Keeping your employees up with the times – free of charge

Abbott’s in-house apprenticeships help employees adapt to newer technologies
By Cathy Lewis
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/24/2014

Few employees are given the chance to upgrade their post-secondary education and skills during work hours, free of charge. But through a unique training program, some manufacturing employees at Abbott Point of Care are doing just that.

Abbott is a global health-care company focused on advancing practices in medicine, science and business to help people live healthier lives. Its facility in Ottawa is the global manufacturing site for cartridges used in the i-STAT system — a hand-held blood analyzer for bedside and patient point of care diagnostic testing.

In 2007, Abbott made significant investments to help support its growth by purchasing automated equipment.

Given the advanced technical properties of the new equipment, the company needed to have a highly-skilled workforce to successfully and efficiently manage it, and to meet Abbott’s rigorous safety and quality standards — all while maximizing productivity.

To help employees adapt and develop the specific technical skills to successfully operate the equipment, Abbott Point of Care launched a microelectronics manufacturer apprenticeship in 2007. The apprenticeship was created in partnership with Algonquin College in Ottawa and with support from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The apprenticeship program was taught in-house at the manufacturing facility over a period of three years. With a total of 304 hours of classes involving 19 college credit courses, apprentices learned to better operate and monitor high-technology automated equipment while learning the necessary skills to improve processes and automation. Beyond formal academic training, the program included essential soft skills training — such as teamwork and adapting to change — to help employees at every phase in their careers.

Offered from 2007 to 2013, the microelectronics manufacturer apprenticeship was mandatory for employees in certain positions, such as operators. Beyond that, nearly 400 entry-level staff members participated in the apprenticeship to upgrade their education and experience level.

Participating employees also gained enhanced skills in communication, science and mathematics, quality regulations, critical thinking and problem-solving. The apprenticeship program has been a special opportunity to upgrade education for apprentices and increase their opportunity for mobility within the company.

On-the-job training promotes culture of learning

Following the success of the microelectronics manufacturer apprenticeship program, Abbott introduced an instrumentation and control technician apprenticeship in September 2013. Offered as an optional continuing education opportunity, 140 Abbott manufacturing employees enrolled.

Similar to the previous apprenticeship, this program is work-sponsored, which provides employees with the advantage — and flexibility — of completing coursework on-site during working hours. The instrumentation and control technician apprenticeship features a customized curriculum, including 15 college courses over three years, which are offered free of charge to employees.

Abbott is committed to connecting people with their potential. It provides a strong culture of leadership development that supports employees at every stage of their career. It creates programs that meet the development needs of employees while addressing critical business requirements and building capacity.

Since 2007, the apprenticeship program has been instrumental in allowing employees to succeed, to better understand their work and role within the organization and, ultimately, to thrive in their positions. By fostering innovation and a culture of learning through the apprenticeship programs, Abbott has also created increased employee loyalty and opportunities for advancement, as well as strengthened employees’ sense of belonging within the company. Ultimately, the manufacturing employees feel even more proud and passionate about the work they do to improve the health of people around the world.

Building a successful apprenticeship program

One essential success factor to Abbott’s apprenticeship programs is to align with a partner — such as a local college — to deliver the training, and working with the relevant provincial ministry of education. This three-way partnership requires creative collaboration among private, public and educational institutions.

In addition, it’s important to offer content that balances business needs (generally characterized by a hands-on approach) and classroom time. Abbott chose to offer the classes during work hours because that arrangement best supported the manufacturing plant’s 24-hour shift operation, while balancing the apprentices’ personal obligations and work responsibilities.

Over the years, the company has found other considerations toward long-term success include:

•assessing pre-apprenticeship learning needs

•incorporating adult learning best practices

•working with community partners to ensure academic supports are in place for students throughout their journey.

In addition, integrating formal, informal and interactive academic assessments has proven to be a good way to keep a pulse on how the learning plan is unfolding, so adjustments can be made as necessary.

These adjustments — driven by input from students — have helped with the design and customization of the two apprenticeship programs, resulting in what many consider to be best-in-class. Abbott’s belief is the more the employees learn and grow, the more they can help advance existing practices, contribute toward ongoing innovation, support continuous improvement and understand the critical role they play in the company’s success.

Cathy Lewis is the business excellence manager overseeing the apprenticeship program at Abbott Point of Care, located in Ottawa, Ont. For more information, visit www.abbottpointofcare.com.

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