Recruits examine a motorstator band.
Companies investing in employee training and education reap great rewards. Employees become more productive and can adapt easily to changing job responsibilities. Also, they generally are more loyal as they gain greater self-respect and sense-of-value to the company. So says Baldor Electric, Ft. Smith, Ark., one company that has taken this approach to heart. The firm now invests nearly $2.5 million per year educating its employees and customers.
Baldor's training history began in the '60s when employees attended Dale Carnegie classes to help boost communication skills. This grew to include other subjects such as math, CAD, computer training, and so forth. It wasn't long before the company took its knowledge outside corporate walls, so to speak.
Customers began expressing a need for more product knowledge, and Baldor answered, launching Customer Education Workshops that taught electric-motor fundamentals. These workshops now cover a host of other subjects as well, including fundamentals of drives, working with servos, proactive selling, and courses in programming and troubleshooting controls. Educational workshops take place nearly every week of the year for customers, employees, and suppliers, says Marty Golofski, Baldor corporate director of education. To date, more than 8,000 customers have graduated from "Baldor U."
This commitment to employees and customers holds true in both good times and bad. Training budgets are the first to go in periods of economic recession at many companies. Not so at Baldor. "Tough times call for cutting expenses, not investments. And training is a necessary investment," says John McFarland, Baldor president and CEO. "To compete with some of the low-wage countries around the world, we have to produce better products and we need people who are more productive. Investing in training helps achieve these two goals."
Besides learning about motors and drives, employees get other educational opportunities. For example, factory workers can receive basic education which includes reading and math, leading, in some cases, to GED classes. Also offered are other job-related courses such as first aid, safety awareness, blueprint reading, and special math skills, says Golofski. "Employees are encouraged to take college-level courses leading to associates, bachelors, or masters degrees." Baldor works closely with community colleges and the University of Arkansas, offering a tuition-aid program for college-level courses. The company also supports local grade schools by sending engineers and sales staff to help teach science to students.
Both plant and office personnel can take courses in leadership skills, Spanish, computer training, and courses on the company's Value Formula. Employees average one hour of class per week, many of which take place during business hours.
Though no "official" reports show what kind of return comes out of these investments, Baldor management believes the pay-off is in better products and greater customer awareness. "Baldor started the education process as an investment to make a better motor," Golofski says. "The employees know this and know they benefit also. For example, employees who have taken the basic-education courses have told us they now can understand our instructions on shop cards that go with the orders. One foreman related that as he instructed an employee on the line the employee asked, ‘how will this process add value to the customer?'"
Despite such positives, many firms feel there is a downside to training: Employees may take their costly education and new skills to other companies. Not so, says McFarland. "Training is a team-building exercise and the more you invest in the employees, the more likely they are to stay with the company."
Golofski agrees. "Most employees who go through classes at the company or attend classes at a college become more loyal to Baldor," he says. "In fact, many employees who were with us when we started the education process in our plants more than 10 years ago are still with us today."
A testament to the company's hard work came recently when it was named as one of the "2002 Training Top 100" companies in North America by Training Magazine.
Hup, two, three, four
It's back to basics for Baldor sales reps. These "recruits" will pack their gear and kiss their sweethearts goodbye for four days as they head off to the company's new boot-camp training program. The idea is simple: Learn all that you can learn...about Baldor's products and capabilities.
As many as 40 outside sales reps simultaneously convene in Ft. Smith, Ark., for an intense week of study and hands-on training.
"The recruits are divided into five 8-man squads," says Marty Golofski, Baldor corporate director of education. "Each squad is expected to act as a unit in learning. To build team spirit, each squad is expected to come up with its own unique cadence drill."
The troops are up and on the road by 6 a.m. to attend product classes or visit manufacturing plants until 10:30 p.m.
With a schedule like that, you might expect a lot of grumbling. On the contrary, recruits compliment the thoroughness of the program, touting the advantages that go along with being able to tell a customer, "I've been to the plant and they make it this way."
This is particularly useful considering the sales reps aren't Baldor employees. The company contracts with district managers who are independent manufacturers' reps, and who in turn, hire field reps.
According to Baldor, approximately 240 outside and 300 inside sales reps will cycle through the program at an investment of more than $5 million. Boot camps take place every other month.