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Developing a Skilled Workforce: Shaw Industries’ START Program

Shaw determined an internal corporate-sponsored training program would need to be designed and developed to address the concerns. The ensuing program would have a variety of challenges and obstacles to overcome but has yielded exceptional results and very positive gains both in the incumbent and new hire workforce. This paper briefly outlines the journey Shaw undertook in designing, developing and implementing this skilled workforce development program.

Solution Approach and Methodology

The first step in the journey was the recruitment and selection of the industrial training manager position. Shaw’s selection yielded the program leadership of Mr. Casey Wagner. Casey’s background started in the US Navy’s Nuclear submarine force, where he was a auxiliary mechanic and later taught and designed classes as a part of the Naval Submarine School Engineering Department. Casey received his degree in Workforce Education and Curriculum Development from Southern Illinois University prior to leaving the military and has since held positions in all facets of training. Today, Casey works for Shaw Industries as the Industrial Maintenance Training Manager in Dalton, GA.

Casey immediately understood that the program would require a departure from traditional classroom-only training and that this type of program would require highly blended and interactive training solutions incorporating web-based fundamentals, classroom, hands-on labs, and Structured OJT. Casey began architecting what would eventually be known as START (Shaw Technical Achievement and Reliability Training). The program today trains maintenance personnel at over 70 plants in 9 different states.

It quickly became apparent that while Shaw saw the need, it lacked the resources to tackle a program of this magnitude. Shaw reviewed a host of organizations and ultimately decided on General Physics Corporation (GP). The selection process uncovered an article concerning GP’s involvement in a similar maintenance training program at USS. GP’s experience became a large contributing factor in the final decision.

Shaw quickly divided up tasks and the team immediately began laying out the overarching craft skills curriculum outlines and began detailing the courses, media, and delivery modes. The team also focused on developing the longer-term career progression process and how the curricula could address new hires as well as incumbents.

GP offered the concepts of the GPM PRO model. This model is based both of the needs of fundamental training but also the ever increasing needs of career progression. This business approach became one of the significant contributors to the architecture of the training program and the curriculum map structure.

GPM PRO Maintenance Training Model

Solution Implementation The curriculum design focused on Mechanical and Electrical crafts. Working with existing materials and tailoring and customizing courseware GP set out to build an end-to-end program for the two craft areas that matched Shaw Industries’ unique needs and equipment concerns. Representative examples of the curriculum maps are included on the following page.

START Mechanical Training Program Curriculum Map

In support of Shaw’s efforts to achieve a true blended learning approach, over 400 web-based training classes have been launched to further the abilities of the maintenance workforce when not in a formal class. These courses serve as requisite knowledge for a subject, but do not prohibit the employee from taking the instructor-led courses if desired.

A critical element to the design of the program was that it needed to be highly blended and incorporate substantial amounts of hands-on labs and structured OJT. The hands-on approach was critical but could prove costly. Creative solutions were required to overcome some of the lab challenges. The labs were designed and built with special considerations:

  • Lab trainers must be fully portable
  • Dual use (Pneumatic/Hydraulic or Electrical/Mechanical)
  • Compact enough for storage in standard closet

In order to overcome some of the challenges, several of the labs were custom crafted using inplant equipment. GP and Shaw worked together to review, collect, and build labs out of existing plant equipment resulting in two primary benefits:

  • Attendees’ hands-on labs replicated real world equipment that they would work with
  • Overall lab build costs were dramatically reduced resulting in a substantial dollar savings

GP continued in parallel to complete the paper-based development of the classroom materials along with the lab exercise write-ups. The materials were completed in draft format and the classroom training commenced October 2007. Following the launch of the classroom training the START training center was fully functional with all lab setups completed by November 2007.

Benefits and Rewards

Shaw continues to recognize some important benefits and rewards from this investment. Included are a few of the more significant benefits.

Initial new hire’s skills and capabilities following completion of the training program resulted in much higher performance capabilities than originally anticipated. The START program has received highly complimentary feedback from plant operators, plant engineering, and plant maintenance personnel who are all very pleased with how capable the new hire workforce is of being able to complete assigned tasks almost as soon as they are assigned.

The overall use of in-plant equipment and flexible lab designs resulted in substantial cost savings. Those cost savings enabled the START team to save budgeted monies even before the launch of the program and resulted in increasing the relevancy of the lab exercises.

Another substantial efficiency gain resulted from the existing workforce. Incumbent resources were able to implement newer concepts and practices resulting in increased efficiency and improved performance. Several operations reported incumbent workforce improvements.

The complete turnkey approach supported by GP allowed Shaw to retain all intellectual property and materials. Today Shaw continues to implement without any trailing costs, royalties, or licensing fees. This turnkey approach provided the opportunity for Shaw to internally manage content, content revisions, printing and distribution.

Ultimately, the training initiative taken on by Shaw has, and will, impact the overall bottom line of the company. Using data compiled through various company sources, including Shaw’s Total Productive Maintenance program, gains have been seen in employee retention, time-to-fill data for open positions, equipment downtime, and overall maintenance costs.


Through this process, we have compiled significant best practices and lessons learned.

  1. Make Sure Training Is The Answer.
    - It is always easy to say that the root of all problems is lack of training, but this is not always the case. A true needs assessment needs to be performed to determine the need for training.
  2. Get Management Buy-in.
    - The success of your program will be directly tied to the buy-in of your management teams. The financial support is an obvious factor, but so is the managerial support of the program at every level. If your managers aren’t supporting the program, you can’t expect your maintenance workers to see the value of training either.
  3. Examine The Need For A Vendor.
    - Vendors are an excellent resource for training and curriculum. In our case, our department size would not have been able to handle the overall breadth of curriculum in the timeframe that we wanted to get our program up and running.
  4. Have Your Infrastructure In Place Prior To Starting Training.
    - Having everything in place prior to officially kicking off your program is essential for its success. If you plan to use a Learning Management System, make sure that all courses and assessments have been thoroughly checked for proper deployment. It is also important to have your training area set up prior to the first class arriving. A solid infrastructure will limit downtime & frustration while helping to increase the credibility of your program.
  5. Utilize A Test Group.
    - Utilizing a small test group prior to rolling out a program or course can provide invaluable insight into areas that may need attention and areas that hit the mark.
  6. A Good Maintenance Worker Does Not Always Translate Into A Good Maintenance Trainer.
    - The knowledge and expertise of a good, seasoned maintenance worker is a valued asset when developing and delivering a maintenance training program, but sometimes that experience does not translate well to the classroom. A key skill to take into consideration if you are selecting an in-house training staff is how well the candidate can translate that knowledge and experience into a way that others can understand.  If you decide that hiring a full-time trainer is not cost effective, some training providers also have contract trainers that they can provide upon request.
  7. Communication, Communication, Communication
    - It is extremely important to inform your maintenance workers of your intentions and expectations when introducing a training program for them. This will help lessen the rumors and anxieties that may occur once the program is rolled out.
  8. Continual Feedback
    Once your training program is in place, it is important to continuously seek feedback. This feedback will help you determine which topics are hitting the mark, which ones need to be improved, and which ones need to be possibly removed.

Aggressive workforce development initiatives are part of the strategic planning that affords Shaw to remain an industry leader. By working in collaboration with GP, Shaw was able to launch the START program and is today enabling Shaw to build a competitive skilled workforce and increase efficiency across the enterprise.

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