Where Education Fits in Manufacturing

Many shops have stepped up by creating their own apprenticeship programs, while many machine tool OEMs have contributed to the cause as well.

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Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. — Daniel J. Boorstin

For quite a while the subject of training and education has been a hot topic in our industry. Shops regularly face the struggles of a shortage of skilled workers who can effectively contribute to a productive shopfloor environment. Much of this problem comes from decreasing interest in the field of manufacturing among the younger generations.

Manufacturing is often painted as a dirty, monotonous, low-paying job that provides little satisfaction. Because of this stigma, well meaning yet often misinformed parents tend to steer their children away from manufacturing jobs and toward a college education that can land the children a “better career.” Unfortunately, many of these kids come out of college just as unsure of their futures as when they started and saddled with huge debt.

I, myself, pursued a college education, and it has served me well by leading me to a job where I can put what I have learned to use in serving this vital industry. But I was very close to going a different route.

Writing wasn’t always my dream. I started college as an architecture major—something I had wanted to do for many years. After less than a year in the program, though, it was clear to me that my expectations of the field were not what I had envisioned. For the next year, I struggled to find classes that were exciting to me. I was very close to dropping out of school and pursuing a trade until my dad helped me find a newly developed technical writing program where I would eventually earn my degree.

I often wonder if I had left college at that time if I may have ended up in some other area of manufacturing, perhaps working in a machine shop and learning the industry from a totally different perspective. If so, would the job have been equally satisfying? I’m sure the answer would depend a lot on the level of training I received that could set me up to be successful in my work.

The source of such training, or lack of its availability, is arguably the other significant factor in the shortage of skilled workers for shops across the U.S. We’ve seen a large decrease in the number of vocational schools, and community colleges have made significant cuts to shop classes due, in part, to the expenses involved in keeping up with the ever advancing technology of modern metalcutting equipment.

The good news is that many shops have stepped up by creating their own apprenticeship programs, while many machine tool OEMs have contributed to the cause as well, often by donating equipment to schools, providing direction for curriculum and instruction, and even setting up training centers in their own facilities.

I recently attended an open house at the headquarters of Ganesh Machinery in Chatsworth, California. Company President Harvinder Singh notes that while elected officials commonly address the importance of growing manufacturing jobs, they overlook the impact of the shortage of skilled labor. He believes that the most important step in re-establishing the skilled labor workforce as the pillar of the U.S. economy’s strength is to add technical training centers starting at the local high school level and to redesign and expand the ones within colleges and specialist training institutions to meet today’s changing demands.

In an attempt to lead this effort, the company offers a low-budget customizable package for schools and training facilities to partner with the company in developing the next generation of skilled personnel. In the past several years, many high schools, colleges and technical centers have taken advantage of the program offered by Ganesh.

If a training center can provide a relatively small investment and has 2,500 square feet of floor space, an instructor and sufficient power supply, Ganesh can supply the rest. Along with eight manual machines and four CNC machines, the program includes a long list of other support equipment and accessories such as an optical comparator and other inspection tools, materials and a materials rack, cutting tools, computers, shop attire, training desks, tool boxes, bench grinders, drill presses and an air compressor. With the complete curriculum already prepared, Ganesh has tried to compile everything that would be needed to make the training program successful.