Original Date: 10/20/1997
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Information : New Directions Training Program
Military aircraft production programs typically have periods of production breaks between program phases. During such times, production workers are usually laid off and rehired when production resumes. These short period layoffs during production downturns can create significant problems. The skill mix in the shop is degraded because layoffs are based on seniority. Layoffs cause disruption to cost, schedule, and quality performance due to retraining requirements. In addition, recalled personnel often find new jobs elsewhere which disrupts the existing teams and creates imbalances in the start-up skill mix.
To address these problems, Northrop Grumman began developing the New Direction Training program in 1993 to enhance the skill level of its F/A-18 workforce. The result was an extended training program that invests in and retains the experienced workforce. The program’s objectives include providing a solid base of trained personnel to support the start-up of the F/A-18 E/F LRIP program; providing the necessary skills training to achieve self- inspection systems on the production lines; and meeting program affordability goals. The training program is a mix of courses offered by West Los Angeles College and by the Northrop Grumman Training Department. The curriculum programs vary by process: 316 hours for electricians, 292 hours for paint/EMI technicians, and 564 hours for composites technicians. Assembly mechanics, who comprise the majority of trainees, receive 720 hours. A sample curriculum breakdown for assembly mechanics includes New Directions (adjustment to change, problem solving), Precise and Accurate Communication (decision making, interpreting and writing documents), Hole Generation (composites, stress and fatigue factors), Precision Tools (calipers, dial gauges) and Foundations for Learning (technical reading, study and thinking skills).
The New Directions Training program offers a well-defined approach for taking a worker from entry level to senior mechanic in approximately 4.5 months. Figure 3-3 shows this progression. The company also recognizes the worker’s successful completion of the program by awarding an additional $1.25 per hour in pay. Beyond this, Northrop Grumman will pay for additional college courses and training so the employee can become a certified aircraft mechanic and qualify for an A&P license.
Through use of a large, well-equipped training facility, Northrop Grumman provides trainees with an environment that exposes them to the same conditions, systems, and situations of a real factory. The On-the-Job Training and Observation phase of the program is conducted in this facility and lasts from 10 to 18 weeks. Much of the hands-on training in the factory environment uses the same tools, standards, processes, and procedures required for the actual job. During this time, trainees learn and practice important skills such as statistical process control, root cause analysis, problem solving, and decision-making techniques.
The New Directions Training program was the result of a $12 million investment by Northrop Grumman and a $4 million training grant from the State of California. The first students entered the program in October 1996. Since then, 388 employees have graduated from the program and 109 are currently enrolled. This is about 95% of the total population of the 525 employees to be trained and represents more than 8,000 hours of on-the-job training provided to date. The training department currently uses 13 full-time trainers for its on-the-job training program. As a result, Northrop Grumman has a more capable and committed workforce that can produce higher quality products faster and cheaper.
Figure 3-3. New Directions Career Progression
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