Time and cost pressures are prompting a growing demand for shorter more-focused training sessions. For instance, a recent Chemical Processing survey found that more than 90% of respondents had either a high or moderate interest in "lunch and learn" presentations by vendors (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2009/001.html). However, both operating companies and suppliers still see a continuing need for longer more-traditional offerings. The challenge is how to most appropriately and effectively balance the two approaches.
"In order to be able to successfully meet international requirements in the future, we need employees who don't stop learning. That's why we still offer a high level of further training opportunities even despite the difficult economic times," says Michael Haubrich, who is responsible for qualification and training in operations for BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany.
The company increasingly is relying on online methods. "This is not primarily for cost saving but rather for didactic reasons and because these tools help us to reach out to all our employees within a short period of time. Furthermore the young generation is more used to these kinds of methods," he adds.
BASF has extended its Education & Learning Portal globally; it currently has 30,000 registered users and features YouTube-like film sequences to explain certain contents in an easy-to-grasp and entertaining way.
The company also is expanding lunch-and-learn events at its learning center in Ludwigshafen. Here, two-to-three-hour sessions focus on practical work-related topics.
In addition, 2,000 employees who deal with technical tasks such as maintenance and planning at 100 sites worldwide can gain insights online via the company's virtual technical community (Figure 1). They can post questions, which generally are answered within a few hours.
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BASF also has developed a program called Opal (for Optimization of Production in Antwerp and Ludwigshafen) to foster a consistent production system at its plants in the two locations. As part of the program, a dedicated training team spurs development of systematic and practical methods to support operating staff onsite — for example, via relevant lunch-and-learn sessions.
The firm's latest initiative is a pilot project to evaluate a computer-based training system for its Emergency Maintenance Service Centers. It will be implemented at four locations for 13 services — including fault clearance of control valves and measuring devices, programmable logic controllers (PLC) and distributed control systems (DCS).
"Knowledge is the prerequisite for an efficient fault clearance. The computer-based training system is a tool which should be used for job training, self-study and in practice on site. Furthermore, the retention of knowledge in the midst of demographic change is supported," explains Erhard Heusser, BASF vice president for maintenance.
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Air Products, Allentown, Pa., says e-learning is becoming a key tool in its training strategies. Use has climbed from 20% of all formal learning five years ago to about 66% today and continues to rise.