American-Made By Skilled Metalworkers

The modular system, common sense approach and practical value of the certifications impressed academia. Fortunately, the industry has now come on board in large numbers, and many industry facilities have been accredited by NIMS.

 

It is apparent that a skilled labor force is the key to retain manufacturing in the United States. Many years ago, large and small manufacturers invested a reasonable amount of their annual budget in their own apprenticeship programs and also supported skills training in local high schools and vocational schools. Great efforts were also made to lure skilled craftsmen to emigrate from Europe.

However, over the last 20 years, we have seen a drastic reduction in available skilled metalworkers since the flow of European immigrants has dried up. Also, most company apprenticeship programs fell victim to cost-cutting measures, and qualified teachers are almost impossible to find. To make matters worse, we are now facing the retirement of the last batch of skilled, qualified metalworkers, both homegrown and foreign.

Metalworking associations such as AMTDA, AMT, NTMA, PMPA, PMA and TMA had the foresight more than 10 years ago to lay the foundation for a workable solution to the skilled labor problem and certification of metalworking skills. They, with the help of the government and labor, founded the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), which, over the years, created certifications for several levels covering almost all metalworking occupations.

The NIMS training guidelines and certification requirements were reviewed, rewritten and approved by highly skilled tradespeople with hands-on experience in the applicable trade. Members of the various associations participated in pilot programs to evaluate and validate the certification process in order to provide employers and employees with a certification process applicable to the present needs of the industry. Educators were the first to adopt the NIMS certification program, to the surprise of everyone involved in its creation.

The modular system, common sense approach and practical value of the certifications impressed academia. Fortunately, the industry has now come on board in large numbers, and many industry facilities have been accredited by NIMS.

Academia’s acceptance of the NIMS certification has resulted in college credits being awarded for obtaining NIMS certification. Some state education departments have and others are in the process of applying NIMS certification to all of their metalworking programs, and several colleges have signed articulation agreements with NIMS. Thanks to the combined industry and educator efforts, more than 11,000 certifications have been issued and close to 160 facilities have been accredited.

Company human resource departments in particular have found the certification achievement records to be a foolproof system to verify the skill level of a job applicant. Even the federal government has been quick to embrace the NIMS certification and accreditation process. A grant from the Department of Labor provided funds to NIMS to rewrite the federal apprenticeship program for metalworking, thereby creating an industry- and user-friendly modular system that allows the apprentice to quickly acquire a set of useful and financially rewarding skills. The apprentice then can expand his/her skills up through the master level.

All NIMS certifications go through a periodic update process with the help of the stakeholder association and its members who volunteer to review and pilot the latest revision. The updates are also done to meet and exceed the applicable ANSI regulations.
The crucial shortage of skilled labor applies to all industries that are using CNC equipment and machinery in every imaginable production and manufacturing process. Good employees may be available, but their skill level is not up to date.

For example, the aerospace industry on all levels will be losing close to 30 percent of its skilled labor force because of retirement. More than 75 percent of current employees will need to be retrained, according to a recent Aviation Week & Space Technology article by Elaine Seat, Ph.D., University of Tennessee. It is sad to note that the general public is not aware that the skill level required for virtually any tradesperson is now much higher than only a few years ago.

Despite the recent decline in skilled labor, there is a positive outlook. A good number of skilled workers have gotten the message that they need to improve their skill level. They enroll for evening college classes in growing numbers and educate themselves online.

Companies both small and large must also realize they need to make an investment in the continuous education of their employees. Fortunately, many trade associations have educational foundations that mainly support the financial needs of member employees who are taking metalworking-related courses. I think we all agree that this is a good use of the association’s funds.

Paul Huber is the president of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills as well as the Industrial Precision Components Corp. He can be reached at (203) 334-2196.