KAMATICS CORPORATION: MAKING THE CASE FOR STANDARDIZED OJT

A Northeast producer of specialty bearings and engineered products was facing a challenge. Martha Gallagher, Human Resources Manager at Kamatics Corp., a division of Bloomfield, CT-based Kaman Corp., was confronted with an aging workforce and few replacements in the pipeline. She needed to find a solution—quickly.

Martha Gallagher, Human Resources
Manager, Kamatics Corp.

“In the Northeast, and I know it’s the same throughout the whole country, there is a real shortage of qualified machinists. Our population is just continuing to get older—there’s lots of tribal knowledge. We realized we needed to do something to respond to market conditions,” said Gallagher.

Additional pressure came in the form of an employee survey conducted earlier in the year, which revealed a common sentiment among U.S. workers. “Our people want training. They want a career path. They want to be able to grow and develop in their jobs, in their careers,” said Gallagher. “It’s important for employee engagement that we provide a career path and opportunities for our people to learn and grow and develop.”

SEEKING A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Knowing it was difficult to find A-level machinists for products at the core of Kamatics’ business, Gallagher had to try a different approach. Rather than seeking applicants with 20 years of experience and a slew of skills, she wanted to try combining classroom experience with on-the-job (OJT) training. “We could take those basic skills and grow and teach them the things that we need and teach them our way of doing things. It just made sense.”

Gallagher considered her options. She was already familiar with Tooling U-SME through Kamatics’ participation in the state’s apprenticeship program, which is a combination of on-the-job and classroom training. “As I started thinking about how we really needed to grow our own machinists and wondered how we do that, I started looking more at the Tooling U-SME offerings,” said Gallagher. “One of the things that was really good about them was they’re so flexible.”

Gallagher reached out to Dan Sloan, leader of Tooling U-SME’s Enterprise Solutions, who told her about the Workforce Performance Assessment (WPA) program. “That seemed to really fit what we were looking to do,” she said.

ASSESSING THE WORKFORCE

Once the decision was made to conduct a WPA, Tooling U-SME’s staff immediately got to work. Dave Ewers, Director of Learning Services, and Lance Frederick, Senior Learning Specialist, arrived on site on a Monday and met with Kamatics’ management and human resources staff. They agreed to focus on the teams of machinists dedicated to six different value streams. Ewers and Frederick started with a gap analysis and then began interviews with the different teams.

Kamatics Corp. Specialty Bearings and Engineered Products Group
located in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

“They got to talk to people with 35 years of experience. They got to talk to people who had just joined the organization. They talked to our team leaders. They talked to our value stream managers. They talked to our executive director of operations. They even talked to some assembly people who run machines. It was pretty in depth,” said Gallagher.

Initially, she wasn’t sure how the staff would react to the interviews, but Gallagher ended up being pleasantly surprised. “I think that Dave Ewers and Lance Frederick were really very good at getting people to open up. They quickly acquired a lot of information with small groups of three or four machinists talking together.” Gallagher said she expected staff to be apprehensive, but the situation turned out to be the opposite. “They got lots of information, and I think that’s to their credit. They’re knowledgeable and really easy to talk to.”

“Kaman’s machinist training program resembled an informal OJT training model. Though it met the immediate operational needs, it relied on the expertise of a few individuals with minimal training materials, and there were no formal job qualification standards,” said Ewers. “Thus, the process was subjective rather than objective, leading to inconsistencies in the qualification and skill levels of machinists.” However, he added, “It’s apparent that, among management, there is a unified realization of the need to provide better training for the machinists.”

STANDARDIZING OJT

Gallagher agreed that their training program needed more structure and standardization. “We are a lean manufacturing organization, so I think that has helped us tremendously. Because with lean manufacturing, we believe in standard work and operating procedures. Everything is very visual, and everything is documented. So that certainly makes things much clearer for employees. But even with all of that, because we are a very fast-paced, very busy organization, a lot of what you get with on-the-job-training is not to the level where, especially newer people with less experience, will be able to just jump in and watch for a little bit and be able to pick things up. Plus, everybody has a different way of training—especially the people who have been here for a long time. They pick up little tips and tricks, and after doing it for so long, that just becomes their way of doing it. But that might not be the standard process that we want everybody to learn. So I think that having a more formalized program absolutely makes things more objective, like ‘Here’s the one best way.’”

“That Kaman is a strong lean organization definitely helps,” said Ewers, “but continuous improvement programs aren’t used to identify training solutions that can help improve company performance. However, adding lean concepts to Tier boards does reinforce learning and foster operational support.” Ewers was impressed by the obvious amount of teamwork among the staff. “Even without a formal training function, a culture exists to support training and encourage development,” he said. During the interviews, many staff commented that people on the floor were quick to respond when asked for help, but it was a reactive rather than proactive situation. Staff also regularly referred to Kaman’s core values, which are based on the acronym REACH: Respect, Excellence, Accountability, Creativity, and Honor. Those interviewed consistently expressed a desire to have training that supports those values.

In general, staff that participated in the process were very excited, said Gallagher. “They’re taking a wait-and-see attitude because it’s a big initiative. But they absolutely welcomed the chance to add their feedback and their ideas. Any time you can include somebody in the process, that’s huge,” she said. “One thing I was surprised about was our managers. We have some really dedicated managers, but for the overwhelming response of their support for this, I think I was a little bit surprised. I kind of half expected to hear, ‘What we do works just fine.’ But they were absolutely in support of having Tooling U-SME come in and do this.”

DELIVERING THE ASSESSMENT

At the end of the week, the Learning Services team delivered a full assessment, which included 13 pages of methodology, observations, recommendations, and specific solutions. “The one thing I thought was so impressive with them is they said, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen.’ Then they stuck to the schedule, they met with everyone, and they said that by Friday, we were going to have an overview—a summary of findings. And they talked to about 50 or 60 people. True to their word, at every step in this whole process, if they said they were going to deliver something on a date, they did, which I thought was really impressive. You don’t always see that,” she said.

Gallagher is currently working to secure state funding for additional training while considering which other areas of Kamatics operations would benefit from the Workforce Performance Assessment process. “I think it was a very valuable experience. I think everybody was very professional. They kept to their commitments. They were easy to talk to, easy for people to talk to, and it was overall just a very positive experience.”

Interested in reading more about Tooling U-SME’s Workforce Performance Assessments? Click HERE. Want to talk to someone about having a WPA performed at your business? Call 866.706.8665.