Q&A with Mandy Björkland, Former A&D Manufacturing Training Coordinator

Building a well-structured and comprehensive training program is a challenging yet critical component of achieving operational success on the shop floor. No role is more central to the construction and execution of these programs than a manufacturing training manager. We've recently sat down with Mandy Björkland Galaxia, current Customer Success Manager at Covalent, who has extensive experience as a manufacturing training coordinator. We discussed how vital the training process is and the steps organizations can take to improve it.

Tell us a little bit about your background before joining Covalent.

Before university, I was in the Navy as an electrical nuclear engineer for a few years before going to school. I went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where I got my bachelor's in engineering physics and then my masters in engineering management. Then I worked with a private space company building rockets in the Mojave desert for a while, which led to me getting an internship at GE Aviation. 

My first role at GE was as a manufacturing engineer on electrical components for plane cockpits, including the C130. That then led to a quality engineering job working with ceramic matrix composites, which was great at the time as it was a newer technology. This was followed by taking on some training coordinator roles, including rolling out a new training program, before joining Covalent.

What inspired you to make the switch from engineering to a training coordinator role?

While I was a quality engineer, I saw a huge gap in the way we were tracking training. At the time, the system we were using was not exactly user-friendly; several folks often complained about it. But the shop needed it for compliance tracking, and it was the best tool we had at the time. 

I took an interest in training early on in my career. Even as a quality engineer, I found opportunities where the training could be revamped and started doing it as a passion project. Walking the floor as a quality engineer, I often heard from people that they felt they did not receive enough training. 

At the time, we were hiring a lot of people. The process was that folks would do their initial training and OJT hours on the first shift. Then once they were completed, they moved on to their assigned shifts with the expectation that they knew what they were doing. The issue was that every shift is different, every cell is different, and every trainer trains differently. A trainer might have ten people they are trying to train up, and everyone has different learning styles. Some people might speak up when they are not clear on something, whereas some folks may not. At the time, we did not have a true standardized way to carry out training. 

So as I mentioned, this had a few folks feeling like they were undertrained. Now training forms the foundation of a shop, and a shop's success directly correlates to the quality of training provided. When you start a new position, and a supervisor asks if you were proficient at your last task, you would not tell them no, because you usually do not want to go against the grain. 

When you joined the training team, what were some of the changes you made? 

By the time a training coordinator position opened up for me, I had already done the work and created training programs. Some of the programs were even for simple things like how to load specific parts. I created programs that included steps on checks and balances to make sure people felt like they had the knowledge that they would not mess up the process in front of them. 

So I wanted to ensure that other people were more directly involved with the training process. We got quality involved, had instructors sign off, and began having manufacturing engineers in training test each other. All this was done to ensure that people could retain the training and truly understand the processes being shown. This can sometimes be a problem for shops with higher turnover and higher amounts of new hires than those with more experienced staff. 

I also created a week-long onboarding process. As a part of this process, engineering leadership, quality leadership, and other leadership members would give classes covering their jobs, who they were, and a lesson on something they were passionate about. This helped create relationships between new hires and leadership and gave new hires the knowledge of whom those important people walking around the shop were. It also helped new hires feel more comfortable in being able to approach the leadership team because the relationship had already been built in onboarding. 

Following that week-long classroom onboarding, workers were moved to a training area for three weeks. This training area mimicked the floor and was set up to allow workers to walk through all the processes in a more low-stakes atmosphere than on the actual shop floor. They were able to get more comfortable with the materials, the tools, and the environment, with a trainer and not have to worry about breaking something or producing a non-conforming part. This provided new workers with more confidence before reaching the shop floor. 

These changes were a significant change from before. The initial onboarding process just consisted of meeting your manager, signing your paperwork, learning about your benefits, and then you were on the shop floor for training. 

Can you talk about some of the results after implementing these changes?

Well, first, fewer people said they did not feel like they had adequate training. Workers were more engaged, and we had more volunteers for programs around the shop like EHS. Workers hit the ground running once training was completed. Workers were also more likely to have recommendations on how things could improve. I always like to say that we started people slower so that they could go faster. 

When creating high-quality and thorough training programs, what are some steps you think companies miss or may not think about?

One thing I often saw that was missed is a good employee orientation. Typically people would come in and be put right on the floor and told, "you will be working with this person or in this cell." Workers greatly benefit from a more nuanced orientation and going through the small things. Small things like who to talk to when it comes to HR-related or policy-related things. Or even an orientation that covers the specific parts people will be working on and how they contribute to the overall greater picture.

For example, we added a class on how a jet engine works. We did this as a result of hearing from newer workers that were often just put onto a process and did not truly understand how vital their work was. So we created this class, made sure to make it engaging, and tried to pique everyone's curiosity and empower them with the knowledge, resulting in folks having a deeper appreciation for the components they are responsible for. 

We then took things a step further and created classes that explained the "why" around things. Why are failures so essential, why do we prevent them, why do we put a serial number on everything, and why do we track things this way. So instead of making training more process-oriented and telling everyone the order they had to do things in, we spent more time on the "why" we needed things done in a particular manner. This helped people understand why they should not skip specific steps or try to improvise. 

Switching gears a little bit, how do you see the implementation of Covalent affecting the training process at customer sites?

The biggest thing that stands out to me is that shops can often be skittish about adopting new software. The main reason is that implementing new software on a shop floor is often not very smooth. But the ease of use of Covalent, coupled with the granularity of data captured in the system, empowers customers to develop new training programs in ways they never thought possible. One site recently decided to add more detail to their certifications, including FOD (foreign object debris) training in each certification. The shop required this training to be done every year, and with Covalent, it was easier for them to keep track and make sure folks were signed off on it. It's been really cool to see how customers leverage the system. 

Thank you for your time Mandy, any final pieces of advice for organizations beginning to update or create new training programs?

The biggest advice I can give is to start simple and then build on top of it. I have seen the most success at places that started simple and did not just try a huge overhaul of everything at once. Secondly, get management buy-in. Leadership as a whole must be committed to the new training programs in order for them to change the process truly. The places that get leadership buy-in often perform better than those that do not.   

Contact us here to learn more about how Covalent can help your organization with its training process. 

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