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Client Spotlight: Ajinomoto Puts People First with Cross-Training Strategy

By Paul Reynish   |   
Playbook training

As I discussed in a previous blog post, I am passionate about putting employees first. Training programs that offer fulfilling careers and a better quality of life are a great way for companies to do that. Compensation is always important, of course. But going beyond basic monetary incentives to offer a diverse work environment with opportunities for growth is what makes dedicated workers want to stay for the long haul.

Fortunately, in my own job, I get to work with companies that share my passion. One example is Ajinomoto Foods North America, a leading manufacturer of frozen foods with nine U.S. plants employing more than 2,800 people. Like every manufacturer during this historic labor shortage, Ajinomoto is challenged to hire and retain enough workers to meet demands.

Ajinomoto proudly focuses on its employees’ wellbeing, safety, and development with innovative cross-training and pay-for-skills programs. The company’s facility in Joplin, Missouri, provides an exemplary snapshot.  

The plant’s training administrator, Audra Shelton, knows what workers want, having started with the company on the production line and later advancing to become the training administrator for the plant’s more than 300 employees.

“We know that we’re competing with other manufacturers in the area that at any time might offer bigger signing bonuses or more money,” she said. “But we also know they need more than just money and perks. They want the ability to grow within the company, feel valued, and know they’re working in a safe environment.”

But Shelton knows from her time on the production floor that it isn’t easy to see opportunities. There was no clarity on what it would take to earn more responsibility or become qualified for new positions. And even if someone found their way to a new position, operational job training “was just all tribal knowledge, there was no standardization,” she said.

The need for a stronger cross-training program was apparent. “We have some people who want more responsibility,” said Chris Erdiger, EHS Manager at Ajinomoto Joplin. “They want to move up in the company and aren’t content with just being where they’re at.” 

So, Ajinomoto created an employee cross-training program that starts during the first few months on the job. In addition to learning their initial role, they have an opportunity to train for different parts of the manufacturing line, allowing them to engage with co-workers outside their stations and understand operations for the entire production line.

A key component was the introduction of Alchemy Playbook, a mobile tool that makes it easy to create, deliver, and qualify job-specific training on the production floor.

The Alchemy Playbook app can be used on any tablet or phone to record video of any Ajinomoto process or piece of equipment and turn that information quickly into a course. Employees can take instructional courses at the production stations where they will work. The technology is designed specifically for manufacturing settings and can function without a WiFi connection.  

This approach makes it easier and quicker to cross-train employees on the floor, creating an easier path to advancement and greater pay. It also helps employees and supervisors share knowledge and skills so best practices don’t walk out the door when someone quits.

Ajinomoto’s Production line worker Rachael Baine said, “I love being cross-trained. I’m a big-picture person, and I want to know how the whole line works front to back. It helps me understand our company better and gives me more opportunities in the future to move up in the company, which is definitely important to me career-wise and my overall happiness at work.”

Ajinomoto developed a tiered pay-for-skills program using Intertek Alchemy training platforms. The program will provide higher pay for employees who take on new skills. It tracks their learnings and the courses they complete, resulting in pay increases.

But beyond monetary gain, the cross-training program empowers workers and shows them that Ajinomoto appreciates them as employees. “It’s definitely very important to me,” said Baine. “Anytime the company uses their money and time to invest back in the people on the floor, it speaks volumes about the company and how they value us.”

Intertek Alchemy is proud to be a part of Ajinomoto’s cross-training strategy for employees. We look forward to working side-by-side as the company continues to refine solutions that provide workers fulfillment in their jobs and opportunities for long-term career growth. If you want to see the people behind Ajinomoto’s success, take a look at this video, and contact us if we can help you.

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About the Author

Paul has more than 25 years of experience driving global brands in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and North America. He helps Intertek Alchemy apply a global customer perspective to the development and distribution of the company’s comprehensive workforce training solutions. He has led in an executive capacity as CEO of Five Guys International Restaurants, CEO of Subway Restaurants International Marketing Trust, and chief marketing officer and vice president of operations for Dunkin’ Brands. He’s also served in leadership positions for nine years with Burger King.

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