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10 Ways TWI Supports Employee Engagement and Retention



By Phil Chadderdon

Workforce challenges these days are never-ending, not just for manufacturers but across the business spectrum. You have to be on top of your game to be successful building a talent pipeline, recruiting and hiring, onboarding and training, creating an engaging workplace culture, and promoting career development. Leadership skills in manufacturing are paramount, as is the ever-present need for standardized training. The turnover of experienced leaders and other subject matter experts only amplifies that need.

You may have an old standby in your workforce toolbox that addresses manufacturing-specific issues while also arming your new leaders with skills to meet current workforce challenges. Training Within Industry (TWI) has been around since the 1940s, and it is designed to expand supervisor knowledge in ways that help your business drive continuous improvement. For instance, the idea of lean manufacturing has roots in TWI.

TWI emerged during World War II as American manufacturers struggled to meet the crushing demand for all manner of military-related products. As farmers, office workers and others made their way into factories in support of the effort, there was an urgent need to enable these new workers to transition into new roles. In many ways, we have a similar environment now as manufacturers must reach out to nontraditional talent pools to fill vacant positions. It’s a good time to take another look at TWI, which provides workforce benefits far beyond standards for work.

This blog post will focus on how two elements of TWI – job relations (JR) and job instruction (JI) – impact engagement and retention. In the spirit of TWI, we used the Baldrige Excellence Framework® and its Job Quality Index as a reference.

How TWI supports employee engagement and retention

Does this sound familiar? After your longtime frontline manager aged out, you promoted your ace machinist to teach others on the shop floor. After a few weeks, you observe that they have no idea what they are doing. Or maybe new leadership needs coaching on how to translate their operations or business acumen to the shop floor.

JR creates a consistent, coachable methodology that increases everybody’s ability to work with people. It helps people in key roles get through inflection points, such as when someone goes from line worker to team leader. It also gets people in a new role up to speed faster. JR enables improved communications, which results in better morale and fewer people problems. And when you do experience issues involving people, and you will, JR-trained leaders have a better chance of resolving emerging issues before they become ongoing cultural issues. Addressing the problem early can mean the difference between extinguishing a fire with a cup of water versus having to call the fire department.

JI acknowledges that being able to do a job really well is not the same thing as being able to train someone to do that job. Proper training includes documenting work processes and enables continuous improvement. When done properly, people in the organization feel heard and involved in making things better. This reduces frustration and is a huge driver for engagement.

Let’s look at how TWI supports 10 key areas in the Baldrige Job Quality Index.

1. Retain high performers

It’s much easier to retain high performers if you know who they are and play to their strengths. TWI emphasizes the need for leaders to help staffers with job performance expectations and explain how changes within the company will impact their work, which is key to engagement. TWI also coaches leaders to recognize workers who have abilities that are not being used and leverage these staffers who have an interest in improving processes.

2. Value diversity, equal opportunity and inclusion for all

A great work culture respects the unique needs, perspectives and potential that comes with a diverse workforce. TWI helps leaders understand how an inclusive and conscientious work culture can drive trust and commitment from employees.

3. Demonstrate values through policies, practices and leadership actions

TWI is not just for frontline leaders. It reinforces the need for senior leadership to build trust through its actions. Establishing positive relationships paves the way for the broader success of the organization. The result is workers who care about doing their jobs properly and pre-empting problems before they emerge. 

4. Work to make all employees feel like they belong

TWI encourages teamwork by promoting open communication and showing appreciation for team members’ contributions, both of which are key to creating a sense of community and belonging. This type of support helps employees recognize that their employer has planned for assuring their success.

5. Share ideas about the organization, the work being done and working conditions in the organization

TWI creates multiple pathways for communication between leadership and staff, ranging from informal conversations to structured sessions to address people and process problems that come up. TWI strengthens the critical two-way relationship channel for discussion of ideas as well as testing and implementation of suggested actions for improving the organization.

6.  Allow employees to express concerns, make requests or complaints without fear of retaliation

Fear of retaliation on the job is among the top concerns of many employees. TWI coaches leaders to talk with individuals to gather facts and listen to their opinions and feelings. After all, opinions and feelings are real to individuals, who see them as facts. TWI supports a continuous improvement mindset that relies on effective communication and respect for people while managing change.

7. Get employees’ input about their work and the organization’s direction

Having a say in their work is among employees’ top desires in every job survey. JR methodology focuses on getting results through people such as developing your managers’ and supervisors’ capability to build strong trust, collaboration and engagement of their teams. JI states that “if the worker hasn’t learned, the instructor hasn’t taught.”

8. Take action to support worker safety, health and wellness

While management sets the tone for safety with its actions, a safety-first culture depends on two-way communication on the front lines. TWI provides everyone with a framework for recognizing potential hazards and eliminating them.

9. Offer flexibility in work schedules, locations and hours, where possible

This also ranks high on employee wish lists. TWI coaches leaders on how to help staff maintain a healthy work-life balance.

10. Proactively engage with and support workers in career advancement

One of the biggest shifts in the workforce dynamic is that prospects are looking for career pathways and not just a good-paying job. TWI practitioners look for abilities not being used and have the tools to develop their team’s skills. This also provides the potential for feedback on career goals and advancement opportunities. TWI enables skill development and fosters the discussion of how to make the most of each person’s ability.

Benefits of TWI extend beyond the facility floor

TWI is a people-first approach to work, so its benefits extend beyond tasks being done on the facility floor. Your local MEP Center has experts in TWI who can help your team build trust and demonstrate the value you place in your employees, which is crucial for employee engagement and retention. Let’s talk. 

This article first appeared on the NIST website and is published here with permission.

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