The Way We Need to Do It

Turning Point

Many shops tend to rely, in many cases too heavily, on internal training for new hires. This can and does often result in a “that’s how we’ve always done it” kind of mindset for newbies. So-called tribal knowledge within the shop is helpful, but it should not be the exclusive source of training. Manufacturing is moving too fast and becoming too complex to rely exclusively on what is known inside a shop’s four walls. Outside sources for new ideas and process improvements should also be cultivated.

Everyone bemoans the lack of skilled workers available to manufacturers, but the fact is, manufacturers need to take advantage of training opportunities that exist outside the envelope of the shop. It is up to industry itself to incubate the next generation of metalworkers, and many OEMs that supply capital equipment are warming up to this idea. 

The employment candidates that might be considered for these positions are not of the “plug and play” variety. They require nurturing in the technology of manufacturing and the cultural expectations of the individual shop. For the latter, tribal knowledge is useful. For the former, shops should consider looking to third party help.

Generally, nobody knows your machine tools, tooling, CAD/CAM systems and measurement and inspection systems better than the OEM that built them. It’s also true that these same OEMs are a rich source of training for new employees.

It seems that new technical centers are sprouting up almost every day for OEMs trying to get closer to their customers. This “near-sourcing” takes the form of factory-built centers and factory-sponsored or authorized showrooms and technical centers for sales and service representatives.

Those of us in the media business have seen a dramatic uptick in invitations to attend various open houses, technical conferences and mini-tradeshows at various centers across the country and sometimes around the world. For the most part, these events seem to be successful for the sponsoring companies.

Unlike many of the countries I have visited, the United States isn’t as geographically concentrated when it comes to manufacturing as some of our global competitors. In addition, we’re a really big piece of real estate when it comes to getting around. We have states that are the size of many countries. Watching foreign companies try to get a handle on the logistical largess of the U.S. market can be an interesting exercise.

Creating more localized entities is a means to get around this issue for many OEMs trying to market to our domestic manufacturers. Moreover, placing service and training closer to where it is needed saves time and money for manufacturing companies who must rely on their OEMs to help bring employees up to speed on the best means of getting the most out of their equipment.

Think about it. The sales engineer calling on your shop is also calling on many other similar types of shops. They see and learn how others apply the various technologies to get the job done.

I see these “outsiders” as a potential source to explore, and more importantly, provide insights that may not occur within the four walls of a shop. Tapping into this knowledge brings a fresher approach and helps reduce the “way we’ve always done it” thinking.

The use of the Internet to get the word out about activities is another trend in this more localized training area that we see in our travels.

Also, several shops that I receive materials from are doing amazing things within their local areas, such as connecting with vocational and technical schools and enlisting the help of OEM tech centers to join the effort. When this happens, all of manufacturing is the beneficiary because, let’s face it, if we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Shops are opening their doors to their communities and using events such as Manufacturing Day and other occasions to demonstrate what 21st century manufacturing really looks like. Through efforts such as these, potential employees get a chance to be persuaded to think that the preconceptions of manufacturing are simply incorrect.

With OEMs, shops, distributors and the academic community coming together on a local level, it’s a means to deal with this huge market we call America. Small pockets of success can grow to regions and eventually the entire country, but it has to start somewhere. I’m encouraged with what I’m seeing and hearing in that vein.