The Pepperidge Farm plant in Willard, Ohio, is known for its production of mouth-watering cookies and crackers. Its products are so popular that the lines turn out some of its most desirable items, such as the Milano cookie, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
That’s why it’s essential that the plant has reliable maintenance workers to keep the lines running smoothly. A shut-down cookie line can cost the company hundreds of dollars a minute.
To keep its line staff skilled and up-to-date in mechanical and electrical maintenance, Pepperidge Farm has been sending workers to nearby North Central State College (NCSC) for training. NCSC’s Advanced Manufacturing/Integrated Systems Technology (AM/IST) program boasts a state-of-the-art, hands-on lab that trains manufacturing workers to operate, troubleshoot and maintain the high-tech equipment found in today’s workplaces. Employees learn about integrated systems and develop skills related to pneumatics, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), electronics, mechanical drive systems, fluid power systems, electrical systems, motor controls and electro-fluid power.
“We need the full gamut of mechanical and electrical skills,” said Pepperidge Farm maintenance manager Gary King. “Downtime is very expensive. Being a skilled troubleshooter and being able to react to a problem quickly is vital. Being able to identify something before it becomes a problem is also very important.”
Previously, Pepperidge Farm had an in-house self-study program it offered to its mechanics. But through regular performance observations, managers discovered the program was working as far as teaching workers a certain amount of mechanical knowledge, but it was not giving them the actual skills they needed to best perform their jobs. The hands-on AM/IST curricula and labs at NCSC provided that missing instructional link.
Each maintenance worker is given the opportunity to take designated courses at NCSC to upgrade skills. Taking courses is not mandatory, but incentives are given to those who elect to go through the training. With a certain amount of education and at least one year at a particular pay rate, an employee can move up to the next level of pay.
So far, 30 Pepperidge maintenance workers have taken a total of about 50 AM/IST courses at NCSC. Some take only the courses recommended by the plant, while others choose to complete more training to upgrade their skills. Managers encourage employees to complete as much training as they want.
“It’s all relative to what we’re doing here,” King said. “The more knowledge they have, the better off we’re going to be.”
The Ohio Department of Education obviously feels the same way, granting the company a 50 percent refund on tuition during the first two years and a 100 percent refund during the third year.
King said the response of his staff to the AM/IST training has been very positive.
“They like it much better than the self-study program,” he said. “Most of them appreciate the hands-on applications and having an instructor available for questions they might have. More and more people seem to be attending. The broad time in which the lab is open is a big advantage, too. People from all three of our shifts can find a time to get in to train.”
Pepperidge Farm Retraining at North Central State College