How to improve digital training for field operators?

Digital training

If TESLA has taken a prominent place in the media landscape for several years, it is not only because of the personality of its (former) leader. It is also because the company made by Elon Musk is a symbol of the evolution of the industrial sector.

In industry, competition is extremely strong and global. This is why the European Commission launched the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for the Factories of the Future in 2014. The aim of the programme? To support and accelerate the digital transformation of industrial companies. Why? Because we cannot ignore the upheaval of a market that represents 16% of European GDP.

You may be wondering what the factory of the future will look like. It is often portrayed as an ultra-connected factory, benefiting from technologies that allow machines to communicate with each other and disregarding the humans that made it up until now.

We are not there. Today, on the contrary, the main issue is human. There is no doubt about it: your field operators will welcome with open arms a technology that will make their work easier and allow them to concentrate on the essential. The challenge is to prepare them for change and motivate them to move forward with you, by implementing appropriate digital training.

1. Integration and digital training of existing field operators and newcomers

The industrial 4.0 company is recruiting, and must turn to new profiles that will easily and efficiently adopt the procedures of the future. In this context, the challenge for team leaders is to create synergies. It is a question of both reassuring the existing field agents and effectively integrating the new field operators.

a. Learning related to the function

For the same job title, there are as many field realities as there are companies. Each has its own operating mode, its own procedures, its own way of reporting, its own way of managing data. Recruitment in the sector is difficult, so it is also likely that your new field operator has had a different job before or does not master all the technical aspects of his new job. And even if he has done a similar job before, in reality he will have to relearn his function in a new context. It is therefore obvious that using people who understand the realities and challenges of the profession and the field to understand and communicate how to use the solution is the most obvious option.

In the majority of cases, members of your company, who may be team leaders or field operators, will be trained to use a digital solution and then train the teams as they deploy it to a wider range of users.

Be careful, however, not all members of your teams can be improvised trainers. Not everyone will want to either. You can designate a member of the volunteer and pedagogical team as a trainer, and arrange his or her schedule to allow him or her to devote a few days to the newcomer's digital training. Onboarding - meaning the first few days in the company - is too often neglected. The first step? Ensure that the new field operator will have the necessary access to do his work: tablet, license, data entry or reporting procedure easily available.

Then, it is up to the team leader or management to organize the first day of the newcomer, with possibly his designated trainer. Where does it start? Introduce the team members? Take a look around the premises? It is the opportunity, from this moment, to highlight the technological tools of which you are proud: tablets to manage machines, GPS and high-tech accessories integrated on your heavy equipment, internal applications that allow them to visualize the tasks to be performed and their progress... You will thus create enthusiasm among your new employee.

After this first complete digital training (it can last several hours/days/weeks depending on the case), don't "drop anything" to cover the famous song. Regular follow-up is still necessary, both for the team leader and the newcomer, who must feel both challenged and supported in case of difficulties. In concrete terms, you can set up a

In this case, what about the time remaining in the work week? The use of digital tools can allow the operator to familiarize himself with the current procedures. It must enter data to feed the maintenance plan of a machine? A well-designed application will allow it to be guided as the actions are carried out. The benefits are clear: learn quickly, in a fun way, and free up time for team leaders to carry out the most difficult (and non-automated!) part of their job: engaging their agents around a strong culture and values shared by all.

b. Learning related to the corporate culture

Integrating newcomers into the company's culture is done through actions that are difficult to quantify or tangible: ensuring that the newcomer is invited to lunch by his colleagues, that he is helped when a maintenance operation poses a problem, that his ideas are taken into account... These are all essential steps towards successful integration.

The implementation of common rules is also a recognized good managerial practice. But it is not enough to dictate them and hope that the message has got through. A team leader must ensure that his field operators:

  • Understood the rules and their rationale
  • Have an interest in their implementation
  • Apply and transmit them

Building rules with your field operators, and taking into account the data / remarks made by newcomers during the first intervention reports, is to ensure that you always have the right tools to move forward. This is what will enable you to achieve your common goal: to ensure efficient and sustainable production.

Finally, if your teams are to be motivated, creative, open to innovation and even proactive, field operators, project leaders, managers - in short, humans - must be able to evolve with the new technologies that you decide to implement. It is not necessary to acquire a machine full of connected objects that communicates with other machines, does all the work and turns off the lights at the end of the day.
No, technological development means choosing tools that can be picked up quickly and really facilitate the work of your field operators. It's as simple as an application that allows you to track your delivery drivers' routes and optimise them as they go along to save them time. Or a tablet that allows you to walk around the warehouse to take readings without the weight of a 40-page file.

Technologies are not the only war horse in a continuous improvement process: you have the support of your employees and have found a reliable solution provider? It is also necessary to be able to integrate the tools easily without having to deal with cumbersome procedures. Fortunately, these same tools can help you reduce all this.

2. Increasing the skills of field operators and continuous improvement through digital training 

The organisation of processes and work is the 2nd biggest challenge for mechanical engineering companies. But the time to build clear, efficient, standardized procedures... A new connected object has already arrived, implies an upgrade of all existing machines and makes obsolete the procedures just completed.

The integration of digital tools becomes necessary to accelerate the implementation of these changes in the organization. Small or large industrial companies, the question is no longer there: all are concerned.

a. Operational improvement

The difficulty of digital training for field operators lies in the use of the various tools. Not all field operators are used to entering their work reports on a tablet. Their team leaders know that this will make their work easier and avoid them having to travel with heavy paper files in their hands. But for them, it represents a change: "Will I manage to use the tablet?

This situation can be easily defused by highlighting the added value that the tools will bring them on a daily basis. All you need is one key piece of information: "By using this application, you will save 30 minutes a day on your reports. This will make your daily life easier, procedures more accessible; you will no longer have to go back and forth and re-enter...". The benefits will soon be tangible.

However, you will have to plan to upgrade the skills of your teams so that they can use the new tools that you provide them. This upgrading of skills must be an ongoing objective. If they are regularly asked to test technological innovations, if they can participate in the choice of tools, your field agents and operators will feel more at ease with digital transformations and the need to follow digital training.
Involve them in side projects, different from their daily tasks. This is what Air Liquide has done by opening a business control centre near Lyon, aiming to find solutions to control production, optimise energy consumption and enable predictive maintenance.

b. Organizational improvement

Your field operators already manage many emergencies in a day: they report technical anomalies they notice, the presence of an object that endangers safety in the field, cleanliness concerns... They must be able to communicate in real time the data that needs to be processed urgently and know how to step back if necessary. This reflects the reality of a market: the demands on industrial activities are ever-increasing (more efficient, transparent, environmentally friendly production).

But paradoxically, the production rate leaves little time to think about the energy, organisational and environmental improvements that could be made. It is often up to the team leader to have this macro vision and implement improvement actions.

These actions generally involve digitisation. Indeed, implementing digital solutions is still the best way to increase productivity, the quality level of products or services and improve security. A simple tablet type equipment (be careful, it must contain an intuitive input platform with a pleasant design, otherwise it will not be adopted) allows you to :

  • Upload alerts
  • Report anomalies
  • See the progress of a task
  • Obtain suggestions for improving procedures

Last but not least, such a tool makes it possible to transmit all this data immediately and automatically to management. This saves a considerable amount of time for all parties involved: field operators, who do not need to search loud and clear for the person in charge of this or that machine to alert him or her, and team leaders, who can regularly monitor all operations on the same clear, readable interface.

If training your employees in the use of digital tools only seemed expensive and time-consuming, we hope we have convinced you otherwise. It may be an investment, but there is no doubt that it will pay off - even in the short term. The company Günter Effgen seems to be convinced. Are you still hesitating? Are you afraid of moving away from your core business? Here are some multimedia solutions that should convince you of the ease of organisation and speed of digital training for field operators.

3. Digital multimedia training materials for field operators

Your employees are men and women in the field. You may lose them on the way if you offer to return to a classroom to train them in technological tools. What interests them - and this is quite normal - is the result: the time that the tools will save them, the simplification of procedures... To get the message across properly, you need lively, interactive training materials..:

  • Interactive presentations: a PowerPoint (or alternative solution such as Prezi) and a good speaker to captivate and engage the audience are often sufficient.
  • Tutorial videos: everybody get started! From individuals looking to change a light bulb on their car to fleet managers (logistics, agriculture). Video is a very popular learning tool.
  • MOOC with gain of "badges" or fictitious rewards. The advantage? Teams are formed independently. Then, you can organize small challenges or events to encourage and energize the action.

These digital training reinforcement materials will allow a quick understanding of the various digitalized procedures by the field operators. Their aim? To train, of course, but also to remove the psychological obstacles to the implementation of new, more optimised processes.

In any case, the companies providing digital solutions usually take care of the associated digital training. Don't hesitate to seek advice from your solution provider, who has certainly done dozens of digital training courses before yours. There should be no need to reinvent an organisation or cut off all operational progress during the time of the digital training for the field operators. The solutions are simple, they have been proven in B to C and are already well established in B to B. They are essential for a return to growth and for becoming an industry 4.0.

4. Adapt methods to the reality on the ground

Digital solution providers are there to help you complete the training. They have as much interest as you do in making sure everything goes well. They have obviously tested and approved their solution before proceeding with your support towards the digital shift and know that you may find it interesting.

Make sure they know the field trades and that they know. This will be essential for training. Don't forget that they have to convince the team leader and the field operators: if everyone is determined to get on the same boat and move it forward, the training can only be a success.

Some suppliers will offer innovative training methods in the form of workshops, for example: they can offer your teams to carry out tasks that will speak to them in concrete terms and support them in their implementation. An example? If your field agents still write the operating procedures on paper, they can learn tomorrow to enter them in an interactive form designed by method engineers on mobile application.

As mobile applications are tools known and used by everyone, your operators should quickly find their way around and adopt the new processes. Being able to make all your entries (operating mode, work order) on a smartphone that you always have in your pocket, what could be more intuitive?

Ermeo provides you with the Connected Operator Platform, designed to save time on the tasks performed by your field operators. We avoid you the need to re-enter data from paper to the computer by equipping each of your field agents.

Claire DARDELLI Content Manager Claire Dardelli