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How Cross-Training Helps to Bulletproof Your Business

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How Cross-Training Helps to Bulletproof Your Business

t Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, owner Alison Banholzer cross trained her art department in pre-press, and also trained production staffers on how to receive blanks. “When time permits or we’re in a pinch, they jump in and help,” she says.

“Since they’re performing an additional step in fulfilling the order, they have a vested interest in doing the job well. We’ve learned a valuable lesson from the pandemic: We need employees who can back each other up.”
Alison Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse

You’ll also prevent production slowdowns and backups. “If a team member calls out sick, doesn’t show up or simply quits, other team members can jump in and keep production moving smoothly,” says Shawn LaFave, president at NGA Promotions

Overall, cross-training builds a stronger shop, since your team will be more productive and agile from on-the-job professional development. It’s a win-win because you empower your employees to learn new skills and also prepare them for promotions. Smart shop owners don’t expect their employees to “know everything,” and instead provide cross-training opportunities so they can build a career with you.

Let’s take a look at five reasons cross-training makes your shop bulletproof, and seven ways you can implement a training program into your business.

Why Should I Cross Train My Employees?

A loyal employee wants to see your shop succeed, and takes pride in contributing to that success. Giving your staff multiple areas to show their expertise keeps them more active and engaged in the business.  

“There’s also the benefit in having your various departments cross train and or shadow each other,” Banholzer says. “It’s helpful for the art department to know exactly how the placement of registration marks impacts press setup. The sales team should understand how their written instructions translate into artwork.”
Alison Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse

Employees you’ve cross-trained can also get more paid hours. “Let’s say your screen printer is cross trained in post-embroidery processes like trimming and bagging, as well as sublimation,” LaFave says. “Once they’re caught up on screen printing, they can help out in those other areas, and make more money.”

Many employees are willing to take on new tasks if it means success for the business – and recognition for their efforts, as well as advancement opportunities. Almost three-fourths of all employees say they’d be willing to learn new skills to be better at their jobs. However, it’s also a hard truth that 70% of employees would leave a company for another, if the new job offers better employee development.

The stats show employees want training.

If you’re worried your employees won’t be on board with a cross-training program, we’ve got more reasons why they will:

- A staggering 94% of employees stay longer with a shop if they’re given development opportunities.

- Another big number: 87% of those in their 20s to 40s see opportunities for further job development in the workplace as a big  deciding for taking a job. Over half (59%) of these same workers look at a business’ development opportunities to decide if they’ll even apply to work there.

- Almost three out of four employees (74%) feel like they aren’t given enough development opportunities and that stunts their careers.

- Finally, here are two numbers that are important for shops having trouble with attracting and maintaining hard-working employees: 76% of employees say they see a business as a more appealing place to work if it offers additional opportunities for development and skills training. The employee retention rate goes up between 30% and 50% for businesses with a strong development program and culture.

How Cross-Training Your Staff Benefits Your Shop

“As the employer, you get more buy-in from your employees,” LaFave says. “They feel more needed and a real part of the team.”

1. High ROI:

You don’t always have to look outside your shop to fill a new position. Many times, you can look to your current staff to cross-train and take on added responsibilities with new skills. This means you don’t have to spend time and money looking for new hires, and then  trainin them from the ground up. You have on-hand employees who are excited to use their new skills, especially if it earns them a promotion or pay increase.

2. Collaboration:

In your shop, you probably have a lot of  individualized jobs: manager, graphic designer, press operator or embroiderer. Encourage these employees to work collaboratively. Having staffers train others on aspects of their role makes them feel more valued and strengthens relationships among your team.

Over time, these employees will spread their wings and become experienced in a variety of areas. Some may excel at specific jobs, but they’ll have multiple skills that can be called on to perform if needed.

3. Improved Efficiency:

Ask every department to identify the skills they could help train other employees. This also calls on them to examine their own practices and possibly see where they can make changes to your shop to run smoother. 

4. More Agile Shop:

When you cross train your employees, you may find some “diamonds in the rough” you didn’t even know you had. That person in sales or shipping may actually have hidden artistic talents that can be useful in your graphic design department.  

Through cross-training, you can help them see these latent talents and make them a bigger part of your shop’s daily operations. This also means that if you run into issues as you’re scaling your shop, you can adjust quickly. Right now, if you lose an embroiderer, it may mean a halt to stitching until you hire another or find an outsourcing partner. However, if other people in your shop know how to run your six-head, then you’ve lessened your downtime.

5. Increases Sustainability:

If you lose an employee, your shop’s productivity can be seriously hurt as you hire and train someone new. But what about temporary blips, like maternity leave or illness? If you’ve already trained other employees to handle these jobs, then you’re a much more sustainable business when issues arise. 

“As a smaller shop, if someone’s out sick, especially for an extended period of time, fellow employees need to be able to pick up the slack,” Banholzer says. “You might think you can be the one to do it, but you’re busy working ‘on the business.’ You shouldn't be working ‘in the business.’ And what if you’re the one out sick?”

6 Steps to Implement a Cross-Training Program 

1. List your shop’s employees and their job descriptions.

Then, detail the job skills each person needs in those roles. “Plus, find out what your team members like to do,” LaFave says.

“Ask them to list five things, with their top three and why they like those. This will let you know what they’ve wanted to learn more about design or large format printing, and they’ll appreciate your desire to align them with areas they like.” 
Shawn LaFave, president at NGA Promotions

2. Match your employees in a series of mentor-mentee pairs.

Then, give the mentors an opportunity to train the mentees. Set aside a regular time each week, like when your shop is slowest, to accommodate for this.

3. Talk with your employees about why cross-training is so important.

If you don’t have buy-in from them, you may encounter negative attitudes or pushback that affects the whole effort. 

4. Set up a rotation schedule.

Once your staff has learned a new skill or job responsibility, make sure they have the opportunity to put them into action.  

5. Check in often.

Find out how things are going with your employees every step of this process. Ask them for suggestions about how you can expand the cross-training or make it work better.

6. Reward hard-working employees.

Give each employee opportunities to earn more money or earn a promotion via their training program. On the whole, treat your staff to lunches and recognize people for a job well done.

Bulletproof Your Business by Cross-Training Your Staff 

If you want to make your decorated-apparel shop more competitive, it’s essential to support and bolster your employees. They’re the key to any shop’s success. If they can take a more active role in the operations of your shop on a larger scale, then you can truly make your business bulletproof.

Nov 6, 2022