The competencies necessary for good work

Remember the old days? Traditionally, 85 percent or more of maintenance learning was done on the job, worker-to-worker or the worker teaching him or herself. The rest was done in more formal apprenticeships.

For the most part, apprenticeships have gone away, so we are left with a gap.

Fortunately, in the fleet world, there are good tech schools that teach students the basic knowledge and some skills to work on complex engines and transmissions.

The issue is that there are three competencies needed for good work:

  • Knowledge. For instance, when cleaning, never mix ammonia with bleach, because if you do, the chlorine gas that will be created might be deadly. Knowledge can be taught in a classroom or from a book.
  • Skills, like how to weld. Skills must be learned by doing. You can study the theory as much as you want, but the skill is in the hands, muscles and brain.
  • Confidence that an individual can do the job. Confidence comes only from doing the job.

If you try to teach knowledge on the job or skills in the classroom you will waste your effort.

Knowledge Requirements

Maintenance, like almost everything else nowadays, is becoming more knowledge centric. Today, more knowledge is needed than ever before, even for the simplest jobs. There are labels to read, MSDS (material safety data sheets) to understand, manuals to ponder over, codes to interpret and so on.

There was a time when having the skill was all that was needed to be a success. Now, maintenance folks need a strong knowledge base.

Technology has enabled new modes of teaching – computer-based, Internet-based, virtual classrooms, etc. The driver today is the cost per student and the cost of delivery.

Using technology, you can deliver more training to more people, more consistently and at a lower cost. You can also capture the teaching of the master teachers and make their work available to everyone.


I’ve written before about the welding simulator. This is a Lincoln Electric device that completely simulates dozens of types and materials of welding. Once you put the device’s helmet on, you are on top of a building (or where ever you program the simulator) virtual reality welding structural steel (or whatever else you want program in).

Medical students and young doctors have “dummies” that can simulate all kinds of conditions. Pilots have airplane simulators that can recreate hundreds of failure conditions.

The thing that all these have in common is that they teach skills. As I stated, skills cannot be taught in a classroom. These simulators are a real breakthrough in skills training.

New Modes of Teaching

Knowledge was originally transmitted by books, lectures and discussions. These are methods proven over a thousand years.

Now we have a rich blend of knowledge transmission through classrooms, multimedia and the internet, as well as traditional homework and reading. This mix has improved the delivery and lowered the cost.

The use of Internet-based classrooms and even entire degree programs is the same level of breakthrough for knowledge the way simulators were a breakthrough for skills.

All this is going on all around us. Universities, and even grade schools, are adopting the new paradigms to lower costs and raise effectiveness of education and training.

At Your Place

Where does training fit into the scheme of things in your organization? All of us need to be continually trained to reignite the spark and to keep our interest up.

Most managers respect the impact of good training. A few are tied up in how they learned (think of older doctors and their reliance on horrendous hours to teach medicine) and insist that this is the only way. But for the most part, the barrier is time to evaluate the offering and money.


Regardless of the training mode, the best way to retain learning is to use it as soon as possible after the training. The second best way is to incorporate non-punitive feedback into the job. Newly trained people need non-punitive feedback to adjust their performance and get good at something.

Joel Levitt has trained more than 6,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.