Keeping Jobs By Keeping Up

As time goes by, in many manufacturing enterprises, the experience side of the ledger totes up while the education side receives few, if any, entries. Without both, the value of the worker to the company and the ability to compete goes down.

Recently, Miles Free, director of technology services for the PMPA, sent me an e-mail commenting on an article about automation advances on multi-spindles that was featured in the November/December 2005 issue. Miles, referring to a quote in the piece, wrote, “Tom Broe has it exactly right: ‘…the reality is to try to make better, higher value-added use of the labor in the shop.’ ” He then wrote, “My whine has always been that we’re not using our skilled folks at their highest and best use when they’re merely handling parts and material and moving them through space.”

That got me thinking. Work is like a river flowing by us. We all enter the stream at various points, bringing with us our experience and education (in other words, our value). However, too often scoring the job is considered an accomplishment of the goal. All the preceding stuff is simply preparation for attaining that goal. Once hired, we breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to the steady paychecks to come.

As time goes by, in many manufacturing enterprises, the experience side of the ledger totes up while the education side receives few, if any, entries. Without both, the value of the worker to the company and the ability to compete goes down.

Would any one of us want to visit a doctor who graduated from medical school in 1986 and hasn’t picked up a journal or a book or taken a class since? The doctor may have 20 years of experience, but how valuable is he to you, the patient? You want to hire a doctor who keeps up with the technology in his field so he can give you the best care available in 2006, not 1986.

Precision machined parts makers are no different. Some might reminisce about a time when a person went to work and could count on staying at the job for many years. The person could learn a job and perform it with little change indefinitely. Experience was the key, and learning the job well to be able to perform it faster and faster became the value. Forget about it.

The competitive need to apply automation has shifted that priority. Many of the repetitive, mundane, low-skill tasks in manufacturing can be better done functionally and economically with automation. The question is no longer, “How can I keep doing my job the way I learned it?” but rather, “How can I augment my experience on that job with education about current technology that helps make my value go up?” It has become an active process for the company and the worker.

Today, as Tom and Miles noted, it’s about how a shop can redeploy its labor force by recognizing and using its talents and experience to add value to the process. The mechanism needed to accomplish this is a shared responsibility between the shop and the workers.

The shop must create an environment and culture where increasing one’s value has value. It must look outward for opportunities such as tech schools, vendor-provided training, online courses and trade associations’ continuing education programs and then support its people’s involvement, as time goes on.

The worker must raise his or her hand (volunteer) to demonstrate an understanding of the importance of becoming more valuable to the company by balancing the experience side of the ledger with continuing education. Experience is important, but it’s an attitude that embraces change as an opportunity rather than a threat that will help ensure that a worker is around long enough to get the experience.

When I started writing about technology for Gardner Publications in 1992, I brought with me 14 years of experience in the machine tool industry. Since then, I’ve traveled to 17 countries and 45 of the 50 states visiting shops, factories, trade shows, seminars, press conferences and events. Experience and continuing education is our value proposition. I doubt you’d be reading this magazine if I had simply stayed in my office and continued to write about what I knew in 1992.