Good for them and good for business
Training employees requires planning and financial investment. Unfortunately, many small businesses either don’t provide enough training or don’t train in the areas where it is really needed. In the dental laboratory, typical training efforts center around the technical side of the business with little to no focus on the operational side. A good training program will help employees hone not only the technical skills needed to produce a product, but also the operational skills needed to work as a team, solve problems, train other employees, eliminate waste, and be accountable for productivity.
Technical Skill Training
Developing an employee’s technical skills is critical to the ongoing success of the laboratory. This will directly impact quality, reduce remakes and inspection time, and speed up the learning curve. Most laboratory owners and managers follow the on-the-job training approach. Employees are assigned a task, watched closely for skills, and then coached or closely monitored to work on areas of perceived weakness. Some owners invest in the PTC training system, which is a good way to provide direction, method, and a standardized approach to performing many tasks. However, it does not share the advanced techniques and subtleties—commonly called “tribal knowledge”—that must be passed from person to person.
Formal training methods are required to ensure the perpetuation of standardized work methods, make retraining easier to conduct, and support a standard level of quality. They also guarantee that tribal knowledge is shared using documented methodology. Scheduled on a regular basis for less experienced employees, this kind of training is best provided by the most knowledgeable experts in that technical arena. Fortunately, most laboratories have a number of employees with significant experience who can share their expertise. The laboratory manager should understand that it is their responsibility to train employees, whether directly or by delegating to other technicians.
It is also vital that employees are cross-trained. Cross-training ensures that all employees can perform more than one job in a proficient manner. For smaller laboratories, cross-training employees is very common, since having fewer employees drives the necessity to fill in or provide extra capacity to support varying workloads. But all laboratories, regardless of size, should implement a formal, planned cross-training approach to further expand the technical skills of existing employees as well as prepare new employees for the variety of tasks they’ll need to perform.
Operational Skill Training
A common refrain heard in all laboratory businesses is “get product out the door.” But at what cost? The general “eight wastes”—defects, over-production, waiting, not utilizing employee brainpower, transportation, inventory, motion, and excess processing—exist in every laboratory, and they can cost the business in a big way. Every employee should be trained on and understand how to identify waste in the production process. The tough part is what to do about it. The answer lies in the commitment on the part of each employee to make the time to identify solutions, which could be as easy as changing the location of workstations in the laboratory. According to a client, a recent Value Stream Mapping workshop at a full-service laboratory showed how they could reduce the technician walk pattern an impressive 50% by adding three pieces of equipment and rearranging two workstations. The result was 45 recovered minutes, which could be used to produce more restorations.
Another tool that has proved invaluable to businesses is root-cause analysis. This analytic tool helps solve a problem and implement a solution that prevents the problem from recurring. For example, one laboratory suffered from a high remake rate on All-on-Four implants. Root analysis identified that the problem lay in unclear design specifications. When the design specifications were explained and adhered to by both clients and technicians, the remake rate dropped by 56%. Other tools that should be part of your operational training regimen include workplace organization (6S), visual management, and small-batch flow, all of which will contribute to laboratory productivity.
If the business goal is to increase productivity with less effort, then it’s critical to improve both the technical and operational skills of your laboratory personnel. Identify the specific technical skills that need enhancement, and leverage the power of your workforce to sustain those skills.