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April 10, 2006
Burning the Midnight Oil: Training a 24-Hour Workforce

If you keep the lights burning 24/7 to provide round-the-clock service or pump up production, you know that providing adequate safety training for your shiftworkers is a challenge. The key to success in scheduling training for shiftworkers is accessibility.

Pull them off the line or pay them overtime? If you can afford to pull people off the line or shut down an operation in order to train, that's probably the best option--and the one shiftworkers will be happiest with. But if you can't do this, another option is bringing workers in before their shift or keeping them after and paying them overtime for training. The problem here, aside from the expense, is that it's often inconvenient for employees. And that means you might not find them at their most receptive, which can result in failure to learn what they need to know.

One solution to this problem is to break long training sessions into bite-sized bits, or modules. This way, you might be able to free up trainees during their shift for short periods. Even if you can't, this approach limits employee time commitment and minimizes interference with personal after-hours plans, which will likely enhance their commitment and attention.

Bring them in on their day off or staff up an extra crew? Of course, with 12-hour shifts, adding even an extra hour for training is difficult at best, and often just plain impossible. If you train after the shift, workers will just sleep through the session and be exhausted on their drive home. If you do it before, they lose prime sleep time. Some companies solve the problem by bringing employees in for training on their days off and paying them for their time. If you do this, be sure to schedule training sessions in the afternoon so that you don't cut into shiftworkers' sleep time. Also be sure to provide trainees with the training schedule far enough ahead so that you don't run into scheduling conflicts with employees' personal plans.

Why It Matters...
  • For training to be effective, you have to schedule sessions at times when shiftworkers are available, alert, and receptive.
  • Without an established shiftworker training strategy, its all too easy for essential safety training to fall through the cracks.
  • Because so much safety training is mandated by OSHA, you could face compliance problems if shiftworkers fail to get required training.

Another solution is to add a fifth crew to the normal four-crew schedule. That way the extra team is available on a rotating basis for training, relief coverage, and special assignments. Of course, although this may be an ideal option, it's a costly one. Many companies, however, find that the expense can be justified by the pressing need for training and team building to support today's high-performance work systems.

Let them schedule their own training? Why not? With today's tech-powered training options like online training and self-directed CD, DVD, and PowerPoint training programs, letting shiftworkers schedule their own training time may provide a simple, efficient, and cost-effective solution. Although this approach may not be suitable for all types of training or all training content, it can be an answer to tough scheduling problems when other options aren't practical or available. Shiftworkers can set aside small blocks of time, either during their shift, if possible, or before or after, to get through a module or two of training material. They can even take training materials home if they want. The upside is that by being able to choose their own training time, shiftworkers may be more receptive and learn more. The downside is that you have to set up some kind of monitoring system to make sure they actually complete required training within an established period of time.

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