Viewpoints: Ensure the Vision of Manufacturing Is True
For decades now, many of us have been concerned about the declining number of skilled machinists. Within the last several years, though, effective efforts have been made toward correcting that trend. Today's students are starting to get the message that 21st-century shops are sophisticated, challenging, and lucrative places to have a rewarding career. Now it's up to us to make sure that those claims remain true to attract and keep the level of talent we need in our companies.
It is encouraging to read about the recent activity aimed at getting kids interested in manufacturing careers. Several machine tool builders with bases in the US are establishing their own training centers and partnering with nearby technical high schools and college engineering programs to provide practical, real-world experience using the latest advanced manufacturing technology. Haas, GF Agie Charmilles, Mori Seiki, Okuma, Mazak, and others are investing heavily in the future of US manufacturing, and are likely securing potential employees and customers as well. Smart. Certain distributors, too, are getting greater use out of their showrooms by offering training courses in their local communities. It's inspiring to me to read of the initiatives by these companies, as well as training-based organizations, such as NIMS (National Institute for Metalworking Skills) that are promoting the benefits of manufacturing careers in innovative ways and are getting quantifiable results.
As for our company, we run and support several contests each year to help excite students about the possibilities of manufacturing. Perhaps the most high profile of these is the Innovator of the Year Contest, which features a celebrity judge to help make the manufacturing education experience interesting, competitive, and fun.
While teaching the benefits of a manufacturing career to adolescents is crucial, there are many adults who can be productive in the field fairly soon after several months of training in shop skills and math. Let's consider targeting adults, perhaps currently unemployed or working in low-paying service jobs, with higher aspirations for themselves. Job shops and OEMs might consider running ads in their local newspapers, such as "looking to hire people with zero experience." Companies might pay minimum wage during the training period, with a fair raise once the training is completed. You might refine this concept to meet your needs and those of local communities.
I applaud all of the manufacturers, educators, and industry associations that are sending out the following messages to help change the perception of manufacturing—that manufacturing facilities are clean; they are no longer the grimy, gritty places where Grandpa worked. They are sophisticated environments with computerized machinery that require critical thinking skills. And, further, that manufacturing jobs pay well. Because of this promotional effort, it's imperative that each of us ensures that these messages conveying the new vision of manufacturing are true. From a marketing standpoint, there is nothing that promotes failure faster than false advertising. Are these messages upheld in your workplace? Here's a quick test: Suspend belief for a moment and pretend you know nothing about your company or manufacturing in general. Using your eyes, ears, and nose, scan your shop, factory or department. What do you see, hear, and smell? What are your senses telling you about manufacturing? What would someone who might be curious about a career in it think?
I trust you will get immediate feedback.
Note the positives and negatives and create an action plan to turn those negatives around. Some projects may literally take three years to do. Break them down into steps, and when the 2011 high school class comes for a tour, they will be complete. A bright person in that class just might remember what a cool place that was, apply for a job, and maybe even run the company for you one day. All because you made sure the floor got painted, or invested in new machining or software technology, or gave your machine operators a pay scale equal to the white collars. Those are the messages that are out there, and they are being pushed more aggressively than ever thanks to many companies, institutions, and organizations that are investing time and money trying to attract people to our field.
Let's join them. This is a grass-roots effort. Do what you can in your own communities. At the very least, please do whatever it takes to ensure that what is being promoted is a reality in your workplace.
This article was first published in the June 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.