This article is based on the Workforce Leadership Exchange held at FABTECH 2019 in Chicago. It is the continuation of coverage that began with the Up Front column in Manufacturing Engineering, January 2020, page 6, and continued with “Workforce Pipeline” on page 102-103 of the April issue.
The moderator of the Leadership Exchange was Kord Kozma, global director of human resources, Nidec Press & Automation. The panelists were Hernán Luis y Prado, founder and CEO, Workshops for Warriors, which trains veterans for manufacturing jobs; Dean Steadman, CNC education program manager, FANUC America; and Robert Tessier, national director of advanced fabrication technologies, Airgas.
Kozma: There is no employee fairy who brings freshly-trained employees every morning. You have to pay for them. You have to invest in them. So let’s talk about businesses that you’ve seen that have done things internally to try to develop this workforce and train them. What have you seen that works?
Steadman: Today, there are silos. There are a lot of people that have tribal knowledge. There’s a reluctance, sometimes, to pass on that knowledge. I think that attitude, that mentality of not wanting to transfer knowledge, is probably going to kill off a company [that has that.]
Everything is about growth, everything is about creativity. It’s about finding different ways to do things. We’re in an era of changing technology right now, and I think we really need to use the younger generations coming into the workforce. [These people] have a different way of thinking, perhaps, to some of the people that are about to retire. [The older generation needs] to take them under their wing and teach them some of the skills and the knowledge that they’ve acquired over 30 or 40 years in the industry—then let them run with it and create their own ideas as well. Implement these ideas and see whether they can get some synergy between the old and the new way of doing things. I think companies that don’t embrace that will struggle and fold in the next five to ten years.
Tessier: We approach things in a unique way. There are certain educational milestones that you have to hit. Nothing is ever subjective anymore. It becomes completely objective. When trying to recruit people, those people really want to understand ‘how do I get from where I am to today to where I want to be in the company?’ There has to be a clear path. It cannot be subjective. [This is done by] putting together a career path, and then investing in people, truly investing in them.
We run a 22-week program for first-year apprentices and we teach them about the physics of welding. We teach them about what they need to know in industry. We teach them about efficiencies and how to help people. Over a period of 22 weeks, we give somebody about five or six years’ worth of experience. We can take somebody that’s just come out of college or a person who’s been stuck in a specific position for a long period of time and really allow them to grow their career.
There’s this misconception that the only people that are worried about their career path are young people coming into the industry. That is not true. Look within your organizations. There are individuals that are always looking for opportunity. You haven’t given them that opportunity because he or she has always been good doing [their particular thing]. But that person also wants to see ‘what’s that next step for me?’
How do you get to that person? Take them in, invest in them. Put a program together where they are operating—and it cannot be subjective. It has to have milestones. If that person accomplishes these milestones, they will get to that next level. If they get to that the next level, they can attain [more] money, [a better] position. You can’t wait for people to just think of it on their own. Offer it. Push them. We have to do these things.
Luis y Prado: I am happy to see you have a successful apprenticeship program. In our facility in San Diego, [we work] with little companies like Boeing, Facebook, Tesla, and even they haven’t figured that out. We are noticing that employers don’t know what to do with their own workforce. They are concerned about training their personnel and giving them portable credentials because they’re fearful that they will leave.
Our viewpoint is, train and pay people well, and treat them well. They could leave to go anywhere, but you should pay and treat them so that they don’t want to. There is a story that drives it home for me. We received a $1 million check one day, sight unseen. I called our donor and asked, ‘are you sure, you know, is this a mistake? Is something happening here?’ She said, ‘No, I run a company that’s almost 100 years old, and my chief operating officer came to me and said we’re dead and we don’t even know it. He noted that while we have 1,500 machinists that work for us, a skills and retirement plan assessment indicated that 80 percent of them are retiring in the next two years. The remaining 20 percent have been with us less than two years.
How do you transfer those skills? We informally call it the Geezer-Gerber debate. How do you get the Geezer to dispense their information, all their decades of experience into a new person without irritating the person that’s very mature and seasoned? You have to give the Gerbers at least a framework of knowledge and understanding of what it is that they know to at least understand what they know and what they don’t know. Only then can you can have this great opportunity to transfer knowledge so that it remains in that factory or in that organization.
What the United States military is great at doing is creating a standardized application and terminology so that we all understand what different things mean. That’s what I think we need to do for manufacturing. To do that, it doesn’t makes sense to have 18,000 schools spring up teaching the same thing. Because they’re not all going to be able to get 12 CNC mills and four lasers and 30 FANUC robots.
But centers of excellence throughout the nation could train students or a new employee to a certain level, and then employers could take them with a full understanding that they are not going to be a 10,000-hour journeyman. They are not going to be a six-stage progressive die master. They are not going to be programming a seven-axis robot on day one. But you are going to get a good 80 percent solution that your company can then take onboard, and train them the rest of the way. That’s what we need to do.
If you think about our nation before ourselves, we need to create a system, or at least use a nationally recognized, portable, stackable certifications system [similar to those] from the American Welding Society, or SolidWorks or the Master CAD or NC3 certifications. And then when they go work at FANUC and they attain a certain level, great. If they then go to work for a competitor, they can continue on. Because we want to retain that knowledge in America. And we want to be able to have enough of a pool of talent throughout our nation that you’re going to be able to get people to innovate and spur this next level of iteration and technology that America needs to retain her title as the world’s manufacturing superpower. To do that, we need to train people, we need to give them access to equipment, and we need to pay them well enough so that they can focus on innovation, not just on survival.