“Cultural fit” key for streator tube manufacturer in training project
In Plymouth Tube Co.’s search for a partner, not a consultant, to help train its workforce, the stretch tube manufacturer found a winning combination—turning to IMEC and Illinois Valley Community College to implement a Training Within Industry project at its Streator facility.
A global supplier of specialty tubing in carbon, alloy and stainless steel, Plymouth Tube operates a large network of metalworking mills in the United States and United Kingdom, primarily serving the automotive, mining, aerospace and recreational markets. The company’s Streator facility, which opened in 1968, is a 100,000-square-foot operation with 64 employees.
According to General Manager Cam Valle, the corporation is quite proactive in terms of employee training, and the Streator facility was recently charged with completing Training Within Industry—which leverages a company’s supervisors to apply the principles of lean manufacturing, standardized work and continuous improvement on an ongoing basis. The project’s goals were threefold: 1) break down operator processes into standardized work through documented job instructions, 2) train supervisors to teach those job instructions to employees and 3) verify that employees learned the skills and processes necessary to perform the work safely and efficiently.
Valle turned to Illinois Valley Community College for support, and based on past experiences, college officials recommended IMEC as a resource. The project kicked off with a walkthrough of the Streator facility, then IMEC worked with Plymouth Tube leaders to develop the scope for the training, which included both Job Relations and Job Instruction modules. Training consisted of half-day sessions over the course of two weeks, with almost all of the company’s supervisors participating. The Job Relations module taught them how to build positive employee relations, increase cooperation and motivation, and resolve conflicts effectively. In the Job Instruction module, supervisors learned how to quickly train employees to do a job correctly, safely and conscientiously.
According to Valle, feedback from participants was positive, describing the two modules as useful tools to strengthen the workplace. “We needed to be able to give people the basic requirements of the job quickly and effectively—that’s critical with a flexible workforce like ours,” he said. “For example, we now have a more visual workplace. Job instructions have gone from just words to a more effective combination of words and visuals.”
Results like this helped ensure shop floor workers embraced the Training Within Industry project as well. “They know it’s much easier to do a job when they’re properly trained,” Valle said. “They appreciate the time and resources the company is investing in them through this process.”
For Valle and other company leaders, another key benefit was the collaboration between IMEC and Illinois Valley Community College. The two organizations worked together to complete the project, with IMEC delivering the training and technical assistance and college staff providing project management and securing grant funding. Most important, according to Valle, was the “cultural fit.”
“We weren’t looking for a consultant. We wanted a partnering relationship, and that’s what we got with IMEC and Illinois Valley Community College,” he said. “We wanted to work with someone who made all our employees—supervisors and shop floor—feel comfortable. They came to us with a willingness to educate and an understanding of what’s required in the workplace today. Smaller manufacturers should take advantage of IMEC’s knowledge and their ability to work in conjunction with local universities.”