17 Characteristics Help BASF Achieve World-Class Training

Dec. 7, 2015
Workers at two Gulf Coast sites benefit from carefully crafted program

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.

When beginning a training and procedure upgrade project, the AEI team often discovers several different formats for procedures and training materials at a single client site. Although this isn’t an urgent or critical issue, standardizing the format for important categories of documents in general helps an organization communicate more clearly. BASF found standardized document formats clearly paid off as more people used the new training modules and procedures. Updates to match plant configuration are more timely, enabling effective training to become second nature.

6. Manage change for training and procedures. The organization’s change-management system is designed to help ensure any change in the physical plant configuration or process inputs or outputs that could affect a worker’s job is reflected in the training modules and operating procedures. Updates occur in a timely manner and workers are trained prior to operating the changed process.

Many organizations have very powerful, well-designed management-of-change (MOC) software programs to help manage revisions to the equipment, chemicals and technology of their processes. Quite often, the decision point for evaluating training on these changes and updating procedures appears as a simple question: “Do training modules or procedures need to be changed?” The MOC initiator then must select either “yes” or “no.” Frequently, the person clicks the “no” box just to avoid doing extra work — that’s human nature. In reality, some document review must occur before clicking the “no” box. A “yes” can initiate hours of procedure revision for some complex changes. A single configuration change may affect multiple procedures. BASF determined the LDCs must be in the MOC loop for every change item to evaluate the true impact of the change on workers’ jobs.

7. Review and approve all training material. An organization must support a review and approval cycle for all training materials, e.g., course modules, qualification checklists and procedures, that includes a review of each document for the following aspects:
• Technical basis for any proposed new procedure or change to an existing procedure;
• Necessary period for the change, as applicable;
• Its impact on personnel safety and health;
• Technical accuracy;
• Regulatory requirements;
• Sound operating practices; and
• Quality system needs.

This document review and approval cycle can be a separate system that works with the MOC system, as needed, to support it in the most effective and efficient way.

“Lean” often is thought of as a step-cutting tool. However, BASF recognizes that implementing lean techniques sometimes requires building systems that may not have existed before or reviving processes that fell by the wayside. BASF documents the draft, review, comment resolution, approval review, and publication phases for every document that could affect an employee’s job tasks. If a task is important to the organization, it should be a well-controlled part of the organization’s knowledge base.

8. Involve subject matter experts (SMEs). These knowledgeable people (skilled workers) should participate in the review and approval cycle of all procedures and training-related materials.

BASF encourages workers to see themselves as the best persons to contribute to maintaining the accuracy of training modules and procedures. It happens through the employees’ use, review and input. These documents define their jobs. BASF found the best way for workers to contribute is when the organization trained them to be effective procedure writers, trainers and SMEs.

9. Use effective document management. An effective document management system controls all training materials, including operating procedures.

The AEI team often finds sites lack effective document management even when an electronic document management system (EDMS) exists. The EDMS frequently is underused or not managed effectively. The project helped BASF see how to use its existing EDMS software more effectively.

10. Meet organizational training commitments. The program design and implementation clearly satisfy regulatory, industry and internal training-related commitments. Documentation exists that this is so.
A site might need to comply with a variety of federal regulations, such as those from the:
• Occupational Safety and Health Administration;
• Environmental Protection Agency;
• Food and Drug Administration;
• Department of Transportation; and
• Department of Homeland Security.

One good practice is to maintain an up-to-date legal registry database that identifies every federal, state and local rule and regulation that applies to a site. In it, reference the programs or documents used to comply. It is especially important to track all the regulatory training commitments.

Examples of industry commitment might include meeting International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards and the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care management system.

Internal commitments would include any training mandated and implemented by your corporation or business unit.

11. Maintain job curricula to define minimum training needs. A clearly defined curriculum exists for each job position. It identifies all mandatory training necessary to perform the tasks associated with that job position. The curricula are kept current in relation to the plant configuration needs and job design.

World-class training requires every job to have a curriculum that details the minimum training contacts needed to be qualified. This applies to each position from the site manager to engineers, operators, craftspeople, safety staff and administrative support. The curriculum also shows managers how many training contacts are necessary for competency. This can stun some folks who think training development and implementation happen effortlessly. For example, a typical chemical plant operator may need training covering at least one process overview plus 300 to 400 procedures to qualify in all of the positions within a unit.

12. Characterize elective training. All non-curricular training is considered elective training. This is any training an employee receives that is not specified in the current curriculum for that person’s job position or the curriculum for the next assigned job position. It includes, for example, training an employee may request to take or a manager or supervisor may designate as a personal development tool.

Tracking non-mandatory training helps the organization by revealing the training contacts that may be cut when times are tough. It also shows BASF management when workers are seeking to develop their skills and knowledge. This information can be helpful at performance evaluation or promotion time.

13. Document all training. Curricular training activities are documented and retained in a consistent, compliant, and accessible manner. Elective training is documented to help capture its impact on the organization.

This characteristic helps with cost control, job assignment and compliance audits. BASF has long understood the importance of documenting training contacts.

14. Provide skill development for trainers and training support roles. Employees expected to train others in any way — developing training courses or procedures, presenting process overviews, or guiding a mentor in helping a coworker through on-the-job training (OJT) — have been prepared for that role through their own participation in instructor-skills-related training.

BASF had the AEI team develop key competencies in more than 30 LDCs. The charter was to help them become in-house technical training and procedure experts. This BASF team has proven invaluable in reviving training across the company.

15. Provide training for OJT mentors. Such mentors are the most-experienced qualified operators available and are taught OJT techniques so they can help train and mentor their peers effectively.

Many times, our industry asks workers to provide OJT to other workers. Often, however, those selected to train others aren’t taught in advance the basics of effective OJT techniques. BASF found training is more consistent and effective across a plant when OJT trainers are given tools and taught how to use them.

16. Recognize the importance of effective training. The organization acknowledges the contributions of all leaders, managers, supervisors, persons in dedicated training roles, and training and procedure program support staff and mentors in encouraging and implementing world-class training within their zone of influence. Workers are recognized for excelling in their completion of training for a job position or new assignment.

One issue found prior to the program upgrade occurs at many companies in the chemical industry: training tends to be viewed as a non-value-added activity. BASF has learned to recognize excellence in managers and staff who develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the workforce within their plants.

17. Embrace an organizational philosophy that effective training is critical to lean manufacturing. To support lean manufacturing principles, the organization views the procedures and training modules for each unit as if they are as critical to the process as pieces of vital equipment.

BASF learned to see the procedures and training documents as if they were pumps, instruments or vessels. They must be designed, built and maintained for the purpose of sustainable operation of the unit. Process configuration and technology changes that affect procedures and training modules affect the shape and content of workers’ jobs. Every organization has a responsibility to help employees seek excellence in their work performance. At BASF, attaining this level of excellence requires accurate operating procedures and training modules.

The Benefits

What has been the outcome? BASF has seen improved worker motivation. The LDCs report workers are referring to procedures more often when performing tasks. They also find workers more frequently are recommending improvements for procedures and training modules. This engagement provides employees with a sense of autonomy and mastery in their job — two vital aspects of motivation in the workplace. The other aspect is holding a sense of purpose in what you do [2]. World-class training can help workers nourish all three of these important human motivators.

Another benefit BASF found is faster competence in a new position. With a well-designed training program, new workers or transfers are documented as competent on a task-by-task basis until fully qualified in a position.

As a side benefit, BASF’s already excellent process safety performance is enhanced daily. This comes from showing workers the organization’s commitment to ensuring effective training and procedures goes beyond just complying with regulations. Collaborating on this project to improve procedures and training re-invigorated both corporate and site process safety groups. BASF recognizes ideal process safety and environmental risk management only is possible when procedures and training are actively used and kept current to reflect the process configuration.

The combined AEI and BASF teams’ work also was critical to help support the company’s implementation of lean strategies in its work processes. An organization can’t maintain world-class manufacturer status without the process analysis, process mapping, and skills and knowledge-building tools that an effective world-class training program provides.

In closing, the main benefit is that new BASF workers are finding their initial and ongoing job training is more efficient at building their competency. They also have the flexibility to learn more on their own to prepare for their next job position as soon as they are confident and motivated to do so. This approach to training enables workers to succeed and advance in their jobs and careers. That is the essence of world-class training.

ROBERT WALTER is president of AntiEntropics, Inc., New Market, Md. CLEVE FONTENOT is manager, regional technical training, learning and organizational development, for BASF Corp., Geismar, La. Email them at [email protected] and [email protected].

1. Schonberger, Richard J., “World Class Manufacturing: The Lessons of Simplicity Applied,” Free Press, New York City (1986).
2. Pink, Daniel H., “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” Riverhead Books, New York City (2009).

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