Solid Thinking: Help Your Designers Achieve Their Full Potential

14 Sep, 2005 By: Greg Jankowski Cadalyst

Recognize the return on investment of individual and group CAD learning plans.

Whenever engineering groups feel the squeeze of budgetary pressures, some managers target CAD training as a source of savings. With many less expensive training options available -- ranging from e-learning and user groups to publications and tutorials included with the software -- cutting training courses may appear to be a prudent decision.

In actuality, however, treating CAD training as a luxury instead of a necessity can prove to be shortsighted and produce the opposite of the intended effect. Because the productivity of design engineers is directly related to improving skills, giving short shrift to CAD training can adversely affect the bottom line to a far greater degree than the supposed budgetary savings of cutting it.

Some managers treat training as the red-headed stepchild of the overall CAD effort -- definitely part of the product development mix but not a critical or essential component -- while others view CAD training as a one-shot deal that is only necessary when implementing a new CAD system.

However, continuous and formalized learning plans are not only important for a successful CAD implementation, but also for continually increasing productivity levels that enable design engineers to achieve their full potential, adding far more to an organization's bottom line than eliminating CAD training can ever save.

A Common-Sense Approach
Implementing a formalized CAD training program involves the same common-sense approach required for any successful CAD implementation. For example, SolidWorks Corporation recommends developing a detailed training plan as part of any SolidWorks software implementation, encouraging customers to give the same attention to training as they do to establishing plans and procedures governing best practices, creating design standards, implementing software installation and upgrades, handling legacy data and managing product design data.

While training needs and approaches vary, there is one constant: no two CAD users are alike. In addition to having varying levels of CAD experience, designers and engineers have different skills, aptitudes, learning paces and job responsibilities. Why would an engineer who designs sheet-metal parts need training on producing animations and photorealistic renderings? Conversely, why would an engineer who produces animations and photorealistic renderings for customer presentations need to know how to design sheet-metal parts? People are different and fulfill separate functions, which is why successful training programs must establish goals for both the individual and the group as a whole.

Linking Training to Performance
An effective CAD training program establishes overall skill attainment and productivity goals for the group and more specific skill objectives related to actual job responsibilities for each engineer. Tie individual tactical goals, which support the strategic group objective, to actual job performance. Plans should also specify the preferred training method. By providing engineers with incentives for obtaining job-specific CAD skills, managers strengthen training effectiveness because it becomes part of an engineer's actual job performance.

People will always have questions and will need resources to provide answers. These resources can include subscription services for technical telephone and support, ongoing VAR training courses, regular user group meetings, design manuals and guidelines, or the concept of the "super user" -- an engineer with the widest range of experience and CAD skills within an organization, to whom engineers can go with questions. You should recognize super users internally to encourage them to mentor younger, less experienced engineers. They can even serve as internal consultants and provide their own training courses during lunch.

Accelerating Return on Your Training Investment
Managers can help an organization get the most out of its investment in a CAD system and its engineers by implementing a formalized training program. By helping engineers achieve their full potential in a manner that supports the group's strategic objectives, any investment in formalized training will pay for itself in a short period of time, usually in less than six months.

Here is a simple return on investment (ROI) formula that can help managers justify an investment in CAD training courses: add the cost of a training course (A) to the cost of lost engineering time (B) to get the total investment (C): $1,500 (A) + $75/hour-8 hours/day-4 days of training: $2,400 (B) = $3,900 (C). If the training produces a productivity improvement of a half-hour/day (D), that translates into half the hourly cost/day ($37.50 in this case). To calculate time to ROI (E), divide the total cost (C) by the productivity enhancement (D). $3,900 (C)/$37.50 (D) = 104 working days (E) or less than six months. After the return on the training investment begins, the productivity enhancement (D) adds to the company's overall profit.

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