Training within Industry – TWI – Oldies but Goldies

We Can Do It!Training within Industry – or TWI for short – was a US program during World War II. It significantly improved industrial production and helped the Allies to win the war. While the ideas date to the 1940s, they are still very relevant. In my view, they are pure gold if you have to manage a shop floor. It is to me the best overarching system for training and managing workers, and it significantly influenced Toyota.

While technology has changed a lot since 1945, people have not. The methods of TWI still work, and can really help you to improve. Even better, the original US government documents from 1945 are all in public domain. Let me introduce you to TWI. This is the first in a series of five posts on TWI.


TWI has it origins (very loosely) in World War I, when Charles R. Allen developed his four-point method of Preparation, Presentation, Application, and Testing to train shipyard workers. He published it in his book “The Instructor, the Man and the Job; a Hand Book for Instructors of Industrial and Vocational Subjects” (1919).

In preparation for joining the World War II, the US established the TWI Services as part of the War Manpower Commission in the summer of 1940. The problem was that the US needed to rapidly increase its industrial output. After all, it was the primary supplier of equipment to the allied forces Great Britain, France, and even the Soviet Union.  At the same time, the industrial manpower was abroad fighting the war. Initially, the TWI Services was planned only for a short time, and the manpower was mostly borrowed from industry for a symbolic $1 per year (the “Dollar a Year” men).

Women stepped up to provide the labor, but they had no experience in industrial work like welding, milling, and drilling. Hence, TWI developed the main four modules based on Allen:

  • JI: Job Instructions: Teach supervisors and experienced workers on how to train new workers.
  • JR: Job Relations: Teach supervisors on how to deal with workers and possible conflicts, using facts, with the goal to find the best solution for everyone involved.
  • JM: Job Methods: Teach how how workers can improve their work.
  • Program Development: Overarching course on how to spot, analyze, and improve production problems.

There are a few more modules in existence, mostly developed after the war by successor institutions of TWI. These are Union Job Relations; JS: Job Safety; PS: Problem Solving; DL: Discussion Leading; and Job Economic Training. Out of these, Job Safety is the most successful one.

In any case, these four main modules of TWI were a smashing success, with over 1.7 million people trained. TWI was an crucial tool in stepping up industrial output for the war.

However, after the war ended, most of the men came back, took their old jobs, and the women went back to their kitchens. The TWI Services was shut down by the US government on September 28, 1945. With this, the TWI effort became much smaller. From the 16,551 plants that had people trained, a few hundred pledged money to keep the program alive. TWI conferences were held until 1952 (and since restarted again). The key people of TWI founded the TWI Foundation and the TWI Inc, but without the government backing it had much less influence in the US. They were, however, more successful abroad, especially in Japan. TWI significantly influenced Toyota, and old TWI manuals popped up as training materials at Toyota when they established their NUMMI joint venture with GM in the US.

The graph below shows the mentioning of TWI in books during the last century. The war peak between 1940 and 1945 is clearly visible, after that there is a gradual decline to the present.

Out of the programs, Job Instructions was the most popular one with around 1 million people certified. Job Relations came second with 490,000 certifications, followed by Job Methods with 244,000. Union Job Relations had only 8,800, and Program Development only 1,800.

Why TWI?

Here’s your new welder…

Nowadays, TWI is often known in industry, but lacks … well … sex appeal. Management’s focus usually goes to more glitzy and modern (looking) programs.

But this misses out on a great program. TWI managed to boil its methods down to a few key points for each of the modules, which they printed on small cards the size of a playing card. Hence, it is not a complicated method, but rather straightforward.

TWI considers five important skills that every supervisor should have, or what they call the five needs of a supervisor. These are all improved by using them in practice, but a theoretical training can give a head start. These five skills are also usually the starting point for each of the different modules.

  1. Knowledge of the Work: This may relate to machines, tools, materials, operations, processes, or technical skills.
  2. Knowledge of Responsibilities: This may be policies, regulations, interdepartmental relationships, agreements, rules, schedules, and – very important – safety rules.
  3. Skill in Improving Methods: To utilize machines, manpower, and material more effectively. Nowadays we would say to reduce waste (muda).
  4. Skill in Instructing: To have a well-trained and effective workforce.
  5. Skill in Leading: Improve your ability to work with people to get the most out of the people you have.

Three of the modules directly address one skill each. Job Methods is about improving methods. Job Instructions is about instructing. And Job Relations is all about leadership. TWI assumes that the knowledge of work and responsibilities is taught by the workplace, as it is difficult to generalize these topics.

Some Limitations

The TWI approach is very good at what it does, but its focus is on teaching and leading the worker as well as helping him to improve his job. It is not so much focused on the bigger picture of management. But if you use it for what it is intended to do, it works well.

The Job Instructions program is in my view still very good and very useful for training most working tasks. The Job Relations is also pretty solid and good material, although it has potential to include more improvement into the daily leadership tasks. Job Methods has, in my view, the most shortcomings, as it involves the workers very little, both for idea generation and implementation. It could also use some touch-ups to embed the improvements as part of the bigger picture of the plant goals. The original TWI people actually wanted to do this, but management decided that it was good enough. This is also the program that got the most updates after 1945.

In the next few posts I will go through the main modules in more detail. I try to summarize these modules, but most of the text comes directly from the original documents of the War Manpower Commission. Again, these documents are still extremely useful for managing (on) a shop floor. Stay tuned, and go out and organize your industry!

P.S.: Many thanks to TWI Guru Mark Warren for checking the text.

2 thoughts on “Training within Industry – TWI – Oldies but Goldies

  1. Looking forward to reading this series. Interesting that after the war TWI was adopted by the Japanese (w/ a nudge from American occupation officials) but completely disappeared from US industry. I’d surmise this had more to a backlash among American businessmen against the govt’s wartime controls than for any rational economic reason.

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