Focus on the Workforce: Building a Better Future: A Culture of Training and Education
By Kevin LaComb
President, Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co.
Web site: www.fitzpatrickmfgco.com
Fitzpatrick Manufacturing Company, a 60-year-old CNC job shop in Michigan, has witnessed and contributed to manufacturing’s on-going technical evolution. As technology increases, the skills and knowledge required to use it increases, and the company has embraced the changing times with advanced technology and highly trained employees.
Training and education (T&E) are important parts of Fitzpatrick’s continual growth plan, and the training and education of our employees are key strategic initiatives. In today’s globally competitive market, this expertise cannot be underestimated and can be directly linked to a company’s success. As technology evolves and the speed in which new techniques become available increases, it is critical to the success of the company to stay on top of these technologies. In today’s manufacturing environment, the machines are faster and more capable than ever, and in order to maximize the ROI, it is crucial to continually educate our employees on the latest advances in manufacturing.
As key tenets to our corporate culture, T&E were vital design factors in the development of our facility in 2001, including the construction of an on-site classroom. We also have a system in place for all our employees, from new hires to the most senior employees, providing them with training and educational programs that increase their skill set, driving Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co.’s competitive advantage.
In the early days of our T&E program, we taught classes that were not the most suited or beneficial to our manufacturing needs. While all education is worthwhile, a disconnect between our classroom activities and the shop floor became apparent to management and was addressed.
After looking into the situation in more detail, we appointed Ralph Bowers, one of our quality control (QC) technicians, to become our T&E coordinator. At the time, Bowers was taking classes at a local community college in the metrology program and was able to assess the situation with a fresh perspective from an education background. One of his first assignments was to provide a gap analysis of the employees’ technical needs. The T&E program was refined from that information and is routinely refined based on company and employee needs.
Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co. is very active in hiring co-ops from several local high schools. As the exposure of trade and industry classes has dwindled at local high schools due to budget constraints, Bowers quickly discovered that our T&E program needed to be revised starting at the beginning to cover content no longer obtained at school. "Since most of our new employees have very little or no experience, we start from the ground up. Teaching new employees the basics, such as how to articulate the numbers and distinguish the dimensions, helps communication with supervisors and quickly builds confidence and understanding," says Bowers. The T&E program is now more solution-based and derived directly from real-life problems in the shop as compared with our programs of yesteryear, with more academic style subjects.
All classes are held during regular work hours, and our employees are paid while attending class. We average six to eight classes and 700 hours of training taught over nine months throughout the year. In addition, our employees receive several hundred hours per year of on-the-job training on the shop floor.
Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co. has developed a standard training and education matrix for every employee based on several variables, including time with the company and the rate of advancement due to high potential. Our comprehensive and continuous training program includes classroom training, field trips to suppliers, and extensive on-the-job-training.
The T&E program starts with each new hire, with a simple but comprehensive review of the employee handbook on his or her first day. Formal internal classroom training begins within the first two weeks of employment with an in-depth orientation class. These classes are a new employee’s first introduction to our T&E program and our company’s culture.
As the employee’s experience increases, classes pertaining to our shop floor are taught, with classes ranging from checking instruments to interpretation and recognition of shop floor documents and how they are used. Additional classes include controlling the quality of a job including QC checks, frequency, processing and standard shop routers, and basic engineering drawing interpretation.
As the employee continues employment at Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co., he or she is selected for more classes such as basic checking of instruments, intermediate machine operation and safety, threading, blueprint reading, and work cell procedures. Subsequently, courses are offered in interpretation of engineering drawings, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), advanced checking instruments, and advanced programming techniques. Each class is taught with an interactive approach through presentations, real life samples, and demonstrations on the shop floor. As Bowers says, "We like to keep the classes hands-on. Staying away from the older textbook methods keeps the classes more interesting. Not everyone responds well to taking a test, but they have no problem demonstrating that they can set up and handle the gages."
Suppliers are included in the T&E process with an invitation to teach seminar-style classes at our facility. This is a triple win approach for Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co., our suppliers and our employees. For example, we held a seminar on thermal processing with one of our trusted heat treaters. This seminar allowed our employees to become more versed on the process and science of heat treating material. Many aspects of heat treating were explained in depth, allowing for detailed discussions of processes such as FNC, carburize and hardening, stress relieving versus annealing, as well as nitriding. This also provided our heat treater with a feedback loop and suggestions for how to optimize the heat treat process to minimize warp or distortion for post-secondary finishing operations. As a result, we were able to fully perfect the procedure, both at our facility as well as the supplier’s.
The majority of Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co.’s classes are taught internally by in-house subject matter experts, but an external source is called upon when a need is found. For example, we have used outside service providers to teach classes on- or off-site as a deficiency is found that deviates from our standard training matrix. These accredited service providers have taught classes to our employees who may need to expand skills with Microsoft products and CAD/CAM software packages.
This same process is applied to our quality assurance (QA) staff, as this is another area that is actively reviewed and does not fit into a standard T&E plan or matrix. Our QA staff is sent regularly to classes about quality subjects and continuous education units for our various quality systems. Additionally, as software is updated for inspection equipment such as our CMM, the software becomes more advanced. Our ability to utilize the software to the fullest extent is a competitive advantage that once again fits into our strategic plan, and therefore we send our QA technicians out for training. We have also utilized outside sources for ISO/AS training.
Another aspect of training is acknowledging that at times our employees may learn more effectively from an outside expert. Some content requires the subject matter to be explained several different ways so the student can fully grasp the concept. For these courses, an experienced professor can be more effective than our internal instructors. As a result we have developed a relationship with a local community college, which constructs curriculum based upon our needs in just a few weeks and is taught in our company classroom. This provides laser focus on more technical areas that are valuable to the company such as GD&T. It also eliminates employee travel and minimizes time away from the shop floor.
One recent innovation of Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co.’s T&E program is a partnership with Oakland University’s Pawley Lean Institute. For the past five semesters, we have invited an undergraduate student team into our facility to research a process problem. This program is highly beneficial to both our company as well as the students, with both sides learning a great deal from each other. This partnership is a win-win situation for the students, who are given the opportunity to see real life examples of classroom subject matter, as well as develop their academic theories on our shop floor.
We also provide field trips to suppliers. Recent trips have included visits to a carbide cutter manufacturer, a local cold-finish steel bar producer, and various coating sources and platers. The field trip concept is quite dynamic, as employees are exposed to different shops, work environments, and processes first-hand. The hands-on nature of these visits engages our employees in a manner that could not be duplicated in-house, resulting in a more in-depth experience.
It is the goal of Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co. to ensure that all our employees receive valuable training, allowing them to develop skills that not only benefit the company, but also allow for personal growth. The company has a tuition reimbursement policy for any classes directly related to our business, as well as business programs towards a degree. Other employees choose to take classes periodically without working towards a degree in order to stay current; to this end, our T&E coordinator reviews the class offerings at a local community college, developing a list of classes that directly enhance the skill set needed for our company. This is a great resource for an employee who wishes to take a class as his or her schedule permits without any degree obligations.
The result of this extensive training is a disciplined and empowered workforce that is trained in subjects that make a difference on our shop floor. While the benefits are difficult to quantitatively assess, we believe quality, morale, delivery performance and a competitive drive to always improve add to the bottom line of Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co. each and every year. ME
This article was first published in the June 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.