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In a survey recently conducted by AKT and the Northwest Food Processors Association, manufacturers expressed concern about finding employees with the necessary skills to fill open positions while nearly all respondents admitted their operator training program has room for improvement.

One of the challenges in training a new operator is teaching those “soft” skills to do a task.  There is often an art to doing a task that can be hard to learn.  This art may be a technique to reduce physical fatigue, troubleshooting a piece of equipment or evaluating a part prior to processing.

So, how do you capture those soft skills and effectively transfer them to a new employee?  One technique that has worked well is to video the skilled operator performing the task.  If it is a repetitive task, capture the task multiple times looking for differences.  These may highlight some of the nuances that need to be captured. Taking video from different angles may also pick up subtle differences.

Once complete, review the video with the operator and have him explain what he is doing and why.  Look for small movements which could be overlooked.  These may include shifting weight from one leg to another, rotating the part in his hand as part of his inspection process or verifying fixture set-up before every part.

Incorporate the what and why from your skilled operator into your training documentation including procedures, standard work or even training videos. Once complete, have a different operator perform the task following the updated documentation.  Incorporate his comments and then try it again. It may take a few iterations, but, eventually, you will have the necessary materials to assist in training new operators.

So, where should you start?  I would begin with the position that has the greatest impact to the business. It will take some time to complete, but, establishing a process and getting started will help reduce some of your business exposure.

Click here if you are interested in reading the entire survey conducted by AKT and NWFPA.

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to