It is very important that the staff of
automotive supply companies are trained in some of the latest technologies and personal
skills. This is rarely done because of the difficulty of carrying out training away from
the workplace. Employers are reluctant to grant staff time for training unless absolutely
essential and it is often very difficult for staff to find the right sort of training to
be carried out in their own time.

There is now a way around this problem in
which training can be carried out using the Internet. The material for such training
courses can be derived from courses which have already been developed by the major vehicle
manufacturers and Tier one suppliers for their own staff. Such training programmes in
topics like QS9000 have been taught on a regular basis in a conventional way and are now
being developed for internal training using the Company’s own internal computer
network known as the Intranet. Companies from outside do not have access to this material
and yet it is just as important for a tier two or three supplier to understand the
implications of QS9000 as it is for the vehicle manufacturer or his first line supplier.
If this material could be made available to the smaller supplier then it would be of
benefit to the whole automotive supply chain.

This was realised in Europe about three
years ago and a project was started, centered on the University of Birmingham, called
Autotrain. It was supported by the European Community, and a network of vehicle
manufacturers and tier one suppliers were brought together to look into the possibilities
of using existing training material on the Internet. The companies involved at this stage
included Rover, Volvo, Ford, Lucas, Magneti Marelli, PSA and others. The starting point
for the material was the courses already developed for external use on video disc or CD.
The first course to be developed was on Statistical Process Control based on a Rover
course developed in conjunction with Skill Change. This is a 30-hour training course which
goes into Statistical Process Control in considerable depth. Development and testing of
this course took about 2 years.

In the meantime, another European Community
programme called Adapt was set up for helping to fund skill improvement in development
areas. Funding was obtained from Adapt for stage 2 of the project which is now called
Autonet. A number of courses have been developed including "Meeting ISO140001 –
The Environmental Standard" and also "How To Use The Internet". Further
courses under development include "Meeting QS9000" and "The Use of Failure
Mode Effects Analysis". So far over 100 workers, mainly from the West Midlands of
England have participated in the training.

Training using the Internet is often more
fun for the students than being in a classroom. He can do it at work or at home and do it
entirely at his own pace. Because all the material is written and on a screen there is no
necessity to take notes yet at the same time the students understanding is tested by
questionnaires. These can be instantaneously assessed by the computer-based programme and
the student told which questions he has answered correctly and which not. He can then go
back in his own time and sort out any problems. The courses are also developed to be very
low on verbiage and very much to the point. Students soon lose interest if they have to
plough their way through long-worded descriptions and repetitive information.

The next stage of development is to create
a virtual classroom. In this the student logs on for a course using the Internet. His
choice of course is recorded and he starts work and all his assessments are automatically
recorded. The student can send messages and questions to a virtual classroom, which will
be answered by a resident tutor. All students will be able to see questions and answers
when they are of general interest on a "whiteboard" and this helps in a feeling
of participation.

In the USA Internet based learning for the
Automotive Industry is also about to take off. The Michigan Virtual Automotive College has
been set up at Ann Arbour, though so far the institute is generally using distance
learning techniques rather than the Internet for courses, but that will rapidly change.

If you want to try out Internet-based
training yourself, then all you have to do is log on to our website http://www.autotrain.org. We suggest
that you try out the course "Using the Internet" first and then proceed to
"Statistical Process Control". We hope you find it of interest and also a
glimpse of the future.

By Dr Cedric Ashley
(Director, Autonet Project, University of Birmingham, England)