Why training is failing the frontline workforce

Mila Budeva
Mila Budeva
Sep 21, 2018

It is estimated that deskless workers make up 80 percent of the global workforce. Those are the workers at the organisational frontline:

operating and maintaining machines on the shop floor; material-handling in warehouses; transporting and delivering goods; working at construction sites; setting up merchandising displays in retail outlets.


Training is failing those 80 percent of the global workforce, resulting in far-reaching implications such as high employee churn, costly and inefficient onboarding, deteriorating safety, quality and productivity standards


Let’s look at why training is failing the frontline workforce and how digital, visual on-the-job training can help to change that.


Why is training failing frontline workers?

Is this the fault of management that is not concerned with the learning and development of its firstline workers or of a frontline workforce that is reluctant to learn?


While there are organisations that are not providing frontline workers with the necessary training and frontline workers who remain disengaged regardless of the kind of training they’re offered, for the most part, there is evidence of the intent to train and be trained.


Workers are keen to develop new, relevant skills and continuously improve their performance. Organisations do invest in a variety of training tools and platforms – form e-learning, through classroom training programmes, to sending professional trainers to the frontline.


It is not the lack of intent but rather the format of the training content and its delivery that is behind so many failed training initiatives.



What’s wrong with training?

As a recent survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of Axonify shows, some of the most common drivers behind the inefficiency of frontline workforce training are:


  • • Infrequent training that does not support on-the-job learning.
  • • Too much information in a “boring” format.


This results in a lose-lose situation in which:


• frontline workers feel disengaged and despite dedicating time to completing the training, do not obtain or retain the necessary knowledge.


• organisations are investing in training initiatives only to witness a high turnover of disengaged workers, lengthy and costly onboarding and procedural non-compliance.


Here’s how to change the lose-lose into a win-win:


Infrequent training Training at the point of action


Instead of two weeks of classroom training or e-learning every year, a manufacturer, for example, can provide bite-sized, interactive content that workers can access daily, at the point of action. That enables continuous, on-the-job learning and helps to reduce the risks of procedural non-compliance.


Rather than try and recall instructions from a training session that happened  months ago, a maintenance engineer can use the workstation tablet to pull up and consult work instructions based on part or asset number within minutes.


Unlike one-off classroom sessions, on-the-job digital training can be combined with checks and audits that can help managers to gain visibility over competencies and skills and create a track record of compliance.


For example, at the start of the shift a construction worker can use the on-site tablet or his own mobile device to watch a quick video on the HSE requirements and submit his e-signature as evidence of the completed training. If the worker discovers that the PPE he’s been provided with is damaged, he can capture an image and send instant feedback to the manager.



Information overload Bite-sized chunks of multi-media work instructions


In instances where work instructions are provided at the point of action, it is often their format that makes them difficult to navigate and process.


Let’ look at the example of a shop floor operator. She might need to make a minor stop to leave the production line and consult a 100-page paperback manual just to find the one relevant page of information. With paper-based instructions, there is also the risk of outdated content and the costs of updating and distributing new versions.


Time-wasting and disruptive of the operator's work, such 'in-bulk' work instructions are likely to prompt non-compliant behaviours. Operators are more likely to try and save time by implementing their own best practices and 'shortcuts'.


Instead, work instructions can be broken down and delivered in video, graphic, text or audio ‘bites’ of information, helping to increase engagement and knowledge retention. Instant access to the relevant information means that any frontline worker can perform the task right the first time and every time. This helps to eliminate waste, speeds up onboarding, reduces training costs and time to productivity.


Frontline workers can use the same devices that display the instructions to capture and share One Point Lessons or improvement suggestions, creating a more collaborative training process and helping to drive bottoms-up improvement.


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