Zero to Hero

By Robert Minardi
We’ve all had to start new jobs. When we were young, it was simple. You want to make some money? Start knocking on doors, ask people if they want their grass cut, “borrow” your Dad’s mower and start pushing. If you’re an unfortunate soul like me and lived in an area with bitter cold winters, you’ll also know all about hustling $5 to shovel driveways. These jobs are self-explanatory and don’t require a lot of training.

It’s a different story with tasks you’ll likely find in an optical lab. For example, surface blocking, or inserting lenses into ophthalmic frames. These are detailed operations that need to be done a certain way. Excellent training is essential in keeping your breakage low and your production high.

I want to introduce you to the training system I’ve used for decades. It’s simple, easy to learn and will get your trainees properly prepared, lightning fast.

First though, we need to lay some ground rules: There are two bare minimum requirements your lab needs for an effective training strategy—a solid initial training presentation and Standard Operating Procedures.

Start Strong

While it’s tempting to get people out on the floor immediately, it’s better to educate them first. When new employees arrive, give them a tour of the facility and a high level overview of the steps involved in making a pair of glasses. Next, take them through a PowerPoint presentation showing the types of lenses and frames they’ll be working with.

Each topic in your presentation should have at least one example or demonstration. When your trainees handle, manipulate and discuss the things they’ll be working with, it makes the learning process so much quicker and easier. This also teaches them the nomenclature for our industry right away, allowing for clear communication of questions and concerns. You’ll get less of “the thingy isn’t reading right,” and more of “the bifocal add is off-power.”

The most important thing you can do during this initial training session, is keep it casual. Joke around, smile and have fun. You want new employees to be as comfortable as possible when the job-specific training begins. Refrain from saying things like, “You have so much to learn,” or, “You’ve got a long way to go.” These statements don’t help anyone.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Getting people trained quickly and accurately requires a clear set of instructions and goals.  Well written, cleanly structured and easily available SOPs are crucial. If trainees know exactly what needs to be done, they’re less likely to over-handle or over-process the work, thereby improving production and reducing the likelihood of breakage. For those not familiar with SOPs, they’re basically a recipe for how a job is to be performed.

A very basic SOP for surface blocking might look like this:

Purpose: Verification and Blocking of Surface Lenses

  1. Get a job tray.
  2. Make sure the tray number on the paperwork matches the actual tray number.
  3. Set the tray next to the blocker with the lenses facing toward you.
  4. Scan the job into the blocker using the barcode scanner.
  5. Make sure the correct job is loaded on the blocker screen.

This example is okay, but an SOP is much better with images. Everyone has a camera on their phone these days, so there’s no excuse for not having pictures of crucial steps. Think to yourself, “How can I make these instructions so good, the correct way of doing this job is obvious?” Also, use plain English in your SOPs and stray away from words like “obtain”, “utilize” or “assess.” English may not be your new hires first language, so keep it simple.

SOPs for all production positions in the lab should follow the same format and structure, whatever that may be. There are literally hundreds of templates on the internet for you to “utilize.”

Even the best SOP is useless unless it’s readily available. You don’t want them tucked away in a computer folder called “Miscellaneous.” At a minimum, they should be stored in a clearly labeled folder, on a very accessible computer, in a location everyone knows, broken down into sub-categories, with very descriptive names. If you really want to do it right, set up an internal network with all your SOPs loaded and structured like a website. It’s intuitive, clean and available.

I Go, You Go

What I’m about to share with you is the most effective training system the world has ever seen. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, but I’ve personally used this technique to train an entire shift worth of new hires, without a single percent increase in breakage. 

When you’re training someone, the worst thing you can do is hover over their shoulder and hope they remember the correct steps in the right sequence. It’s a breakage prone, slow style of training that, unfortunately, is all too common.

A better way, is to start by doing the job yourself while they watch. Then they’ll do a job while you watch. Again, you do a job, then they’ll do a job. I go, you go.

Regardless of whose turn it is to perform the task, you will be saying the steps out loud at first.

Step 1: “Get a job tray from the stack”

Step 2: “Make sure the tray number on the paperwork matches the actual tray number, because if it doesn’t match, the machine won’t cut the lens correctly.”

Step 3: “Set the tray next to the blocker with the lenses facing toward you because that’s how the lenses go on the blocker.”

This does a couple things. First, trainees don’t have to remember anything, because you’re telling them how to do it and why. This immediately reduces their anxiety and allows them to get comfortable with the task. Second, when it’s your turn to do the job, they can watch the subtleties in your technique. Things like how you rest your hand on the machine or how you fold the paperwork. If they don’t see how these things are done, they’ll have to make it up for themselves as they go along, which is far from ideal.

After you’ve done five or so rotations, and the new employees seem like they’re getting the hang of it, have them say the steps out loud. Every now and then ask them, “And why are you doing that?” Their response should be the same reason you explained to them earlier. The correct one.

You’re ingraining perfect technique into their brains by repetition, mimicking and the mantra of the steps said out loud.

Also, it helps if you separate out simpler jobs with fewer steps and work on those first. Once they have those down, add a little complexity. From our surface blocking example, you’d start with single-vision, work your way into segmented multifocals, then to executives.

If you’re training someone on a job with many steps, like machine calibration, break down the steps into logical chunks and only have them perform part of the job until they get the hang of that. Then add a little more, until they’re doing the entire calibration.

If you need help with a basic training presentation, lens/frame demos, or clarification on anything in this article, feel free to contact me through my website: ■

Robert Minardi, ABO-AC, has been in manufacturing for almost 25 years. He’s a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with a background in quality control.


Labtalk November/December 2018