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Multiskilling refers to training workers to be able to undertake a wide range of different

jobs, instead of just one.

Who needs to get multi-skilled?

It is important to understand who needs to get multi-skilled. Do they need to be at a particular

level or position, or doing a specific work? Interestingly, most experts do believe that being
multi-skilled is level-agnostic. People trained in technical skills however need to have mastery
over more than one platform necessitated on account of the high level of obsolescence in the

The non-technical staff can be trained in support functions to save an organization considerable
cost. Training should preferably be in related/adjacent fields, so that the existing skills of the
employees are appropriately leveraged. Moreover, as these employees move into managerial or
lead positions, knowledge of related field aids them while interacting and collaborating with their
various stakeholders.

Multi-skilling is not so-much about a particular level or category of employees. It is about a

mind-set. It is about skill sets and you would agree therefore that it is fairly level-agnostic.
How it helps employees

Reduction in job insecurity

Greater individual productivity
Better growth prospects
Holistic perspective regarding the organizations
Can achieve his personal goals quicker

Multi-skilling is of particular significance for key teams/leadership in an organization usually

span the middle/mid senior levels with employees who are responsible for driving operations on
the ground. Building multi-skilled capabilities of the middle rung of people allows organizations
to loop in talent for new business initiatives/ventures.

Benefits to the organization;

Optimal utilization of workforce

Easy deployment of employees across projects
Increased productivity and better quality of deliverables
Creation of a flexible workforce which is well aware of the
organizations needs
Fillip to employee engagement

The Need for Multi-skilling

In an effort to avoid retrenchment, reduce hiring and increase efficiency, organizations are
seeking a multi-skilled workforce.

In an era of specialization, the downturn has interestingly brought into focus the necessity of
having a multi-skilled workforce. Multi-skilling is currently the big buzzword. The common
belief is that a multi-skilled workforce can avoid retrenchment and can lead to increased
productivity for the organization in a time of increased severity, which can directly impact the
companys bottom line.

Some would argue of course that there was always a need to be multi-skilled, but the current
economic turmoil has brought the necessity to the forefront. Possession of an additional skill
goes a long way in opening new channels and opportunities for professionals, particularly at a
time when their particular skill might not be needed by the organization for its business.

It is a healthy trend from the perspective of the company as well as the employee, since it allows
the company to bring about cost-cutting in various forms and more importantly, an individual
does not become indispensable for the company, or rather a company need not depend on a
particular person for doing a specialized job in which he is an expert. Such a workforce would be
self-managed and flexible according to the requirements of the company. From the perspective
of the employee, multi-tasking would allow them to become diversified and maintain high levels
of motivation and enthusiasm. It would also allow the employees to get involved in the various
aspects of the functioning, work, etc., of their company, allowing them to be more involved in
the performance of their firm and contributing in preventing lay-offs as well.

There are many who believe that multi-skilled employees are a great asset to an organization,
irrespective of industry conditions. In leaner times, a multi-skilled workforce helps bring in
operational efficiency and increased productivity, since a smaller workforce is required to cater
to the scaled down demand. But even when economic conditions are on the upswing, a multi-
skilled workforce helps in addressing customer demand faster and better.

If an employee enhances his skill sets, albeit in a phased manner, he will be far more valuable to
his company and the company will be a more potent force in the market. Not only is this relevant
in a recession, but also in a booming economy where companies compete to attract and retain the
best business.

Types of Multi-skilling

Cordery (1995) classified multi-skilling into 4 types.

1. Vertical Multi-skilling: The extent to which supervisory or administrative support tasks

are learned by individuals.
2. Horizontal Multi-skilling: This is learning skills from another discipline or function
within an organization.

Skill broadening: Where minor elements and tasks are learned on top of the
predominant activity (major task). So expertise is maintained in the major task with
elements added to increase efficiency.

Cross skilling/dual skilling: Where another major activity is learned in addition to

the main craft and a person is considered competent to carry out any activity in these
two main disciplines.

3. Depth Multi-skilling: This is the acquisition and application of more complex, specific
skills within the same trade or discipline.

4. Multi-skilled Teams: A multi-skilled team is a group of individuals who collectively

have a range of skills.

Traditional single skilled individuals collected into one team and managed by one
supervisor, or
A team of multi-skilled individuals.
The intent is to have a team where the strengths and specialties are combined, which
increases the range of skills available to tackle certain issues.

Techniques of Multi-skilling

Multi-skilling can be developed through a variety of techniques which are as follows:

Coaching and Mentoring





Team-based Cross-functional projects


Coaching is a corrective measure for inadequate performance. Survey by the International

Coach Federation shows that more than 4,000 companies use a coach for their executives. This
method best suits for the people at the top because if we see on emotional front, when a person
reaches the top, he gets lonely and it becomes difficult to find someone to talk to. It helps in
finding out the executives specific developmental needs. The needs can be identified through
360 degree performance reviews.

Procedure of Coaching

The procedure of the coaching is mutually determined by the executive and coach. The
procedure is followed by successive counseling and meetings at the executives convenience by
the coach.

1. Understand the participants job, the knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and resources
required to meet the desired expectation
2. Meet the participant and mutually agree on the objective that has to be achieved

3. Mutually arrive at a plan and schedule
4. At the job, show the participant how to achieve the objectives, observe the performance
and then provide feedback
5. Repeat step 4 until performance improves

For the people at middle level management, coaching is more likely done by the supervisor;
however experts from outside the organization are at times used for up and coming managers.
Again, the personalized approach assists the manger focus on definite needs and improvement.


Mentoring is an ongoing relation between senior manager and junior manager for the purpose of
support and guidance. Mentoring provides guidance and clear understanding of how the
organization goes to achieve its vision and mission to the junior employee.
The meetings are not as structured and regular than in coaching. Executive mentoring is
generally done by someone inside the company. The executive can learn a lot from mentoring.
By dealing with diverse mentees, the executive is given the chance to grow professionally
by developing management skills and learning how to work with people with diverse
background, culture, and language and personality types.

Executives also have mentors. In cases where the executive is new to the organization, a senior
executive could be assigned as a mentor to assist the new executive settled into his role.
Mentoring is one of the important methods for preparing them to be future executives. This
method allows the mentor to determine what is required to improve mentees performance. Once
the mentor identifies the problem, weakness, and the area that needs to be worked upon, the
mentor can advise relevant training. The mentor can also provide opportunities to work on
special processes and projects that require use of proficiency.

Some key points on Mentoring

Mentoring focus on attitude development

Conducted for management-level employees

Mentoring is done by someone inside the company
It is one-to-one interaction
It helps in identifying weaknesses and focus on the area that needs improvement

Job Rotation

Rotation involves a series of assignments to different positions or departments for a specified

period. At the end of the cycle the accumulated evaluations will be used to determine the
preparedness of the trainee and if & where the person will be permanently assigned. For the
executive, job rotation takes on different perspectives. The executive is usually not simply going
to another department. In some vertically integrated organizations, for example, where the
supplier is actually part of same organization or subsidiary, job rotation might be to the supplier
to see how the business operates from the supplier point of view. Learning how the organization
is perceived from the outside broadens the executives outlook on the process of the
organization. The rotation might be to a foreign office to provide a global perspective. This
approach allows the manger to operate in diverse roles and understand the different issues that
crop up. If someone is to be a corporate leader, they must have this type of training. A recent
study indicated that the single most significant factor that leads to leaders achievement was the
variety of experiences in different departments, business units, cities, and countries.

An organized and helpful way to develop talent for the management or executive level of the
organization is job rotation. It is the process of preparing employees at a lower level to replace
someone at the next higher level. It is generally done for the designations that are crucial for the
effective and efficient functioning of the organization.

Benefits of Job Rotation

Some of the major benefits of job rotation are:

It provides the employees with opportunities to broaden the horizon of knowledge, skills, and
abilities by working in different departments, business units, functions, and countries.
Identification of Knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) required.
It determines the areas where improvement is required.

Assessment of the employees who have the potential and caliber for filling the position.

For the managers being developed into executive roles, rotation to different functions in the
company is regular carried out.

Train on different tasks/positions

Often used to train entry-level managers

Also used to provide back-up in production positions

Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is a career exploration activity that offers an opportunity to spend time with a
professional currently working in a persons career field of interest. Job shadowing offers a
chance to see what its actually like working in a specific job.

The new hire may spend one to five days following the routine of the employee, learning
general job responsibilities, observing how the tasks are carried out, and getting some insight
into methods that allow for efficient handling of the job.

Job shadowing is actually one of the most common of all training techniques for new employees.
Essentially, job shadowing involves spending a period of time with a seasoned expert, observing
everything that he or she does that is related to the work that is expected to be accomplished as
part of the daily routine of the job. Involving one new employee to act as the observer, and one
person to function as the demonstrator, this allows the new hire a chance to get a handle of
what is involved in performing the tasks associated with the work.

Job shadowing can commence at one of two points in the job training process. One of the most
common is to assign the new hire to an established employee on the first day. The new hire may
spend one to five days following the routine of the employee, learning general job
responsibilities, observing how the tasks are carried out, and getting some insight into methods
that allow for efficient handling of the job.

Another option is to implement the job shadowing after a period of orientation in a classroom
setting has taken place. With this application, the job shadowing allows the new hire to already
have some background into the workings of the company, with the observation that is picked up
during job shadowing building on that foundation of orientation. The combination of structured
educational classes with the job observation of an employee with extensive work experience
works very well in a number of settings.

The concept of job shadowing has many advantages. First, the new hire may often feel
intimidated about performing tasks for the first time. By allowing the new person to job shadow
a long time employee for a day or two, this can often build up the confidence of the new
employee. Along with this advantage, job shadowing allows the new hire to see procedures and
methods in actual situations. This can help to bring to life some of the scenarios that were
outlined in the training materials, making them much more real to the new hire than they were in
the safe environment of the classroom.

A third benefit of job shadowing is that the new hire often has a chance to begin building rapport
with other employees, which can help to integrate him or her into the job team more quickly.
Acceptance into the group can often help the new employee relax and focus on learning the best
ways to get things done, rather than being apprehensive about fitting into the corporate culture.

Self Learning

In self-directed learning (SDL), the individual takes the initiative and the responsibility for
what occurs. Individuals select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, which can be
pursued at any time, in any place, through any means, at any age. In schools, teachers can work
toward SDL a stage at a time. Teaching emphasizes SDL skills, processes, and systems rather
than content coverage and tests. For the individual, SDL involves initiating personal challenge
activities and developing the personal qualities to pursue them successfully.


Temping means working in short employment stints with a variety of clients, usually through
a temping agency or staffing firm. Although temporary, the worker bases his/her working life
around this kind of work as it offers increased flexibility and variety. It is a tri-party agreement,
between the client company, the third party vendor and the employee (also known as associate or

The temp workers work in the facility of the client companies, but receive salary and benefits
from the temp agencies.

Indian companies are home to many unique projects and solutions. Many of these require people
with specific skill sets to deliver them. Hence, organizations are often faced with the requirement
of knowledge workers to facilitate the delivery of such projects. This has led to the growth of
what is called short-term project-based hiring or temping.

While large global organizations follow this recruitment mechanism, in India it is gradually
gaining popularity. Small and medium sized organizations specifically from the Indian
Information Technology (IT) industry are employing temp workers. These organizations are
opting for temping for many reasons some of which are:

Temps or contract workers are on the payrolls of a third-party staffing organization and
as such organizations do not need to worry about employment, recruitment and even

They save on the cost of training as the staffing form typically sends in batches of
knowledge workers according to the project.

They can drastically cut down non-productive staff costs especially when they do not
have the visibility of a similar project in future.

They can reduce the number of staff on bench and hence save on salaries.

They can pay relatively more to contract workers and get work done rather than
recruiting them for long-term and paying perks and retirement benefits besides huge

Learning by Doing

New forms of learning by doing seem to be emerging. Technology could play a role in finding
innovative ways to enable skills development and greater understanding of personal actions,
reactions and decisions.

Advantages of multi-skilling

1. Flexibility
Workers who are able to perform a large number of tasks can fill in for other workers,
increasing workforce flexibility.

2. Communication
Knowledge of various tasks can increase the understanding of other tasks and improve

3. Positive effects on innovation

The processes of improving design concepts are easier because of the individuals multi

4. Employment security

A multi-skilled workforce is not as threatened if skills become obsolete because of new


5. Project efficiency

Through increased level of multi-skilling, work can be re-organized so that it can be

performed most efficiently. Multi-skilled workers carry projects through, sometimes all the
way from start to finish often taking project ownership.

6. Competitive market

Cost saving are passed onto the customer, through the decrease of labor cost due to reduction
of turnaround time and number of workers involved.

7. Management effectiveness

Multi-skilling is most valuable in the areas of management. Here it effects the reduction of
product completion time (e.g. reduced subsequent production line delays), the decrease of
project planning time (e.g. only one employee has to learn the details of the project), and the
cutback of administration costs (e.g. faster completion of pay claims and materials billing).

Barriers to Multi-skilling

Demotivates intelligent and aggressive employees who seek specific responsibility.

Eventually creates a number of employees with limited job knowledge.
Encourages generalization, more appropriate for developing line managers than functional
Sometimes, there is an undercurrent of frustration.
New jobs, environment and learning can unnerve employees.
Employees fear not living up to expectations.
Employees are uncomfortable with the changes and cannot deal with the conflict of the role
and their personality.


Work Specialization
It refers to the degree to which tasks in the organization are subdivided into separate jobs. In
work specialization, following are the characteristics:

The entire job is broken down into steps, each step completed by a separate individual.
Individual workers specialize in doing part of an activity.
Involves repetitive performance of a few skills.
Can be viewed as a means to make the most efficient use of employee's skills.
Some task requires highly developed skills.
Others can be performed by the untrained.

Division of Labor

Makes efficient use of employees skills.

Increases employee's skills through repetition.
Less between-job downtime increases productivity.
Specialized training is more efficient.
Allows the use of specialized equipment.

By the late 1940s most manufacturing jobs in industrialized countries were being done with
high work specialization. Management saw this as a means to make the most efficient use of its
employees skills.

For much of the first half of this century, managers viewed work specialization as an unending
source of increased productivity. But, by the 1960s there was increasing evidence that a good
thing has been carried too far. The point had been reached in some jobs where the human
diseconomies from specialization which surfaced as boredom, fatigue, stress, low productivity,
poor quality, increased absenteeism and high turnover more than offset the economic

Work specialization as a theory is in direct contrast to that of multi-skilling. A comparative study

of the two is as follows:


Makes employee stretch to the limits Jobs can become too simplified

Needs constant support and thorough Employees become bored and tired,
guidance throughout the process of safety problems and accident rates
acquiring multiple skills increases
Being a developmental process makes it Absenteeism rises
Very Sensitive issue, it is imperative to Quality of work may suffer
find right person for right job in right
Small businesses by necessity have Industries employ specialized workers
multi-skilled people

The parameters for comparison between Multi-skilling and Work Specialization

There are many parameters for such comparison, some of them being:

1. Quality

The ability of staff to produce high-quality products and services can be affected by job design.
This includes avoiding errors in the short term, but also includes designing jobs which encourage
staff to improve the job itself in such a way as to make errors less likely.

2. Speed

Sometimes speed of response is the dominant objective to be achieved in job design. For
example, the way in which the jobs of emergency service personnel are organized (the range of
tasks for which they are trained, the sequence of activities in their approved procedures, the
autonomy which they have to decide on appropriate action, and so on) will go a long way to
determine their ability to respond promptly to emergencies and perhaps save lives.

3. Dependability

Dependable supply of goods and services is usually influenced, in some way, by job design. For
example, in the postal services working arrangements, multi-skilling, accurate use of sorting
equipment through good staff-machine interface design, and the design of postal staffs
clothing, can all aid dependable delivery of letters and parcels.

4. Flexibility

Job design can affect the ability of the operation to change the nature of its activities. New
product or service flexibility, mix flexibility, volume flexibility and delivery flexibility are all
dependent to some extent on job design. (See Chapter 2 for a full description of these different
types of flexibility). For example, staffs who have been trained in several tasks (multi-skilling)
may find it easier to cope with a wide variety of models and new product or service

5. Cost

All the elements of job design described above will have an effect on the productivity, and
therefore the cost, of the job. Productivity in this context means the ratio of output to labor input:
for example, the number of customers served per hour or the number of products made per

In addition, job design will influence two other particularly important objectives.

6. Health and safety

Whatever else a job design achieves, it must not endanger the well-being of the person who does
the job, other staff of the operation, the customers who might be present in the operation, or
those who use any products made by the operation.

7. Quality of working life

The design of any job should take into account its effect on job security, intrinsic interest, variety
in it, opportunities for development, stress level and attitude of the person performing the job.


Quality High High
Speed High Moderate
Dependability High Moderate
Flexibility High Low
Cost High Low
Health and safety High Low
Quality of working life Low Moderate



The concept of Indradhanush challenges the theory of one person - one role. The aim of this
development model is to train people and make them green in multiple competencies. The
model includes a carefully crafted Multi-skill index to measure progress.

As explained by Dr. Tanaya Mishra, Chief People Officer, ACC Concrete, the model
encompasses 3 phases:

1. Plotting a multi-skilled profile for each of the plant personnel.

2. Developmental initiatives through OTJ training.

3. Assessments and remapping.

The company prepared a current status skill matrix for each plant based on inputs from three
different sources:-
a) extracts of the internal dialogue process
b) review ratings from immediate supervisors and reviewers
c) results of 15 different subject assessment papers conducted for each employee

This helped the company maintain objectivity in the overall model.

Each color code had an interpretation:

Red: Not capable of handling the job role even with support.

Yellow: Capable of handling the function under supervision and support.

Green: Capable of handling the function independently.

Each color box was then assigned a score. Once complete, the whole matrix
was converted into a commonly understood index.

The programme began with 2.26 index points out of 5. Within the first 6 months, the
index moved up by 22 percent.

By the end of 2010, the target was to achieve an index of 3.5. Efforts were made using
well structured on-the-job training through coaches who are not only experts in the
core subject but also specially trained in coaching skills.

The process is now well established and has brought tremendous benefits to
the organization, in terms of helping it maintain its lean and agile structure, which in turn
boosts competitiveness.

The whole process has also answered issues related to role enhancement, increase in operational
efficiency, optimization of manpower, better shift management and leave plans, career
development, filling recruitment gaps and succession planning.



Peace River Pulp, a Japanese-owned unit, located in the northwest of Edmonton, Alberta,
Canada, is a nonunionized mill that was constructed in 1989 as a green-field plant. The plant
started operations in July 1990 and began to produce hardwood pulp, an aspen-derived product,
and softwood pulp, a spruce- and pine-derived product. Mill production has subsequently
improved to the point where output is 20 percent higher than was originally planned.

Typically, one quarter (1/4) of the total production is softwood pulp and three quarter (3/4) is
hardwood pulp for sale to the world market. Hardwood pulp, blended with or without softwood
pulps makes an excellent printing and writing grade of paper, providing bulk and a good printing


There are approximately 342 permanently employed plant workers, 100 contractually employed
workers, and 250 seasonally employed forestry workers. Sixty percent of the permanently
employed workers have had no previous experience with traditional management systems in the
pulping industry, while 30 percent came directly from academic institutions and had little or no
work experience.

Cross-functional teams called Home Station Groups (HSGs) have been established, which
depend on a participative style of management. Each of the fifteen HSGs is responsible for a
specific aspect of the manufacturing process, and is composed of approximately twelve
technicians, together representing people from all process-related departments in the mill. The
HSGs are distributed throughout the six organizational departments of the facility. These are:

Woodlands, which is responsible for harvesting, log hauling, log storage, and chipping
consisting of 12 forestry personnel. Forestry personnel typically specialize in a specific
aspect of their profession, such as silviculture or chip procurement, and are rotated into a
different position every two to four years.

Operations, which is responsible for monitoring and operating the pulp manufacturing
process. Employees progress through 7-tiered technical progression system, each tier
having separate standardized kill set, which cannot be bypassed.

Technical, that is responsible for process engineering, quality control, and operation of
the environmental and central lab.

Mechanical Maintenance, which is responsible for numerous maintenance tasks, such as

repairing machinery, welding, and pipefitting. Like the operations department, the
maintenance department relies on a technical progression system in which employees
advance through seven tiers of training, after which they are eligible to apply for one of
the departmental lead positions.

Electrical Services and Instrumentation, which is responsible for instrumentation and

process-control maintenance. Every electrician is also expected to train in
instrumentation, and vice versa. Because individuals trained in both professions can find
job opportunities in other industries, such as oil and gas, this cross-training practice has
helped protect the company from higher turnover.

Engineering, that is responsible for project design and implementation.

Why the need for Multi-skilling at Peace River Pulp Mill?

DMIs Flexibility in terms of production: Organizational flexibility takes one of two forms:

Uniformity flexibility

Product-range flexibility

Product-range flexibility refers to a plants ability to switch smoothly from an old product
to a novel product; an example would be an automobile assembly factory where a different
car is produced each year. A company requiring this kind of flexibility should focus on
educating its workers with general trouble-shooting skills that are not specific to a particular

Uniformity flexibility refers to a plants ability to smoothly switch back and forth between
different products; an example would be a pulp mill, where production constantly switches
from hard wood pulp, an aspen derived product, to soft wood pulp, a spruce- and pine-
derived product. These plants should focus on educating their employees with skills specific
to the manufacturing process, for they will be of the most benefit. Peace River Mill hence
requires elaborate skill-set in its workforce.

Issues in Multi-skilling

1. How many skills to be absorbed by each?

There is a Law of diminishing returns to increased no. of skills through cross-training.

Park(1991) found that the most significant improvement in flexibility occurred when employees
were trained in two sets of skills instead of just one.

Eg. Training in the skills required for pipefitting and welding, rather than just pipefitting alone.

2. How to improve flexibility?

Skill Chaining is the best technique which requires each worker to train in a unique
combination of skills (Brusco and Johns 1998) such that they are the most productive.

Eg. A pipe-fitter is required in the maintenance department of a pulp mill. Worker can be trained
in both pipe-fitting and welding.

Asymmetric training program is much more conducive to chaining than a symmetric training
program. However, if a training program produces worker skill sets that are too diverse, it may
turn out that too few employees are trained in the high-workload jobs of the organization.

3. Workers should be Generalists or Specialists?

The more extensive the cross-training program, the more difficult it is for employees to
specialize in specific skill sets (Stanislaw et al. 1994). This problem can be avoided by
separating highly specialized jobs from the cross-training program.

Another solution is to have each worker completely specialize in one skill and master at least 50
percent of another skill set - Brusco and Johns (1998). They found that when employees are
cross-trained in this way, about 87 percent of the cost savings available from completely
mastering the second skill set were attained, on average.

4. How to deal with Employee Resistance?

Cross-training for multi-skilling will tend to reduce the thats not my job mentality in the work
force (Klein 1998).

Some employees may feel that training, work, and responsibility now required are not worth the
increase in pay being offered. They choose to stay in the positions they had occupied before the
implementation of the initiative. However, as the cross-training becomes more entrenched in the
organizational culture, the number of employees who refuse to participate begins to decrease.


Multi-skilling ensures that workers are idle only when there are no jobs to complete, not
when there are no jobs that a particular worker can complete. It therefore allows companies
like Peace River Pulp to use a minimum-staffed strategyto use only the minimum
number of employees necessary to maintain production.

Multi-skilling is particularly suited to the cost-reduction strategy of Peace River Pulp because
it operates a continuous production system, within which it is very difficult to divide jobs
into individual units. The more knowledgeable workers are about the whole process, the
more proficient they become.

Cross-trained employees are less likely to resist technological innovation, since it is less
likely to be perceived as a threat to their job security if they are used to moving from one
skill to another.

The more extensive the multi-skilling, the more difficult it is for employees to specialize in
specific skill sets. Companies must therefore find a balance between special skills and a
general understanding. One solution is to separate highly specialized jobs from the cross-
training program.

Multi-skilling is particularly important in the pulping industry because of computerized

control systems that require operators to have a well-founded comprehension of the entire
pulping process. Cross-training allows employees to develop the intellectual mastery that has
become a key performance factor.

Skill-based pay is the most appropriate system for rewarding multi-skilled workers, but three
problems may arise:

It sometimes results in very high wage levels;

Employees may concentrate too much on acquiring new skills, rather than on
completing their assigned jobs; and

It is difficult to find new challenges for employees who have mastered all the
designated skills.

Only the last problem has arisen at Peace River Pulp, which finds it difficult to maintain a
low turnover rate among its more experienced employees.


Human Resource Development, Jon M. Werner & Randy L. Desimone, Pg. 151-
201,Eighth Edition, Cengage Learning India Pvt. Ltd.
(Retrieved February,2012)
(Retrieved February,2012)
(Retrieved February,2012)