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Creating a Structured Progression System for Manufacturing

When setting up a progression system in a factory, your workers will want to know: “What’s in it for me? What’s the point of doing training or learning more tasks? Will I get paid more money?” While the real answer is that it will contribute to job satisfaction, increase their confidence and boost future employment prospects, many workers will also want job progression to bolster their pay packet. The benefits to a business in having trained, flexible, motivated workers are obvious, especially in a world of constantly changing consumer demands. So how can you set up a fair structured progression system that motivates your workers to expand their skills and rewards those who deserve it?

I happened across the answer to this question, with some prompting from the Operations Manager, as I drew close to completing Work Instructions for all of the manufacturing areas in a plant. The puzzle almost assembled itself, it was so logical. Here’s how I went about it.

Create Work Instructions and Assessment Materials for each Area

Assembling the progression system came at the end of three years of work. At the beginning of the project, I identified tasks done in an area. By watching tasks performed and taking photos, I created visual work instructions for each task. Concurrently, I created assessment forms with questions that clarified understanding and required demonstration of the task to confirm competence. I continued this until we had work instructions and assessments for every task done in an area, from the simple tasks given to a beginner through to the more complex jobs performed by team leaders. Then I moved on to the next area and did the same until we’d covered all 5 manufacturing sections.

The work instructions and assessments form the building blocks of the progression system. To progress, operators must be trained and assessed as competent on each task.

Create Learning Plans for each Area

Once you know all of the tasks done in an area, you can arrange them in order. I simply asked team leaders what order they usually train people. In this way I was able to order work instructions from simplest, or least critical, to most difficult or most critical. I noticed that the order fell naturally into groups, around a machine or process. A person on the line usually had a group of tasks for which they were responsible. There was also a clear delineation between core tasks and advanced tasks. While the majority of tasks, the more frequent ones, were typically done by all operators, a small group of tasks were done less frequently, and it was usually the team leader’s role to do these.

From the order and the grouping, you can create a learning plan that looks something like this:

Training Plan Example

In the example, the training plan lists the tasks by Work Instruction title and provides a reference number for them in the document management system. The reference number for the associated assessment sheet is also provided. The plan provides spaces for the date when the operator is assessed as competent and a signature by the team leader. Each person knows the tasks they are expected to learn for the area, and the team leader can keep track of where each operator is up to. With the document numbers provided, it means they can also easily find the latest version of the documents in the document management system.

You might like to create an additional grouping to encourage employees to take on extra functions, such as First Aider, Fire Warden, a forklift licence or Lean certification.

You would need to create a training plan for each area.

Work Out Relative Difficulty of each Group of Tasks

Once you have a training plan for each area, you can put it all together on a diagram, showing the “units” of learning available across the plant. I used shading to indicate difficulty. Here’s an example.

Example of Units for Progression System
Example of Units for Progression System, graded according to difficulty or risk

Each box represents a group of work instructions – shown on the Training Plan – for which an operator needs to be assessed as competent.

In my example, entry level tasks are shown as green. These are the tasks you train newstarters to do. Typically, they are the simplest, least critical, and less hazardous tasks, so that if they’re done incorrectly the consequences are not too severe. In my example, new operators start in areas 1, 2 and 3. People are trained in area 4, which is more critical, only when they have proven themselves in other areas. In area 4, some of the core tasks are considered as difficult or critical as the advanced tasks in other areas.

Create List of Requirements for each Pay Level

Next step is to create a list of requirements for each pay level. To do this, you first decide how many pay levels you want to have. Typically, you’d have at least as many as the levels of difficulty of tasks. Then you build requirements based on the Progression System units. Here’s an example in diagrammatical form.

Example of pay level structure for progression system
Example of Requirements to reach pay levels

Decide Pay for each Level

Each level will correspond to a pay grade. You’ll need to figure out how much each level is worth to the business and set the pay accordingly.

Set Clear Rules for Attaining Levels

To save yourself grief, before you take the system to the teams, consider clear guidelines on what is expected for people to reach a level and to continue to be paid at that level. For example, you may want to specify a probation period for new employees in which they need to be able to perform all entry level tasks within a certain period, say the first month. You may stipulate that all people are expected to work towards being competent in all core tasks in an area. To continue to be paid at a level, you might require that they must be working at that level and re-assessed as competent on an annual basis.


Finally, you will need to negotiate with the teams and massage the structure until you reach agreement.

There’s a tremendous amount of work in developing a fair, structured progression system, with the groundwork being the development of clear, visual, easy-to-follow Work Instructions and rigorous assessments. But when it’s complete, it promotes a flexible, motivated workforce with clear guidelines for accountability.