No Mechanic Left Behind
By Jeff Dearduff

Development of the maintenance mechanic’s skill sets might be the quickest way to get a good night’s sleep … or uninterrupted vacation time for most bakery maintenance managers. So often, we are just happy to have a fully staffed crew, but what would it be like to have a fully developed crew?
Developmental training is one of the most underrated and misunderstood terms in the workplace. It is one thing to know the general idea of what the term training” means, but it has a completely different look when YOU have to design and implement it relevant to your situation.
Sometimes, we refer to this simply as a “training program,” when in fact it is a personnel development system.
In this discussion, let’s use a couple of acronyms: The first is GAP, and the second is RACE. GAP stands for Goal, Assessment and Planning. RACE stands for Resources, Activities, Coordination and Execution. Both are relevant to our industry’s current dilemma. GAP refers to the “gap” between what we require in the workplace and the lack of available talent in the markets. RACE refers to those of us who are behind in development activities, in many cases, and “racing” to catch up so that the talent level can one day meet the needs of the industry.
Let’s break this down to understand the elements that might lead to a successful personnel development system.
Filling the GAP
Goal — This could be the simplest step in the process, or it could turn out to be the most difficult. Either way, it will become the launching pad for all of the steps that follow. A “goal” can be a simple outline that describes what you want out of the system, or it can be a mission statement that guides your thoughts as you push through. In either case, try to describe your desired end result. When you know what you want in the end, it can provide you with the ambition to do it well and complete. A positive attitude towards the purpose also will fuel your creative machine. Anything less than a positive attitude will just feel like another task or checklist. So the question is simple: “What is your goal?”
Assessment — Let’s say you have a maintenance staff of 10. Each has a different tenure with the company or the industry. Some were hired before high-tech hit your plant, and others have never seen an oven hand-loaded. Some are assumed to be good at electrical troubleshooting, and others can’t figure out which end of the “wiggy” voltmeter to use. An “assessment” of your entire staff is critical to creating a plan for a system. There are several ways to conduct an assessment, and sometimes it requires a combination of methods to get the total feel for what a person provides or lacks. You might start out with a simple spread sheet where you list your staff in column A and then list all of the different disciplines that apply to our industry in the columns to the right. Then, find a quiet spot, reflect on what you know about each individual, and drop an X in the appropriate box. Maybe “Joe” gets an X in the welding box but not the refrigeration box. If one of your goals is for everyone to know something about everything, then you have now identified a gap in Joe’s skill set, and a training plan can affect that deficiency.
A second method would be to interview each person and see what they think they lack. This area can be clouded because some feel they are good in areas where they actually need some more development.
The third way to assess is to seek input from people who work with the maintenance individuals and get their take on the talent levels. A production manager who sees someone perform under pressure could help evaluate a strength or weakness.
No matter what, don’t rely on any of these assessment methods alone. Try to use the combination when you can, as it will help to balance your thoughts as you dive into the plans. Also, don’t rely on a written test. You can have a great mechanic or technician that doesn’t do well on tests or a mediocre talent that aces it. Let your eyes and ears play a larger role than questions on paper.
Planning – Once your goal and assessment are complete, you now can start to work on your plan. This step becomes another outline process. The 5 W’s come in to play here: Who, What, Where, When, Why. The “Who” is simple; you have identified that in your assessment. The “What” becomes the tactics you might us. The “Where” plays a role in whether you do it in-house or send people away. The “When” lays out your overall timeframe for completion. The “Why,” well, that’s so you can sleep at night or get in all 18 holes on any given day.
So, to sum up GAP, this process provides the knowledge you need to prepare the deployment of the system.
Now, Let’s RACE
Resources — The quality of the resources you choose to employ in your system will have a direct relationship to the results you will achieve. The term “relevant” is so important here that you will want to put serious thought into the companies, institutions, people and materials you might consider resources for the system. Relevance to the industry is one of the important elements, but more important is having resources that are relevant to your company or facility.
Activities — The actual activities you might consider in your system will be critical to the outcome. Hands-on exercises and experiences will nine times out of 10 deliver better real world results than reading text. Concurrently, the words used in communications within these activities should be relevant to the terminology used in your facility. So, when you are considering the list of activities you will deploy, whether in-house or otherwise, try to work in as much hands-on as possible, no matter what discipline you are diving into.
Coordination — This might be called scheduling, but it didn’t fit into my acronym. This does, however, involve more than just a schedule. You will have time slots at institutions that have to match a person’s personal agenda, you will have group situations to organize, and, of course, you will have deadlines to meet because you hopefully addressed completion in your initial goal. You may have handed off execution of the system to another staff member, but as maintenance manager, this is where your key skill sets really take charge of the situation. The ability to orchestrate all the different elements of the system is viewed as the make-it or break-it part of the deal.
Execution — This is where it all comes together. All of the planning and coordination becomes reality. You deploy the system and watch it work. One day, if you have done your job well, you will have others who now can do your job well, too. The ultimate goal for the system should be “No mechanic left behind.”
Editor’s Note: In this monthly column, Jeff Dearduff, director of engineering at East Balt Inc. in Chicago, addresses the responsibilities of the bakery engineer. Jeff got his start in the baking industry at Perfection Biscuit Co., now Aunt Millie’s. He is a member of the American Bakers Assn., the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee, the American Institute of Baking and the American Society of Baking. You can contact Jeff at