Rather than relying on an external provider, many companies decide to develop an internal teaching institution to ensure their employees receive the appropriate training. LMJ meets aircraft manufacturer Airbus and facilities management specialist MITIE to understand what it takes to put together an effective training system.


Flying high

The Broughton site in North Wales is responsible for the assembly of wings for all Airbus commercial airplanes. Roberto Priolo finds out how critical the aircraft manufacturer’s internal training programme has become to develop solid lean foundations and establish a culture of continuous improvement across Europe.

There is the image of a lean temple painted on the door of the Airbus Quality Lean Academy in Broughton. Inside, classrooms buzzing with activity and posters with company objectives hanging to the walls remind you that this is where Airbus coaches and develops its people – or at least where it provides them with the basis they need to become self-reliant problem solvers and spread the word around the business.

The company’s lean journey started in 2001. At the time each Airbus plant in Europe was practicing, and teaching, lean independently. The aim was correct, but there was no consistency in the message and direction. In 2008, the Airbus Lean Production System was introduced in a bid to align the goals of plants in the UK, France, Spain and Germany.

Paul Wholey, a lean expert in Broughton, says: “It was in 2010 that we identified our vision as it is today, with 28 lean experts around Europe supporting the development and implementation of standards and providing help to individual plants as they strive to achieve their objectives.”

The idiosyncracies of each country and culture are taken into consideration when standards for Airbus operations are set and training courses are developed, according to Graham Tudor, lean improver and Academy trainer at Broughton.

“Whenever we develop strategies and training, people from each country get together. We have five lean academies, and a member from each of those attends the meeting to discuss what we want to do. We develop the courses together, over a six month period. We then go back and translate it in the different languages,” he explains.

Standards are everything at Airbus: from cleaning up the table in the canteen after eating to operating a machine, they influence every part of the employees’ working day. According to Tudor, everybody is on board and understands why it’s so important that standards are followed, and it all comes down to training. He says: “If you want lean to be your business philosophy, the guys that do the work on the shop floor need to understand and participate to influence the outcome. In the last two years, 4,200 people went through this course.” Just under a quarter of them came from the Felton site, which doesn’t have an Academy of its own.

Every time an apprentice or new employee arrives on site, they immediately receive lean training, rather than waiting to get on the shop floor before they start learning.

Successful applicants for apprenticeships at Airbus (the take-in is 60 to 100 apprentices a year out of 4,000 applicants) are put in a local college for a year where they are given educational and practical training. Subsequently, two years are spent in the factory. “When they come into operations we expect them to have a knowledge of not just how to make aircraft, but also how to improve the processes. We decided to give them that education from the first year. They will go and do the two-day lean course,” Tudor says.

Teaching the skills

“Train the trainer” sessions are another important part of people development. Employees with 10 to 20 years of experience in production are made “dedicated improvers”. After they receive lean training, they are ready to go back to the business and become facilitators. This has proved critical to spread lean knowledge and understanding around the company, from the bottom up.

The core element of lean training at Airbus, however, is a 9-day course for managers that takes place over about four months. The foundations are taught using flip charts and boards, but also by engaging course attendees through a game: building a model aircraft using a Playmobil kit.

It’s a five-stage course. After three days in the Academy’s model factory, people are sent back to the business for eight weeks, where they are asked to complete a kaizen event. They then come back for three more days in the classroom, during which the kaizen event and its results are analysed and celebrated and more training is provided. For another eight weeks, they work on a value stream map or a process map, on the shop floor, before going back to the Academy for the final three days.

Tudor explains: “From the moment they walk into the Academy, they have ‘left’ Airbus. They are now working for a fictitious single aisle aircraft manufacturer. We ask them to build ten planes in ten minutes. Everybody is directed to a station, reads the instructions and starts. It is absolute chaos.”

On the first day, two model aircraft are assembled, but by day three it’s a minimum of eight.

This training is standard for everybody that works in lean manufacturing at Airbus, from a process manager to a manufacturing manager. People working in support functions often say, “We don’t build planes, we process paper.” Tables in the Academy’s training rooms are then flipped, revealing a model office.

Wholey commented: “We need to make sure we share one message, so that everybody is engaged. You can’t do lean in manufacturing but not in the office and other departments. We are trying to change people’s mindset, to get them to think lean and not just talk lean. This training is a fantastic set up for developing the business. It’s a great aid that has really changed the way people think.”

Over the last two years, over 1,300 managers have been trained in practical problem solving, Kepner-Tregoe, lean manufacturing and lean business processes, just to name a few of the techniques and principles that are taught in the 15 in-house courses the Academy has developed and delivers.

After the training is complete, objectives are set for those who have attended the course. Airbus expects its people to deliver results once they have been enabled to do so: through the kaizens run and recorded since 2010, the company has saved €8 million in the UK alone.

Tudor says: “We took it off the bottom line. When I was a manufacturing manager and after a kaizen I saved €120,000 my accountant signed it off and took it out of my budget moving forward. In the following year I had to operate with €120,000 less, and in my performance and development review I was still expected to look for 5% improvements year on year.” In 2011, Airbus saved €3.7 million, closing 60 out of 110 kaizen events.

Different factories, different stages

There are three factories in Broughton: the East factory, where wings for the A320, A330 and A340 families are manufactured; the West factory, which produces the wings of the A380, which is the largest passenger airliner in the world; and the recently-opened North factory, where the composite wings for the new A350 are built.

These very different environments reflect how Airbus’ approach to lean has evolved over time. Wholey explains: “Every person that is about to start working in the A350 factory goes through lean training even before setting foot in the building. The expectations for this aircraft are very high, and the 350 factory is where we want everybody at Broughton to be. We are reinforcing our message every day and using the tools to continuously improve.”

All the facilities in Broughton are practicing lean, but the environment in each of them is different. Tudor says: “The East factory is 50 years old, the 350 one is new. The three sites are very different at first sight: the A380 immediately strikes you as a cleaner environment. It’s white and you want to keep it that way. The older factory is darker, but we are gradually painting it white.”

Something else has changed over the years: managers now move from facility to facility quite often, rather than being “pinned to one machine for decades” – this ensures skill roundness while helping to spread the word on lean throughout Airbus.

Tudor concludes: “When I started at Airbus in 1988 it took five years to go from order to delivery and the company had a 14% market share. Today we deliver planes in 18 months and enjoy a 50% share of the market. Last year, over 550 aircraft have been delivered on time to quality. We must be doing something right.”

As they leave the Academy, trainees are left with a reminder. The same door that showed them the lean temple on their way in carries a message that highlights value added, non-value added and wasteful activities when they walk out. After all that’s when things get real. No Playmobil models anymore, only real aircraft.


A clean sweep

After embracing improvement methodologies in its commercial cleaning and environmental sectors, MITIE, the outsourcing and energy services company, has developed its own Lean Six Sigma training academy to further enhance its lean offering. Jon Lightowler, Business Improvement Director, Cleaning and Environmental, explains how this helps to provide superior techniques and processes to the various cleaning disciplines executed by MITIE.

Although there is a plethora of external training options available to support our lean six sigma design processes, we quickly discovered that translating the specialist vocabulary and techniques into commercial cleaning was not something that was easily understood by our operational staff.

Many training courses focused on manufacturing and service environments that did not directly relate to our service offering. This in turn caused some operational staff to dismiss the idea that lean six sigma is entirely relevant to the application of commercial cleaning processes.

Without the buy-in of our operational staff, the introduction of lean six sigma principles was proving difficult and in itself was causing unnecessary waste. This led MITIE to take the strategic decision to invest in its own Lean Academy.

The first phase was to create a basic course to help explain why and how this methodology, although derived from manufacturing, was applicable to MITIE’s operations and how its adoption would provide an innovative approach to commercial cleaning as well as creating a competitive advantage for the business.

The result was the development of a four-hour classroom-based foundation course, designed for all levels of MITIE’s operational team, from supervisor to director. This course proved to be very popular and attendees left with a basic understanding of what lean six sigma means to MITIE and how it can help it make a real difference to its contracts, clients and staff.

Furthermore, we have noticed an enhanced awareness from our clients and potential clients regarding the direct transferability of lean into their own facilities. This is highlighted in the following extract taken directly from an “Invite to Tender” document that was received from a major high street banking organisation:

The Supplier must demonstrate that they have dedicated resources to continuous improvement with staff qualified in tools like six sigma and lean.  General training is available to relevant staff in these tools.”

Not only does this extract demonstrate that our move towards lean thinking is in keeping with the voice of the customer requirements, but it also shows that there was a real need for a more dynamic approach to lean training. We had already started to see the benefits of our foundation training in providing the essential buy-in from supervisors and managers whose enthusiasm for what they had learned was already beginning to permeate down to the cleaning operatives on the ground – with some excellent 5S initiatives and a desire to capture data to understand and resolve issues.

Although MITIE has a dedicated team of lean six sigma professionals, we felt we should look to train more frontline staff to recognised yellow and green belt standards as this demonstrates a desire to invest in our team, to drive improvements in the business offering to clients.

It was quickly established that, as there was no regulated curriculum for the various belts, MITIE could in fact, if it so wanted, set up an Academy that awarded its own belts that met a standard the company itself had set.

However, we were keen to show our client base that we are serious about lean thinking and training and that the training was not just a “knee jerk” response to client expectation. In August 2011 we set about gathering information from other training providers and various publications as to what were the recognised standards and curriculum that warranted the award of yellow and green belt certificates.

Once this was done, we approached an e-learning development company, Future Learning Systems, who already had some experience of lean and six sigma courses, and invited them to assist in the development of our yellow and green belt training. With the help of Future Learning Systems the curriculum was drawn up and the course outline drafted; this was then sent to the National Open College Network (NOCN) who confirmed that they would be happy to externally accredit MITIE’s staff.

The course structure

The make-up of the courses retains the foundation training as an internal classroom-based course that provides a good overall awareness of lean six sigma but also provides the first step towards yellow belt accreditation as a progressive step.

Attendance on the foundation course generates an in-house certificate. It is compulsory for those looking to go on to the e-learning based yellow belt course. To date, MITIE has trained over 150 people to foundation level and feedback has been extremely positive.

The yellow belt course is essentially a two-day e-learning course designed for managers and supervisors that have or are looking to set up lean six sigma operations at their client sites. Although it can be completed in two days, delegates are encouraged to complete it over a two month period.  This allows them to go back to various topics as required and adopt techniques and methodologies into their operations as they move through the course. After a brief test to confirm understanding at the end of each module, a certificate is issued by the NOCN.

The green belt course is the final stage of MITIE’s Lean Academy and is designed for staff that will be responsible for the introduction of lean projects in their respective work places. The first part of the qualification is an e-learning course following similar principles to the yellow belt course. Once the course is completed, each delegate is required to select a suitable project for the application of lean that has been agreed with the business and that will demonstrate an immediate business improvement. The final project is submitted for assessment and, subject to completion and an acknowledgement of competence, the delegate will gain green belt accreditation from the NOCN.

We decided not to develop our own black belt training course: staff requiring this higher level of training will attend an external training course, having gained by then sufficient knowledge of lean implementation within their market sector to be able to understand and translate black belt teachings into the various commercial cleaning environments.