that have been in place for over a year. And though the virus still presents a very real threat, I suspect we’re close to returning to “business as usual”—or at least something very close to it.

This coincides with the arrival of our industry’s traditional busy summer months. COVID-19 exacerbated the labor challenges our industry has been dealing with for the past several years, and it’s my hope that as fear of contraction subsides, and as some states incentivize returns to work, fabricators might begin to feel a bit of relief.

Meanwhile, we can expect to remain steadily busy throughout the year and into next. AIA’s Architectural Billing Index (ABI) for April was 57.9—the highest it’s been since prior to the Great Recession, according to AIA—indicating architecture firms are reporting increased billings as interest in new projects rises.

As I pondered these circumstances, my mind returned—as it tends to—to the importance of training on our shop floors. There are a few reasons why:

We’re asking our people to do a lot. A short-staffed fabricator must pull resources from wherever he or she can find them when orders are up. Imagine you’re down a few people on your insulating glass (IG) line, but production keeps running—maybe one of your maintenance crew members can fill in for the shift.

This scenario speaks to a few points simultaneously. First, your ability to optimize your potential throughput on a per-employee basis might require everyone to wear multiple hats. A bit of cross-training on critical plant functions (like your IG line) can be beneficial, especially during times like these. Second, it’s much easier to have someone from a different department spot-fill a vacancy on an automated IG line than a manual one. If you’re utilizing simpler systems that are easier and more intuitive to work with, a no-show might be easier to deal with.

New people need to get up to speed quickly. The easing of the pandemic may see some folks more eager to return to the workforce than they’ve been in the past year. Hopefully, this might make hiring just a bit easier than it’s been in a while.

When you do find that new person, arming them with the right skills to do the job correctly is essential, and training programs can help. Knowing proper fabrication techniques will help them do good, quality work; it will also demonstrate that you’re invested in their success.

We need to invest in all team members. Investing in your employees’ success is important not just for new hires, but for all of your staff who have been putting in the hard work required to make quality products on your plant floor. If it’s been a while since you’ve stopped to evaluate your own processes and to ensure that everyone is following best practices during production, it’s worth doing so.

Remember that no single line operator can watch everything all at once, especially if you’re short staffed. Make sure everyone understands the most important parts of quality IG production can help prevent failures—it’s easier to remember what matters when you know why it matters. And remember that some of your key vendors may offer ongoing training for critical processes as part of their value proposition. Take advantage of it.

So, as the summer months get underway, there’s no better time to do right by your people. Training is one way you can do so.

Questions or comments? Email me directly at Joe.Erb@Quanex.com.