Plant & Works Engineering
Do we need a new approach to training?
Published:  21 May, 2021

Neil Ballinger* shares three trends in manufacturing training and explains how to implement them in a successful training strategy.

With the advent of Industry 4.0, manufacturing has become increasingly knowledge-driven and professionals need to stay up to date on ever-changing technologies, materials, procedures, and compliance issues.

When it comes to training, manufacturing has several tough challenges to overcome. A huge skills shortage is plaguing the sector, while baby boomers are rapidly retiring and taking with them decades worth of knowledge. Manufacturing know-how is often the result of experience and not necessarily of formal training. MIT Professor Thomas Kochen has suggested that in this sector, a large part of knowledge is tacit, meaning that it is not documented in any external resource and is only available in the mind of its owner.

As more experienced workers retire, it’s essential that businesses figure out how to pass this knowledge on in a way that is not only systematic, but also appealing to the newer generations.


Gamification is the implementation of game mechanisms, strategies and visual elements in a non-game context, such as training. For people used to the hands-on environment of the production floor, the idea of sitting down with a notepad can be unappealing. Gamification can offer an antidote to this, making training more fun and interactive.

The principles of gamification are rooted in concepts from behavioural and motivational psychology and are proven to raise users’ attention spans and alleviate cognitive fatigue. But how can they be applied concretely?

One possibility is the use of interactive HMIs. As well as presenting information in a graphically appealing way, interactive HMIs can simulate manufacturing scenarios and offer visual and auditive feedback in response to a trainee’s reaction. For example, the system can reward the trainee with points after a correct action, measuring them against the team’s average score. However, you don’t necessarily need to invest in HMIs and other equipment to incorporate elements of gaming in your training strategy. For example, you can divide trainees in teams and ask them to create a strategy on how they would react to an emergency situation, or create a quiz to test if the new information really sank in. This can be used to spice up sessions on hard-to-digest topics, such as health and safety procedures and compliance issues.

Lifelong learning

The speed of manufacturing innovation means that factory workers might need frequent and consistent training, and that a one-time session on a particular topic might not be enough. Think of safety regulations, environmental laws, or data handling compliance — these are changed so often, that manufacturers must make sure that their workforce is up to date with the latest information.

For this reason, it’s no longer advisable to simply organise training sessions for the new recruits and consider their training period concluded after a certain number of sessions. The world of Industry 4.0 requires cyclical, lifelong training.

You can keep track of which employees need a refresh on certain subjects with simple spreadsheets. However, in larger plants, it might be more practical to invest in an automated learning management system (LMS). This helps manufacturers keep track of which employees have completed which modules, and automatically reassigns courses to employees who need regular updates, or for those holding certifications that are about to expire.

To deliver periodic updates, micro-training can be a good solution. Micro-training provides small chunks of information on a regular basis, making concepts more digestible and easier to memorise than in full-length sessions.

*Neil Ballinger is head of EMEA at automation parts supplier EU Automation