Training performance

by Emily Buckley
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Mill managers have seen a growing importance placed on personnel training within the last few years. Milling operatives can hardly attend a trade show that doesn’t include a

session covering differing training techniques and subject areas. And the training philosophy has truly been embraced in many organizations, particularly within the large multinational companies and in many facilities in developed countries that train employees to capitalize on market efficiencies, properly follow safety procedures and better ensure product quality.

Yet many milling organizations remain where training is deficient and mill employees lack a basic understanding of the milling process. This is precisely what Latin American flour, feed and grain operation consultants David Tullo and Marco Fava have seen in numerous mills throughout Latin America.

Tullo is the general manager of two Chile-based consulting companies, Inagrain S.A. and Grainmade Ltda., which consult on the design, evaluation, and construction of mills, cereal storage plants and feed plants. Fava partners in and consults with Grainmade.

"There is an extreme lack of knowledge in the [Latin American] milling industry," Tullo said. "It is only in the hands of a few who were either trained to be a miller or who went to college. But 90% of the mill staff has had no formal training in milling. They might be engineers, accountants or top-notch salesmen, but they have no knowledge of milling. And this is normal in Latin America."

Seeing a void in mill training, Tullo and Fava in 2000 began to conceptualize and structure a training program dedicated to an entire mill staff, outlining the overall production process of a mill and covering everything from wheat purchasing and intake to packaging and flour sales.

THE MILLING VISION

The result was a two-day in-house training course that centers on the principle that if a mill staff doesn’t understand the milling process, employees can’t understand their roles and contribution to the process. The goal is to teach employees the strong connection that each person’s job has to the final product.

Tullo and Fava are trying to reach all the personnel that make up a mill staff, many of whom don’t even know what a rollermill looks like and some of whom are not able to read and write.

"They know about their job, which has nothing to do with milling — selling flour, buying wheat, taking samples for the lab," Tullo said. "But they know little about the entire process."

Since 2001, the pair has team-taught their program, "Vision Molinera" (or "Milling Vision") to more than 700 people in 15 courses in mills throughout Latin America, including Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Cuba.

They worked for a year to synthesize instructional materials from books, diagrams and other resources, and then translated them into Spanish. This was a necessity since there are very few instructional milling resources in Spanish, they said.

The two-day training course uses eight modules that provide a basic overview of the entire milling operation; the modules cover raw material, the milling process, sifting, process control, maintenenace, quality control and finished products.

"We don’t go very in depth for any part, but we do emphasize the importance of every department," Fava said. "We go through the process [starting] from wheat buying and why you buy a particular wheat type. If you have a durum mill, you don’t buy soft wheat — basic things like that."

While it may seem rudimentary to some, Tullo and Fava can recount stories of wheat buyers who purchased the wrong type of wheat for their mill, for example soft wheat for a hard wheat mill, simply because it was inexpensive and the buyer didn’t know any better.

"You’d be surprised — this happens every day. And they’ll spend a whole year trying to get rid of that wheat, milling it 10% of the wheat grist," Tullo said.

"We try to teach them [why] those mistakes shouldn’t be made and the repercussions," Fava said.

To try and gauge the subject comprehension among participants, Tullo and Fava ask simple questions about the topic at the beginning of each module, and follow with the same question at the end.

"We’ve found in some of the country mills in South America, some of these students can’t even read and write," Tullo said. "So there’s an initial embarassment, but they soon realize they’ve been working in the mill for 30 years and they actually know quite a lot. Then they start to ask questions."

BENEFITS

By painting a complete picture of the mill functions, Fava said he has seen employees take more confidence and pride in their work.

"After they take the course, [the employees] are so happy; they feel so proud with whatever job they do, because they know what influence their job has," Fava said.

After training, Fava has seen mills become more orderly and more sanitary, while the employees perform their job more effectively and professionally, he said.

One training participant from Molinos Valle del Cibao, in the Dominican Republic, commented that "this course makes me be more interested in my work as part of the production staff and [helps me] realize what teamwork is."

Managers also have often reported a positive change in employee attitudes. Molinera Azapa in Chile is one of the facilities that used the training. According to its mill manager, Davor Razmilic, the mill personnel have been much more motivated and involved since taking the course.

As an extra service for the mill owner/manager, Tullo and Fava try to identify the student(s) in each course who show the most potential for promotion or who exhibit abilities for other positions. They also write a short summary on each participant.

DRIVEN BY PASSION

The consultants have no problem relating to the students.

"We are both so passionate about milling that it spreads to the students," Fava said. "Plus, we both started at the bottom of the milling industry — we have swept the floors, have taken samples, have worked the cleaning room, been head millers."

Fava started doing wheat analysis for his father’s mill in Chile when he was 8 years old on his summer vacation during January and February, which coincided with the January wheat harvest in Chile. He went on to earn his degree in Milling Science and Management at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, U.S. He’s worked at several mills in Latin America, holding positions of Technical Adviser, Technical Manager, Production Manager, and Plant Manager.

Tullo started by sweeping floors in a mill at the age of 17. He was trained as a miller with Henry Simon and earned a London City and Guilds milling certificate. Working with Henry Simon for 22 years, he held positions as a milling technician, in sales, and in mill design/diagram, and also with mill startups, commissioning more than 20 new mills worldwide.

Both Tullo and Fava are very active in the International Association of Operative Millers and have spoken at Granotec Seminars in Chile.

"With 50 years of combined experience in the milling business, we wanted to give something back to the industry," Tullo explained.

CRUCIAL TRAINING

Seeing the benefits of training has prompted several mill managers and employees to request an advanced course and additional written training materials (in Spanish).

Tullo and Fava said they are considering adding a Part 2 to the beginning course, which they have also adapted for a joint durum mill and pasta production facility. With many Central and South American mill staffs uneducated about the milling process, they see a desperate need for this training in these regions.

The hardest part has been convincing the mill owner/manager and miller to accept the idea of training employees, Tullo explained. It’s a matter of changing the mentality of managers who say, ‘why train, what’s the use?’

But to Tullo and Fava the importance is very clear.

"The mill operatives and the people that form that great chain of production around the mill are in charge of [the owner’s] 3-, 4-, 5-, or 10-million dollar investment, and he just gives employees the keys and says get on with it," Tullo said. "Why would you want only one or two knowing how the system works?"

In addition, mills wishing to work toward ISO 9000 certification must always start with employees who have an understanding of what they are doing and how their job affects the mill process, Fava noted.

"There is an extreme lack of knowledge in the [Latin American] milling industry. Ninety percent of the mill staff has had no formal training in milling. They might be engineers, accountants or top-notch salesmen, but they have no knowledge of milling. And this is normal in Latin America." — David Tullo

"We are both so passionate about milling that it spreads to the students. Plus, we both started at the bottom of the milling industry — we have swept the floors, have taken samples, have worked the cleaning room, been head millers." — Marco Fava

For more information on the Vision Molinera training program, contact David Tullo at dtullo@inagrain.cl or Marco Fava at marcoantoniofava@yahoo.com.

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