Teaching Young People the Craftsmanship of Machining is Alfred Lyon’s Passion
Alfred Lyon, cutting tool supervisor at Lincoln, Calif.-based AB Tools Inc., took a vocational machining course while in high school and turned it into a long-term, lucrative career.
“The instructor at the vocational school had a side business,” Lyon said. “The summer I graduated from high school he called me and said, ‘Hey, I buy tools from this little shop called AB Tools and they need somebody to work the lathe if you're interested.’ I agreed, and I’m still here after 31 years.”
Lyon believes the lack of vocational schools and vocational training, along with the unrelenting mantra of society urging young people to go to college, has left the manufacturing industry with a tremendous skills gap.
“Our field is definitely a career-based field,” Lyon said. “Most companies in this industry have benefit plans, profit sharing, 401(k)s and health plans. This field, if done right, for the right people can be every bit as lucrative as an office job—or better, as you have little to no student debt to pay off.”
He dispels the notion that manufacturing is dirty, dangerous and boring. “Manufacturing today is very technology-based,” he explained. “Most shops are 90% to 95% equipped with computer-based machines. Program the computer, set up the machine and let it run. It's very exciting for people who have a creative mind, a craft-centric mind. They can see how something starts as raw material and comes out as a finished product. It's an amazing thing.”
It’s also a field where your brain is engaged, not just your body. Even though machines may be doing the work, a human is still required to program the computers, monitor processes, troubleshoot and make adjustments where needed. The work is far from monotonous as people move from one area to the next, learning new marketable skills along the way.
“There's a recognition. When you can see they get something. You can see it in their eyes, the excitement. I live for that.”
AB Tools is a specialized round cutting tool manufacturer for the machining industry. The company hires many local high-school graduates as it prefers to provide on-the-job training from the ground up instead of trying to get experienced workers to conform to company standards.
Lyon likes working with young people and teaching them his craft. “There's a recognition,” he said. “When you can see they get something. You can see it in their eyes, the excitement. I live for that.”
He shares his love of tools on his Instagram page, which has more than 24,000 followers, https://www.instagram.com/alfredlyon.
“I really am passionate about what I make,” he said. “I feel it's art. In our industry, I believe there is a common idea of the beauty of what we are making. People have called our cutting tools similar to jewelry because they have facets and they're shiny. I got into it because I wanted to share what we do. People really flocked to it and they enjoy it. We call it the #instamachinist community.”
His advice to anyone considering a manufacturing career? “Just do it!” he said. “We have a shortage of workers, we have jobs available and there's good money to be made.”