Only Online - USGlass August 2006
State Funding is Available for Staff Development
At J.E. Berkowitz L.P. providing growth opportunities for employees in skill sets is a top priority. To achieve the goal of continuous improvement through education, we have partnered with the New Jersey Department of Labor Training.
In 1997, the Department asked us to participate in a cooperative venture leading to certification by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Geneva, a process that requires a company to overhaul and document its processes and customer service through teamwork. We achieved the ISO 9002 Certification of Quality program in training and procedures in 18 months and have maintained that status.
Besides improving our manufacturing processes and customer service, an integral component of maintaining the ISO certification is the need for continuous training and improvements through education. In 2003, we applied for grant money to support employee training from the New Jersey Department of Labor Training. Now in its third year, we have received more than $300,000 in state grants toward this effort. Most of our union and non-union employees have taken part in this training held at nearby Gloucester County College and at our facility.
The types of courses vary and have included everything from basic math skills and customer service training to business communication and supervisory education, as well as a variety of computer courses.
To receive this funding, a thorough application was filed that included the types of training the company desired. This involved meeting with all of the department managers beforehand and reviewing ISO certification documentation to determine our educational needs for that grant. Some training topics were denied by the state, but most of our specific requests have been met. We have been successful in getting the trainers to tailor courses to our needs.
Once the funding is approved, state-approved vendors are hired through a New Jersey-recommended liaison. I also have found that using these vendors helps speed the grant through the approval process. A new challenge for 2006 is to keep class sizes at capacity since the New Jersey Department of Labor now only pays "per head," not per class as before. The challenge we face is to motivate employees to attend so that our funding, in effect, will not be reduced.
To achieve this, it's imperative to have the support of the company's top executives. Our president, Arthur Berkowitz, has shown his continued commitment to the training of all employees. He and all of the other top-level executives have participated in the program to contribute to its success. By working side-by-side on learning or honing skills, it fosters teamwork and camaraderie.
As anyone involved in human resources (HR) at a manufacturing company understands, the hardest part of making this training work is the logistics. Again, buy-in for training by top-level executives and managers is crucial. For example, to ensure that all employees receive training, including plant workers, managers created special schedules to accommodate and allocate resources.
The best part of obtaining funding through the state for training is that it saves the company money. Not only do HR people not have to wear the "training" hat all of the time, but the company does not have to allocate corporate funds for high-quality professional trainers. We can concentrate on the other tasks at hand: staffing, benefits, employee orientation, etc.
I have found that getting started is the hardest part of obtaining this state funding. Most states offer similar programs, and once your application is approved, the HR person's major task is to make sure that the reports for the training courses completed are filed in a timely manner. It's worth the effort. With continuous training, you'll create a quality product with employees who are proud to be part of your team.
Beverly Humenik is the human resources manager for J.E. Berkowitz L.P. in Westville, N.J.
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