Survey Shines Light on Biggest Plastics Industry Training Problems


plastics training surveyOver the past 3 years Paulson Training has been running an informal plastics industry training survey. We’ve gathered over 10,000 responses from plastics industry employees who have filled out our training information request forms and seminar registration forms. So it’s safe to say that these people are all deep in the plastics industry.  We covered injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and thermoforming.

Nearly all the submissions collected addressed a response to our question: “What’s Your Biggest Training Challenge?” That single question inadvertently created an informal survey revealing data where a substantial share of respondents, no matter the process, expressed having the same problems. In this post I share these responses and provide a brief summary. To our knowledge this informal survey is the largest of its kind in the plastics industry.

This summary details the data as of March 31, 2017


Biggest Training ChallengeResponses%
No Formal Training4,29440%
Troubleshooting Knowledge3,77335%
Can’t Find Skilled Employees1,12110%
Production Inefficiencies7727%
Inconsistent Procedures4724%
Employee Turnover3073%


Survey says….The Number One Training Challenge is:

“No Formal Training” ??

Let’s look at the #1 “Training Challenge”, cited by 40% of survey respondents – “No Formal Training”. You would think that a number like that would be good for companies in the plastic training business, like Paulson. And it is, up to a point. But the sad reality is that the majority of those 40% will never spend money on a formal training program. It’s just too easy to do nothing. And by “doing nothing” I mean continuing to let employees learn from their mistakes using the on-the-job training method.

unlimited plastics training budgetDon’t be mislead. There is a real training cost, a very large one, attached to letting your employees learn from their mistakes. Every plastics manufacturer spends money on training. The smart ones control their training budget. The rest apparently have an unlimited training budget. There’s no end to how many avoidable mistakes your employees can make.

W. Edwards Deming, who is called the father of The Quality Evolution and who’s ideas on manufacturing and quality control rebuilt post-war Japan, puts it this way…

“People want to succeed. They want to do a good job. They don’t like to turn out lousy work. If your people are consistently failing, it’s likely not their fault. Your training system is broken.”

And don’t read that to mean that people aren’t responsible for their lot in life. Of course they are. The point is how well would anyone do on the job if all they had to learn from were their mistakes?

The Most Expensive Training?  On-the-Job Training

What isn’t talked about much, if at all, is the true cost of on-the-job training. This type of training is viewed as cheap or even zero-cost and easy to implement, you don’t actually have to do anything. The “training” just happens by itself.  On the surface, this seems like the perfect solution. Who wouldn’t want free training that requires no administration or coordination?

The four primary injection molding variablesBut here’s the missing and critical factor. There is a very real and substantial cost of letting injection molding training just happen. People on the production floor see it every day. They may not immediately see the cost associated with it, but they see the “training” in real time and they are usually the ones who have to fix the mistakes made. But the training lesson has happened, hopefully the lesson is learned and on to Lesson (mistake) #2.

If you add up all those training lessons over the course of a year, the cost is easily in the $10K up to $100K or more (yes, we’ve seen $100,000+ “training programs” many times – pure profit thrown away!).

That is Pure Profit Squandered on “Training”

No injection molding manager in their right mind would allow a cash sink hole like that to continue for any length of time. So why do they?

I can think of 3 reasons:

  1. They don’t know the amount of money being spent on their “training”
  2. On-the-job training is “business as usual” – no one questions it or considers a better way
  3. If they spend money on training, the employee might quit and take the knowledge with him/her

For (1) above, I would refer injection molders to our iOS (Apple) ROI Calculator App. This nifty little tool lets you quickly calculate the cost of various inefficiencies with your molding machinesinjection molding ROI Calculator and set-ups.  It starts with your quoted (expected) profit. You input the factors (the numbers) that went into your quote and expected profit calculation. You then can adjust the values of 3 of biggest profit drains on a typical injection molding run. These are cycle time, scrap rates and downtime. There are other factors of course. But these 3 cover 80% of your success or failure to achieve expected profits. It’s an eye-opening exercise. Many Paulson customers have achieved eye-popping ROI’s on their training investment.

Planning to spend money on training requires an entirely different approach and mind-set than planning a capital investment

When a company is deciding whether to pursue a training investment, it can’t be treated like you would treat a decision on acquiring a new molding machine. That math is straightforward (and reassuring) and you or your CFO can run unlimited spreadsheet scenarios in minutes. And training certainly shouldn’t be treated like spending money on personal consumption where thriftiness and parsimony are considered virtues by most.

One could argue that there are only 2 outcomes of all business spending…  spending based on good business decisions and spending based on bad business decisions. If you frame a possible training initiative like this, you’ll think about the pro’s and con’s in a completely different way.

“Do I want to train my people or do I want them to train themselves?”

You’re going to do one or the other. There’s no way around it.

Give the ROI calculator a try and you’ll get a sense of what avoidable mistakes and inefficiencies really cost. They add up fast.

Reason #2 – Business As Usual

Let’s talk about reason (2) above – “Business as Usual

plastics industry training and tribal knowledge

© 2010 Scott Adams, Inc.

We’ve all been there. The vast majority of companies have systems and “tribal knowledge” in place that doesn’t get questioned. But the “that’s the way we do things” inertia can be expensive.

You go to a seminar and learn all kinds of great new stuff, stuff that you want to bring back to your plant and implement. You get back on the job and start sharing what you’ve learned and you meet… Resistance.  Now you’ve got 2 choices… (1) You can press on and try to get buy-in from key team members, or (2) Savor your new knowledge and go back to what you were doing before your seminar.

This is where management backing is critical. There has to be a champion of the “new normal” for your company at the management level. If a company truly wants to get away from on-the-job “training”, someone has to drive the bus. If that person is you, decide what the new training method(s) will be and make it happen. If the right person is a colleague, get their backing and make sure they can help you make it happen.

The key point to remember is that people do not like change. It’s human nature. You WILL meet resistance. Prepare for it.

Reason #3 – But Why Invest in Training? They’ll Leave!

Lastly, reason (3) – “Spending money to train employees is wasted if they leave

Aside from the “Every company spends money on training” argument already discussed, there’s also a fear that planned, deliberate training expenditures will be wasted if the employees leave.

employee turnover plastics industryThat is one way of looking at it and there is certainly a valid argument to be made. But it may be short-sighted. You’re going to have turnover regardless. There’s the old saying, attributed to many people over the years, management guru Peter Drucker among them… “What if I train my people and they just quit?”  The better and more sobering question would be, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?

It’s a fundamental choice of what kind of company owners/managers choose to have.

There’s a reason why 80% of all injection molding industry profits are made by just 20% (or less) of molding companies. Your company is going to be in one category or the other. One involves taking a calculated risk and the other involves rolling the dice.

I know what I would choose. Do you?

I want to try it FREE