A knowledge building seminar at Manufacturers Resource Center today attempted to answer this question by providing about 15 executives with an overview of how to create a training program and learning culture for their organization.
The program, developed through a partnership with Enterprise Systems Partners Inc. of Bethlehem and MRC focused on several issues, including how to use an e-learning program to transfer that knowledge.
“It all starts with a shared vision,” said Vinay Govande, partner and executive vice president of espi. “We believe that organizations need to take the time to establish that.”
Key characteristics of a learning organization include fostering a learning culture, developing system thinking and personal mastery. The old model of having employees learn from a teacher or instructor is not necessarily the most effective. In fact, many employees learn and retain knowledge from each other.
Creating an environment of openness and trust, valuing people's ideas and encouraging a diversity of viewpoints and providing a forum to discuss them are also key elements of a learning culture, all of which are driven toward business performance.
Many organizations do not realize they are at risk if there are no rotational programs where employees have some shared knowledge so that if there is an immediate need to perform a task, it can be done without impacting productivity.
“I don't want to be the only one holding onto that information,” said Govande.
As an example, at East Penn Manufacturing, a large company in Berks County, there were only four employees who knew how to operate a piece of equipment that's critical to their operations, said Govande. But he said his company worked with them to develop a learning culture and he said they were very cooperative in sharing that knowledge.
However, some clients realized they had job security by having this specialized knowledge that no one else in the company had, said Scott Palochik, business development manager for espi. But the company has to look at it from the standpoint that it benefits the entire company, he added.
Mark Kenawell, senior technician at Lutron Electronics Co. in Coopersburg, said employees could be reluctant to share that knowledge and make it portable, because it could potentially go overseas.
“Until the trend in this country turns around and managers understand that you can make money here in manufacturing, I think that's still happening,” said Kenawell. “Making that knowledge portable allows companies to move knowledge overseas.”
However, Govande said his company has seen many benefits from developing an environment where employee knowledge is captured, including operational excellence, lower turnover, maintained levels of innovation and an increase in the pace of change within the organization.
More specific major findings included an 83 percent increase in employee knowledge and a 63 percent increase in employee efficiency when companies developed a learning culture. These findings were quantified by the National Association of Manufacturers, he added.