No Ongoing Training? No Problem? No Sawmill!

POST DATE Mar 14, 2017


I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about his experience in sawmills. The more we spoke, the more the same issue kept coming up.

It reminded me of my first experience driving in European roundabouts. The infamous six lane roundabout circling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, as a matter of fact. I was in the centre of it.

It was a mistake to even consider taking that route in the first place, but being stuck in the centre of a six lane roundabout is an even bigger mistake. It took me over an hour to get from the centre to the outside lane to be able to get out. 

Needless to say, it was incredibly frustrating and I thought my nervous system would collapse as soon as I got out. 

The Sawmill Merry Go Round

The issue that kept coming up in conversation with my friend reminded me of my Paris roundabout adventure.

In my opinion, many of the common problems that occur in sawmills are due to a lack of training. Lack of proper training is a huge factor in downtime.

I’ve written how much sawmill downtime costs in the past, and it definitely adds up to a high number. Some people say the costs aren’t that high, but the simple fact is that downtime is expensive and bad, no matter how you look at it.

The good news is that training is much cheaper than downtime.

Without proper training, your mill will run like my car in the Arc de Triomphe roundabout – around and around it goes until you have the proper training to get out. I think some sawmills have been stuck on the inside of the roundabout for decades. 

Sawmill Downtime Isn’t Normal

Some mills don’t know they’re stuck. The ones happily circling the roundabout for decades think that downtime problems are normal, because they keep happening. And because they keep happening, they think it’s normal. See a problem there?

Because regular downtime seems like the status quo, no one questions it. They accept it as part of the business.

It’s amazing to see the look on people’s faces when just a small amount of training makes a problem that’s existed for decades go away. It’s like a miracle. They see it as a one-off, and truly believe the problem will come back like it always has before.

They’re right – the problem will come back, if old habits and procedures come back.

This is why ongoing staff training is so important. 

You can’t just make one change, train staff once, and expect that’s all there is to it. Training isn’t a one-time deal. It needs to be followed up consistently and regularly by management.

Why You Should Invest in Long-Term Training 

If you’re cynical (like me), you may be asking, “Well, why can’t people just learn from being taught once?” 

Once isn’t good enough. It takes the average person six repetitions to remember and learn something new. Sawmills are no exception to that rule, and staff also need to stay focused in an extremely busy environment.

The problems that cause downtime also appear in many different forms, so staff need adequate training to recognize all the ways something could go wrong, not just one way.

Without constant training, staff may fail to recognize key problems, or how to solve them effectively. Some sawmill managers may not be happy with that answer, but it’s true.

I’ve found myself in the same situation, wishing I didn’t have to invest so much time in training, but here’s how I like to think of it: In a life or death situation, would I rather be rescued by a person who is up to date and constantly practicing their life-saving skills, or a person who took a course thirty years ago and has not had any experience since?

I think the choice is clear! 

Many sawmills are still putting the life and death of their business in the hands of the latter, which is crazy to me. It really is the same situation as above. It may not be a human life at stake, but your business’ health certainly is. 

The True Cost of Ongoing Training

Many argue that training is expensive, and it is. Many argue that training is useless because they have a high turnover rate and would need to keep doing it. And many argue that training is just plain useless under all circumstances (yes, really, I have heard this argument before).

I would argue against all those points, ad nauseum, in favour of providing adequate training to your staff so they can help grow your business. But in the end, the choice is yours.

If you’re happy with the way things are going even when experiencing regular downtime, it may indicate you’ve been stuck in the roundabout too long! If you’ve been in the roundabout too long, you either don’t know any better (i.e. lack of training…) or have given up and accepted the situation you’re in as standard.

Let’s face it. Training solves problems. Lack of training prevents problems from being solved. It’s that simple.

I will admit that training for the sake of training itself is not actually useful. There’s plenty of make-work training out there. But if you approach training from a problem solving perspective, the ROI is huge for your mill.

Training is the only way you’re going to get out of that roundabout, and learn to never take that route again.

Does your sawmill regularly train employees on how to recognize problems and solve them to prevent downtime? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments!

Author: Udo Jahn

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