TWI for the 21st Century – Are Coaching Networks the future?

Mila Budeva
Mila Budeva
Oct 23, 2018

The US established the Training within Industry (TWI) Services as part of the War Manpower Commission in the summer of 1940.  At the time the US faced a significant challenge – how to increase industrial production of wartime materials while the industrial workforce was abroad, fighting the war.


As unskilled workers entered the manufacturing workforce while skilled labourers went to war, the need to provide rapid, efficient training became pressing. A national network of professionals was created to develop the methods that would enable sped-up training and production. 1


While the network would help to design the training methodology, it was down to industry to implement it. The supervisors on the shop floor would become the instructors or coaches and all instruction would take place on the shop floor. 


As the TWI Institute notes:


“The real job had to be done by industry, within industry.”


By the end of World War II over 1.6 million workers in over 16,000 plants had received certified training in TWI and the programme proved to be essential to driving industrial output for the war. 


Of the 600 client companies monitored by the TWI Service throughout the war:

• 86% increased production by at least 25%.

• 100% reduced training time by 25% or more.

• 88% reduced labour-hours by over 25%.

• 55% reduced scrap by at least 25%. 

• 100% reduced grievances by more than 25%. 

Source: TWI Institute:


The TWI Services were shut down by the US government in September 1945 as experienced labourers returned from war and re-took their jobs. While TWI’s influence in the US decreased without government backing, the programme gained popularity and had a lasting legacy in Japan where it was introduced post-war and influenced the development of the Toyota Production System (TPS).


Do we still need TWI today?

TWI was created in response to the need for the faster on-boarding of workers and ramping up production. The training aimed to quickly upskill workers, encourage collaboration, problem-solving and Continuous Improvement by leveraging the knowledge and expertise that is already on the shop floor.


Fast-forward to the challenges that manufacturers face today – a skills gap fuelled by an ageing workforce, employee churn and talent shortage, demand for more and more varied products faster is combined with growing technological complexity on the shop floor. The benefits of TWI, such as increased productivity, speedier on-boarding and reduced waste, are all very much needed today.


In the age of Industry 4.0, how can we use the proliferation of Industrial Digital Technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to amplify the positive impact of TWI?


TWI for the 21st Century – Are Coaching Networks the future?

Firstly, what is a Coaching Network?

A concept, developed by Emergence Capital,  a Coaching Network


“uses machine learning to guide workers toward doing their jobs more effectively while they’re doing it. The key ingredient of a Coaching Network is software that gathers data from a distributed network of workers and identifies the best techniques for getting things done”2


The software acts as an on-the-job instructor, gathering more data as it is providing guidance that is then fed back into the system and used to improve the coaching.


Coaching networks are already being used to drive the productivity, skills and performance of desk-based workers. For example, an AI solution can listen in on a sales rep’s call and, based on its learnings, provide real-time recommendations to improve their chance of closing a sale. Similarly, AI can help customer support agents to improve service and reduce average handling time.

In Gordon Ritter and Jake Saper's words,

“We think dynamic coaching will finally replace the old forms-based paradigm. Instead of giving us static workflows and reporting tools, this new software will help us get better at our jobs.”3

What would that look like on the shop floor?

On the shop floor, a Coaching Network would combine the data coming from equipment with supervisor/coach and operator know-how to identify and communicate the most efficient way to perform a task in any given situation. The guidance can be pushed out on a worker’s smart watch or smart glasses when and where they are performing the task.


This has two major benefits:

1. Rather than providing generic guidance, the Coaching Network offers guidance that is tailored to the specific worker, circumstances and task being performed at the given time.


For example, a shop floor worker operating a sealing machine that is about to overheat (based on data from the machine’s IoT temperature sensor) will receive different instructions to an operator on the same machine who is wrongly performing a step from the sealing procedure that’s resulting in decreased output.


 2. The Coaching Network continuously improves its content as over time it learns and adds to the coaching those practices that are proven more effective as well as information on inefficiencies, risks and losses and how those have been addressed.


Tacit knowledge such as frontline workers' improvement suggestions, best practices and fixes becomes incorporated into the repository of knowledge, stimulating workers’ problem-solving and preserving operational know-how and expertise. On-the-job learning becomes a year-round experience rather than a bi-annual training session.


 “humans become the “mutation engine” in this evolving process, generating new ideas which in turn benefit everyone else."4


The Coaching Network can take the one-to-one training approach of TWI, making it more dynamic and extending its reach. It can harness the knowledge, problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of human workers on the shop floor and combine them with the data collected by machines, informing the continuous improvement of know-how and its execution.


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