17 Characteristics Help BASF Achieve World-Class Training

Workers at two Gulf Coast sites benefit from carefully crafted program

By Robert Walter, AntiEntropics, Inc., and Cleve Fontenot, BASF Corp.

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Like nearly all American chemical manufacturers, BASF faces challenges in hiring new staff and developing their job skills; as more baby boomers retire, the problem is becoming even more acute. Our industry’s special process safety and environmental risk management needs make meeting the demand for skilled workers an urgent task.

BASF engaged AntiEntropics, Inc. (AEI), New Market, Md., from 2009 to 2014 to help define, develop and implement a world-class worker training program for its Freeport, Texas, and Geismar, La., sites. As planned, the BASF personnel AEI trained now are using the techniques they learned to lead this effort on their own — and to maintain the characteristics of world-class training.

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Key Characteristics

The BASF/AEI team’s first task was to identify the characteristics we wanted in the training program. We used author Richard Schonberger’s definition as a guide: World-class manufacturing is “a standard of excellence that is set by the best of the best manufacturers at the global level” [1]. The AEI team and BASF’s learning and development coordinators (LDCs) understood this requires helping all employees succeed in their jobs. They determined that a world-class training program exists when an organization consistently displays seventeen characteristics in its behaviors related to training and procedures.

1. Use a systematic approach for instructional systems design. The training program reflects the systematic application of the instructional systems design approach to performance-based training. The five phases are:

• Analysis — know the content of each job;
• Design — plan training to match the content;
• Development — create materials that match the design;
• Implementation — do the training and the testing/observations; and
• Evaluation — assess the effectiveness of the training, and modify work from previous phases if needed.

Manufacturers don’t always adhere to this basic model for engineering an effective worker-training program. In periods of cost cutting, management can forget how much effort providing optimal worker training takes. BASF uses this training program model to help with consistent career development and progression of personnel across the company.

2. Use accurate documentation. The process-specific training materials and operating procedures for each unit represent the up-to-date physical plant configuration as well as the current inputs and outputs of chemicals and energy.

The AEI team often finds the process information, training materials and procedures in place at a site don’t accurately reflect the current configuration of the plant — making an upgrade essential in such cases. BASF prioritized upgrading of the operating procedures over other forms of process information due to their importance in new worker training and day-to-day production.

3. Provide accessible information to workers. The process-specific training materials, procedures and source materials are readily accessible to veteran and new staff as well as trainers.

Some companies haven’t developed an intuitive user interface to the most current operating and other work procedures, training modules, process flow diagrams, and process and instrumentation drawings. As the project matured, BASF addressed these issues and identified that enabling quick access to accurate information improves the likelihood a worker will use it when needed.

4. Develop procedures suiting both training and production. Procedures are documents the organization understands must fill two roles:

• Job aids to be used during training and after qualification to support successful job performance whenever needed or required; and
• Training materials for developing initial skills and refreshing performance for less frequent and more critical tasks.

The BASF LDCs and AEI team designed the project approach and engaged in plant-wide procedure upgrades. BASF chose a human-centric focus for procedures: write all task procedures first for the success of the users and second for the auditors — that is, address compliance issues only after considering human factors, technical accuracy and detail. You will find there aren’t many gaps.

In addition, BASF realized each procedure defining a worker’s job task must be tracked as a separate training module in its learning management database. This way the company can ensure it documents training on each task revision due to a plant change or suggested improvement.

5. Use a standardized format and level of detail. A uniform format and style exist to support standardization of training materials, including procedures, over time and consistency in content, risk-based level of detail, and application of the instructional systems design methods.

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  • A very well thought out process, how can a small company accomplish all this and be bilingual on a limited budget?

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  • Slowly and deliberately. Develop all original materials in the first language of the workers and translate to the second language. Use employees as subject matter experts for both versions to help ensure clarity and appropriate level of detail.

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