Training tailored to suit down-sizing

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
The problems faced by Dista Products are typical of those faced by many medium-sized companies in the country. It is a subsidiary of the American pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and like many others has laid off staff and undergone a major restructuring exercise to improve efficiency.

The company, which employs about 500 people in Speke, Merseyside, is a bulk manufacturing site. It makes products, chiefly animal health antibiotics, for sale in the UK and Europe. These are sent out in large packages to a secondary site where they are put into capsules or other containers.

Most companies have laid off staff to cut dramatically rising costs. And with more technically complex work, employees have had to learn a range of new skills, said Alan Tinsley, human resources team leader.

"In the past a process operator, a craftsman and a laboratory technician would be three separate people, performing separate functions. Now one person would do all those jobs. Most companies have had to do this because they cannot afford the number of people they used to have."

The new circumstances call for different training needs, and this is the area the new government should be sensitive to, said Mr Tinsley. Managing that change can be difficult for industry and employees but government help can ease the transition.

Dista Products looked to Halton College of Further Education in Widnes to help to design new job definitions, and identify new skills to enable staff to take on wider duties.

"We are in the course of designing with the college a new teaching curriculum, based on-the-job, which will be delivered on site," said Mr Tinsley. "Years ago people were trained but not assessed. We demand assessment so that we can verify they are competent to do the task."

The training is tailor-made to the business needs of Dista Products and so does not target the achievement of full NVQ programmes. Each training programme is unique to each individual job but it is designed to match up with relevant parts of an NVQ.

"I would like to think that a future government would provide training incentives to enable this kind of development to go on," said Mr Tinsley. "Tax relief is one alternative, another is special grants. We are on Merseyside where there is high unemployment and the manufacturing industry is in decline. This means there are some grants available, including European money, but if we were based in the south of England it would not be so easy. Unless we can upskill we cannot compete.

"Running training programmes is very expensive, especially if you want to get away from the sheep-dip approach and provide something very specific to you. Here we are bringing in staff from Halton, and they are teaching our employees using live materials which we make here, using our exact equipment. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of pounds."

By gearing the training to the relevant parts of NVQs, future employees know the staff have been trained to a certain standard, so the investment, argues the company, benefits others as well. The under-pinning knowledge can be applied to other companies in similar industries.

"You are enhancing the market value of employees. Companies cannot offer cradle to the grave employment but they can train people to make them employable."

Mr Tinsley would like the new government to consider further development of the NVQ enabling more "pick and mix". Neither his company nor his employees would want a full NVQ in processing, laboratory and craft skills, but would want a composite of all three.

"Every job is changing. A secretary now may also need to know about production planning skills and more administration. We need pick and mix and relevant training to support all the different strands of each job."

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