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Marshall Atkinson

How Screen Printers Can Upskill Their Staff

Here are the seven key tips for a great in-house training program.

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ONE OF THE CHALLENGES that many businesses in this industry are facing currently is the lack of qualified, skilled employees in the marketplace. As sales and business are growing back to “normal” levels, shops need to increase the number of staff. But there’s one problem. Finding skilled, veteran workers in our industry is akin to locating a unicorn in the forest. It’s not going to happen. Instead, a solution that’s working for many companies right now is to build their in-house training program to either transfer needed skills to current employees or to progressively educate new hires.

Start with the End in Mind

Take a hard look at what you immediately need. Sure, you can train people in almost any skill, but this is going to take time and effort. Take a minute and consider your priorities.

  • Open positions that you have a current need for. Get these filled now.
  • Core skills for the shop. Build your bench strength.
  • Future planning. Let’s say you’re adding equipment. These folks will be the staff running it.

You’re going to want to solidify exactly what you need to work on first. Also, consider the level of mastery of the task you’re building for the training program. Sometimes basic and beginner level skills will do fine.

Emphasize Cross-Training Too

While you are at it, be sure to emphasize the need for consistently cross-training employees with other skills. Well-rounded employees who are far more capable than their primary role are always an asset.

Just because Jenny or Fred works in customer service doesn’t mean they don’t need to know how to burn a screen or count inventory for the receiving department. When you’re short-handed because someone is out sick or on vacation, it’s great to have coverage. If you’re training a few new employees on something, you may as well bring in a some others who could benefit from what you’re teaching, too.

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Break the Learning Down

In everything we do, there are steps that have to be taken to get successful results. Many companies don’t have robust training programs because it may seem too difficult to teach. It’s a skill you have to master. If you’ve never taught, it may not come naturally to you. That’s ok. Don’t be intimidated. The easiest way to think about building out a course curriculum for your shop is to simply jot down the steps it takes to do something. From coating a screen to registering a print on a machine, there are general steps that happen just about every time.

Take out a yellow legal pad and write down what you’re doing the next time you complete a task. There you go, that’s step one. What was the second thing you did? That becomes step two. Don’t worry about writing a novel. Just use bullet points or short sentences. Write it up with all of the steps from beginning to end. This will form the basic outline for the lessons.

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Next, Think About Information

When training anyone, there are sometimes key pieces of information, vocabulary, and maybe even some visuals that will be helpful for an employee to grasp what you’re talking about. Get these out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Create a vocabulary list. Build out a handy reference guide with a few graphics.

People don’t naturally come with the knowledge of what “squeegee durometer,” or “emulsion,” or “thixotropic” means. Define those terms and any in-house shop lingo you use. What does a “Full Front” usually mean? Give an explanation as to what defines a “Rush Order.” Your goal with the information part of any lesson is to communicate your “shop way” of using and understanding information. This is how you get all of your employees on the same page.

Building Out the Classes

Maybe you can teach something in one session. If so, that’s great. For the most part, it may take several sessions to have your people fully understand the material and be trained satisfactorily.
Here are some things to consider:

  • Where will the classes be held? If you’re using your own equipment, this means they’re not working on an order. You don’t want any conflicts.
  • When will the classes be held? What is the best time of day? In the morning when people are fresh, or in the afternoon when a lot of work has already been completed?
  • Who is going to be teaching? This is important because not everyone is a good teacher.
  • How long will each class be in session? 30-minutes? An hour?

If you understand these points when building out the framework for each session, it helps to dial in exactly what will be taught and when. Not everyone learns the same way. Some people take longer. A few may like to read, others may like videos. Some like hands-on training. I recommend building out your course material to include written descriptions and steps, videos showing examples, and hands-on practice. Total the final number of sessions you think you need, and then schedule these on a calendar.

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Be a Better Trainer

Again, not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. Maybe someone is excellent at their job but is horrible at communicating to another person how to do it. Does that make them “worse” at their job? No. Teaching can be difficult. It’s an acquired skill, like everything else. Here are the four key points that can help you define who to pick to teach your students at your company:

Knowledge: First and foremost, they have to have expert knowledge of whatever it is you’re teaching. People who are just learning something themselves lack confidence and may teach people incorrectly.

Start narrowing down your instructor list by choosing people who have expert knowledge on the subject. This may mean you need to bring someone in if no one in your company is an expert. At the end of the day, these are the skills that will give your team success. Don’t skimp!

Enthusiasm: Your choice of instructor needs to be enthusiastic about teaching. Think back to your favorite teachers in high school or college. Educating people about their subject brought them great joy. Enthusiasm for teaching the topic matters. Consider the impact on your students by teachers with these two different attitudes:

“They couldn’t find anyone else to do this, so I’ll guess I try to show you some things.” vs “Alright! I can’t wait to show you how to level up and learn how to do this!”

Which attitude do you think connects and engages better with those trying to learn? Attitude and enthusiasm are important for teaching. Take that into consideration when choosing your instructor team.

How Screen Printers Can Upskill Their Staff

Communication: Teachers need to be able to communicate unknown and esoteric information while making it easy to understand. Especially in this industry. Help your teaching staff by being proactive with what needs to be taught. Build out the lesson plans for them. Have any printed materials ready? Create the videos to show ahead of time.

You may want to consult with your instruction team on what needs to be on the materials for the students. Are there multiple ways to accomplish something, or are you picking the beginner level step first? Get everyone on the same page.

Your instructor team will teach with their own style and flair. Don’t try to squash this, but make sure your team all agrees on what needs to be communicated in each lesson.

Patience: Great teachers have tremendous patience. Sometimes you have to explain something again to someone that you just went through 15 minutes ago. It’s easy to get frustrated with the student. But remember, the topic you’re going over is something you learned many years ago. For the student, it’s completely new. Be flexible in your teaching style, too. What works for one person will be a complete disconnect with another.

The end result you want is a fully-trained employee. How they got trained or how long it took doesn’t matter as much. It’s the end result you want. Don’t worry so much about the journey.

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Key Traits for a Great Training Program

1. Benchmark for the Industry. Sure, you do something in your shop a particular way. But before you teach everyone that skill, throw in some due diligence and see how other shops might do it. There always is another way. Maybe that actually works better.

2. Survey Your Employees. How do you do your job? What is important? List the steps. Also, what isn’t working as it should? How many different ways do we do something? Can we agree on one? Before you start teaching other people the skills to work in your shop, be sure to make sure what you’re teaching works.

3. Think About Higher Goals. Safety. Productivity. Quality. Internal and external customer service. How are you building those concepts into your lessons?

4. Have a Written Plan. Don’t just wing it. Write out an actual plan for what needs to happen. Who is accountable? What are the dates for the lessons? Describe the end result. Detail what both success and failure look like.

5. Make Learning Part of Your Company Culture. In the best companies, learning never ends. How are you going to make that philosophy work in yours?

6. Make It Fun. Learning is easy when people are smiling. How can you innovate so it’s enjoyable for all those involved?

7. Measure Results. How can you measure your program? How many employee training minutes should everyone have at the end of the month? Create a dashboard. Define what victory looks like.

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC, based in Mesa, Arizona. He coaches apparel decoration companies on operational efficiency, continuous improvement, workflow strategy, business planning, employee motivation, management, and sustainability. He is a frequent tradeshow speaker, author, and host of two podcasts, as well as co-founder of the Shirt Lab educational company. He can be reached at [email protected]

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