by John P. Miersma, The Walchem Group of Companies

Changes in the world economy, the markets we serve and the pump industry are continuing at an exponential rate. To a large extent, the pump industry has reacted to change more than it has been a driver of change. At the same time, the pump industry's ability to manage through change has been reduced by industry consolidation and the loss of skilled talent to downsizing, retirement and other industries.

In fact, a closer view of changes in the world economy and our markets reveals that the pump industry has many opportunities to advance both corporate and societal goals by taking a lead position in defining and managing change. Fundamentally key to moving North American economies, our industry, our companies and ourselves into this position of leadership is a commitment to continuous learning.

We frequently speak of "innovation" as being important to growth and success in the pump industry; innovation is the product of talent, which is, in turn, largely a product of continuous learning. A core value statement of "listen - learn - lead" would be well suited to a pump company committed to acting upon this vision. A number of companies (mostly the larger ones) in the pump industry understand this and have already set related goals, developed strategies and crafted action plans.

I approach this topic as an executive of a group of companies with businesses ranging from tanks to pumps to leading-edge monitoring and control equipment, and as a resident of a small state (Massachusetts) with nearly 130 colleges and universities.

The Scope of Total Training

Pump companies' training generally focuses on the technical skills of engineers, salespeople and distributors, along with some specialized training offered by colleges and universities, distributors and consultants.

While this core training remains critically important, our industry must broaden the scope of both its technical and non-technical training. In the January 2006 issue of Pumps & Systems, John Allen, the president of Wilden Pump & Engineering LLC, observed, "The successful company of the future must be global and be a total provider, not just an equipment supplier. Being a total provider requires retaining a vertical depth of knowledge at every level of the organization, from the manufacturing plant through distribution to sales and service" (emphasis added).1

Beyond expanded technical training, all pump companies should consider training in complementary areas, including global cultures, global business ethics, communications, business metrics, functional best practices, life cycle costing, energy efficiency, six sigma, lean manufacturing, corporate policies and procedures, relevant global laws and regulations, and so on as part of a comprehensive training strategy.

As noted above, past training generally concentrated in a relatively small area near the center of this graph.
Consolidation in the pump industry creates a need for training to expand horizontally. Broadened training goals include effective and efficient communications, avoiding redundancy and promoting common (or complementary) corporate cultures and themes.
Many developments create a need for training to expand vertically. New training goals are related to such developments as:  
Advances in technology, including the market's growing interest in predictive monitoring and control technologies
The move to become total providers of pump and systems solutions.
Growing emphasis on energy efficiency.
An increasing focus on life cycle cost.
The growing number of supplier and customer partnerships including arrangements with distributors and aftermarket partners.
Globalization creates the need for training to expand along both axes.
The Value of Total Training
Quality, comprehensive training can be a substantial investment in terms of both development cost and implementation cost, where most of the value invested involves trainers' and trainees' time.

Although difficult to quantify, the cost of not providing training in any or all of the areas discussed above can be extraordinarily high. Risk management is a core element of the business planning process for all of our companies, where we decide how much risk is tolerable, what the cost will be to contain risk at this level and what specific investments we must make to accomplish this. Training is one of those investments. Classic examples of training in the pump industry center on improperly specified, installed or maintained pumps. Other timely examples might center on employee conduct, export control regulations, energy efficiency measures or foreign business ethics and practices.

At Walchem, we have made use of state grants available for employee training, most recently for a comprehensive review and upgrade of our quality management system. In our case, we employed grant consultants whose knowledge of the various grant programs available, the funding status of each program and ways and means of navigating through each different program was key.

Consultants may specialize in federal or state grants, or even in specific federal or state programs. Josh Britton of Comprehensive Funding Solutions, Inc. (Feeding Hills, MA) characterizes his business as one that "specializes in training consultation, grant writing and grant management with the goal of simplifying the entire grant process for companies who are seeking to develop employee skills, increase competitiveness and grow profits."