Saturday, February 4, 2017

CTE, Apprenticeship Programs Can Help Restore Middle Class Economy

By Glenn Marshall
America for more than four decades has seen middle-class households shrinking from 61% in 1971 to 50% in 2015 as reported by the Pew Research Center.  One of the main drivers for the decline in the middle class and the loss of 5 million good paying manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years can be traced to offshoring and the growing trade deficits in manufactured products.

 Young apprentices in the workplace
Closing Skills and Wage Gap  
The U.S. has the world's most extensive and sophisticated higher education system, yet top executives warn of a crisis in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines considered to be at the core of global economic competitiveness.
By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. More than 80 percent of manufacturers report that talent shortages will impact their ability to meet customer demand. With new technology transforming work across a range of sectors, more and more businesses are struggling to find workers with the skills to man new machines and manage new processes.
The educational attainment of the manufacturing workforce has been increasing over time, as more than half of manufacturing workers have completed at least some college and those who enter with a high school diploma are likely to continue their education through extensive on-the-job training.
Today, the manufacturing sector continues to provide good paychecks as well as important fringe benefits. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) reported in 2015, the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits. Its estimated the United States will fall short by 5 million workers with postsecondary education—at the current production rate—by 2020.
Building A Nation of Makers
Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs plays a vital role in helping American businesses close the skills gap by building a competitive workforce for the 21st century. CTE balances the pull between the practical and theoretical by applying academic knowledge to real-world problems, preparing students for a wide array of careers. The average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 93 percent compared to a national adjusted cohort graduation rate of 80 percent.
Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who co-chair the U.S. Senate CTE Caucus are leading a bipartisan initiative for increasing the emphasis on the career readiness of students. In Washington State, for every dollar invested in secondary CTE programs, taxpayers receive a $9 return on investment.
Increasing apprenticeship programs is a proven way of training a new generation of practitioners of a trade or profession with on-the-job training and often some accompanying study (classroom work and reading). Today in America, fewer than 5 percent of young people train as apprentices. In Germany, the number is closer to 60 percent—in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality. And in Europe, what’s often called “dual training” is a highly respected career path.
"Dual training" captures the idea at the heart of every apprenticeship: Trainees split their days between classroom instruction at a vocational school and on-the-job time at a company. The theory they learn in class is reinforced by the practice at work. They also learn work habits and responsibility and, if all goes well, absorb the culture of the company. Trainees are paid for their time, including in class. The arrangement lasts for two to four years, depending on the sector. And both employer and employee generally hope it will lead to a permanent job—for employers, apprentices are a crucial talent pool.
America is not without its successful apprenticeship programs. The Apprentice School—founded in 1919 at Newport News Shipbuilding—is the preeminent apprenticeship program in the nation and offers four-, five-, and eight-year apprenticeships in nineteen shipbuilding disciplines and eight advanced programs of study. The school offers apprentices the opportunity to earn college credit, receive competitive pay and benefits and learn a trade. The school is committed to fostering apprentices’ development of craftsmanship, scholarship and leadership.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

It's Time To Bring Back Skilled Trade Apprentice Programs!

As I work with teams of operators and skilled trades people performing RCM analyses at companies around the world at some point in time as we are discussing the failure modes and effects I might ask the question; how does your company ensure that the skilled trades people working on your assets are actually qualified to work on the equipment?
This question is often met with a look of confusion.
I will then ask, how do we know if a person who calls themselves an electrician is actually qualified to work on a 3 phase, explosion proof electrical circuit? Or, that the next guy who calls himself a mechanic can actually align the motor and gearbox shafts to an alignment specification of +/- .002”?
Having made the question clear, the response I most often hear is “we don’t have a process, we rely on one person teaching the next but if you’re asking about a formal apprentice program, we lost that years ago and it has never come back.”
Interesting, and maybe this is just one of my own personal hang-ups but I have a hard time with someone who calls themselves a Electrician because they helped a friend hook up their cable TV, or the next guy who calls himself a welder because he made two pieces of metal stick together and fixed the loud noise coming from the tail pipe of his K-car.
While apprentice programs seem to be dying all around the United States, the level of talented and certified skilled trades people is shrinking at an alarming rate. More disturbing is the lack of understanding at the executive level regarding the importance of this issue. The reliability of your manufacturing assets is dependent on the ability of your skilled trades people to perform maintenance tasks to a level of precision that exceeds that of a surgeon! (See Examples Below) Yet for some unknown reason we want to believe that all of our tradespeople are created equal because they each have a high school diploma?
Formal Apprentice programs are what build the foundation and understanding regarding the importance of precision maintenance. The reliability and total life cycle of your assets along with the safety of your facility is highly dependent on the ability of your tradespeople and their knowledge of precision maintenance and safe work practices.
The examples below came from internet searches of “Measuring Surgical Precision” and Precision Alignment Standards. Note the that precision of a surgeon performing hip replacement is 4mm and the precision required for rotating shaft alignment is +/- .002” or .0762mm
Regarding the level of precision a Surgeon works to when performing hip replacement surgery;
”Precision surgical guides with 4-mm occlusogingival height may provide adequate accuracy for implant placement. Reducing the occlusogingival height of the guide may ease the use of precision-guided surgery without compromising the accuracy of implant placement.”
Specifying Shaft Alignment Written by Victor Wowk, P.E. Machine Dynamics, Inc. Monday, 01 May 2000 20:02
“After shim changes are made, the above test shall be repeated at all feet until less than 0.002 inch rise is measured at each foot. If shim changes cannot adjust the rise, then the base will need to be ground or machined. See Section D, "Bases and Foundations."
Having now been exposed to the truth, that your tradespeople need to work to a higher level of precision than a surgeon, can we please bring back the apprentice programs?
The safety and reliability of your equipment and your facility depend on this critical training!
As usual I want to hear your stories and opinions! Have you been through an apprentice program and how did it help your life? Did you company stop its Apprentice training program? What were the effects of doing so? Has your company started Apprentice training again?
Expect to see more on this subject!

"Where do we find machinists if work comes back from abroad?"

 This is a long but good read if you ever want to offer a view about the importance of a machinist:

by: Kirk Gordon

A few months ago, I posted a few thoughts about some of the skills
and discipline it takes to be what I call a "real" machinist.  (See "Re:
Need Opinions Please", 10/28/99)  In response, I received some very
flattering comments, for which I'm grateful.  As several others noted,
though, the general tone of posts in the "Need Opinions" thread came
from people who are apparently unhappy, frustrated, or somehow
dissatisfied with the work they do, the pay they get for it, or with the
state of the machining industry, as a whole.  Several complained that
they don't make very good livings as machinists, or didn't believe they
could, no matter what their skills or experience.  Others suggested to
the person who started the discussion that he should find another line
of work, and abandon something that he's already spent 5 years learning.
   Recently, a thread called "A More Useful Survey" asked important
questions about what schools should be teaching, and what young people
need to be learning, in order to enter the metalworking world well
prepared.  As expected, this discussion also brought a variety of
comments like "tell them to become plumbers, 'cause machinists don't
make enough money."
   I found all this very disturbing; and so I thought I'd make an
attempt to share a related set of thoughts, not about how to be a
machinist, but about why.
   For the sake of this discussion, the term "machinist" is used rather
broadly, and includes a huge variety of skills that make up the world of
metalworking.  Engineering is related, and often indistinguishable, and
is included as part of "The Most Important Profession", as well.  The
special skills used by people like die makers, welders, heat-treaters,
and others, may also be considered a part of "the greater metal-working"
   First, the most basic fact:  Everything we have, everything we use,
everything we see, taste, hear, smell, feel, or rely on for our way of
life, and our very existence, at this moment in human history, has been
made possible by engineers and machinists.
   Yes, I meant that.  I don't believe it's an exaggeration.
   Look around you.  Try to think of anything in your life that isn't
somehow dependent on the metal-working arts and sciences.  You'll find
   You're sitting at a computer.  It's cyberstuff, and software, and
information technology, right?  Yes, partly.  But the monitor you're
looking at is, in fact, a plastic box, made in molds that were designed
by engineers and built by machinists.  The display screen on the monitor
is a glass tube, formed in a machine that was designed by engineers and
built by machinists.  The circuitry that fills the rest of the monitor
is made of copper, and gold, and silicon, and plastic and glass and
more... all formed, or drawn, or spun, or mixed, or burned or wound...
or something, in machines that were designed by engineers and built by
machinists.  All the information in the world won't matter - it won't be
storable, portable, communicable, reproducible, or ever turned into real
products, devices, or tangible things of any kind, without someone to
make stuff out of metal.
   Don't shake your head, yet.  I'm just getting started.
   Take a breath of air.  Is it clean?  Is it warmer than the chilly
winter air outside?  Is it cooler, if you live in a warm climate?  How'd
it get that way?  The furnace or air conditioner you take for granted is
made mostly of metal.  There are tubes, extruded in huge hydraulic
machines, and precision valves to control dangerous gasses, and tiny
balls in tiny bearings that let a motor run quietly, endlessly, to keep
you warm, or cool, and comfortable.  Who made those bearings?  Who made
sure that the valve would seal just right, and open easily, every single
time?  Who turned the pistons and made the dies for that extruding
machine?  How were the holes punched in the sheet metal that covers the
furnace or air conditioner?  How did they roll the steel or aluminum
into thin sheets, and bend it into all the shapes that make up the
ductwork?  How, and who?
   Step outside for a minute, and look at the rest of the world.  (Yes,
you'll need to turn a door-handle, and the door will swing on hinges.
Where did those come from?)  Look around.  Are you standing on a
concrete sidewalk?  The truck that poured the cement, and the tools that
smoothed it, and the pumps that brought the water to mix it, and more,
were made of countless pieces of metal, made by machinists, or by people
with varying parts of a machinist's skill, doing things planned and
prepared for them by engineers and machinists.
   Look behind you at the building you just left.  Think of steel
girders, or wooden framework.  Think of rolling mills, or sawmills and
planer machines.  Think of carpenters using hammers, or erectors with
cranes and riveting machines.  Think of where those tools came from, and
who built them, and what skills were involved.
   You're wearing clothing.  Probably cotton or wool, and leather, and
some synthetic stuff mixed in for comfort, or insulation, or
durability.  Who built the parts for the machines that wove the fabric,
and cut it, and sewed it?  Who made the stamping dies that formed the
bodies of the pressure gauges that watched the mixture of chemicals that
became nylon, or dacron, or polyester?  Who made the parts, that made up
the grinder, that sharpened the blades, that cut a piece of cowhide into
the exact shape of a shoe that fits your foot?
   Machinists did.  From the moment the first human mind conceived the
first sword or plowshare, and hammered it into reality from metals he
found in the ground, human history has been shaped by those who could
shape metal.  Not alone, of course.  Nobody has a monopoly on skill or
knowledge.  But wherever skill or knowledge are put to use - whenever
ideas, information, inventions, or dreams are given solid form, that
form has been touched by a machinist's skilled hands.
   Think of an activity.  Any activity.  Think of any part of your life,
or any other life, and try to find some part of it that doesn't have a
machinist's fingerprints on it somehow, somewhere.
   Go to the doctor.  His world is filled with precision devices, all
made by machines that were made by machinists.  From a state-of-the art
MRI machine, or laser-surgery device, to the little card of paper
showing the date of your next appointment, a doctor uses the products of
the metalworking industries, or tools made possible by engineering and
machining, to do every part of his job.
   Smile at someone, and you're greeting them with teeth, cleaner and
stronger and healthier than they could ever be without toothpastes and
mouthwashes and soft-fiber brushes you'd never have, and never be able
to afford, if not for the millions of metal parts in countless kinds of
amazing machines that make possible the reliable, inexpensive mass
production of almost anything we want or need.  Then smile again, for
the people who made the parts, who built the machines, and who keep them
running and producing, every single day.
   Try to imagine a world without machines, and without people to design
and build and operate them.
   Go to a forest.  Someplace wild, and as untouched by human hands and
minds as anyplace on Earth can be.  Alaska maybe, or the jungles of the
Amazon.  How do you get there?  How do you even know where there is,
except from a map or book, printed on a press whose parts were made by
machinists.  Is it a modern book, with color pictures and accurate
maps?  Then the satellites and aircraft and cameras and other devices
that made the pictures and maps possible have machinists' hearts and
minds in them in an endless variety of ways.  So does the saw that cut
the trees to make paper for the books and maps, and the machines in the
paper mill, and the mixers and pulverizers in the ink-plant... and more.
   Do you have a compass to help find your way around in the jungle?  Or
a GPS receiver, maybe?  Do you have a knife, or a set of lightweight
aluminum cookware in your backpack, so you can have dinner when you camp
tonight?  A flashlight?  A book of matches?  Guess where those things
came from.
   Ok, let's say you didn't bring any of that along.  You really truly
want to experience nature directly, without technology, and without help
from technology's most constant providers.  You're naked, unarmed, and
   You're toast.
   For the people who once lived the way you're living in this moment of
communing with nature, survival rates were brutally, incredibly small.
Starvation was a real and constant presence, every single day.  Diseases
that we don't think twice about today once filled whole cemeteries, or
decimated entire continents.  A broken bone or an infected cut meant
slow and painful death.  And those noises you hear in the dark aren't
just zoo animals, now.  They're predators.  And they're hungry.  And you
don't have a machinist around to make you a gun or a knife, or even an
iron spearhead.  Welcome to hell.
   Even in this fantasy example, of course, machinists are helping to
keep you alive, since you grew up in a world that depends on them.  Do
you have ground glass lenses on your eyes, to improve your vision?  Who
made the grinders?  Do you have fillings in your teeth, so you can chew
roots and berries to survive?  Who made that dentist's drill, and all
his other tools?  Who made the machines that grind silver alloys into
power that becomes the amalgam in your fillings?  Did you think to get
some immunization shots, to protect you from dreaded illnesses, before
booking your vacation to this jungle paradise?  Were the vaccines
injected with a tiny, sharp, perfectly polished stainless steel needle?
Guess who made it, and then get down on your knees and thank him or her
- quick, before the predators get you!
   Try to write a poem, without using machine-made paper, or a pen or
pencil, or even a primitive quill.  You'll need a knife or trimming tool
to keep the quill sharp, or it won't work very long.
   Try to have a dream that isn't set in a place that's somehow shaped
by the skills of machinists and engineers.  Try to make a dream come
true, and you'll need a machinist to help you.
   The Most Important Profession touches you, protects you, helps you,
and comforts you, in more ways than I could name if I sat here and typed
for a year.  That's WHY it's the Most Important Profession.  No other
form of human endeavor is so deeply and necessarily a part of anything
and everything we do, or have ever done, or might ever want to do, in
the foreseeable future.
   Yes, there are other important professions, of course.  Lots of
them.  We couldn't live without farmers, or miners, or a thousand other
kinds of skilled people who make up a whole and functioning world.   We
depend, completely and constantly, on people with an incredible range of
skills and knowledge.  But every single one of THOSE people depends on
engineers and machinists, in everything that they do.  No exceptions.
Not even one.
   Those of us who work with metal provide, truly, literally, and
constantly, the tools that make a technological civilization possible.
There was a time, of course, when the tools were simpler, and when the
machinists were called blacksmiths... but the principles were the same.
What we do today in a modern shop is merely an extension of the basics.
We do it better, more efficiently, more precisely, more easily; but
we're still doing the necessary work of building and shaping the most
fundamental parts of the world we live in - and the world that everyone
else lives in, too, whether they know it or not.
   So, if metalworking is so vital, so central to our way of life, so
necessary to civilization itself, then why does it seem that the people
who work in the Most Important Profession are so seldom allowed to live
at the top of society's food chain?  Why don't lathe operators drive
Rolls Royces, and CNC programmers live in 20 room mansions?  Why don't
our town halls fly the flags at half-mast when a machinist or engineer
dies?  And why don't HBO and Warner Bros. make movies about the dramas
that take place when men and women do battle with solid steel?
   Because we don't insist on it.  It's our own damned fault.
   We have allowed our profession to become weak and diluted.  We've
sold our skills to the wrong kinds of people, for the wrong rewards, at
the wrong times, for too many years and generations.  We've done our
jobs well; but for all the wrong reasons.  And we've demanded too little
in return.
   Consider some other professions, just for perspective:
   If you wanted to make your living as an airline pilot (flying
machines that are built by machinists), your most likely path to that
goal would be through the military.  You'd start with a high-school
education, at least; and probably a college degree, these days.  Then,
as reward for your years of patient study, and your dreams of soaring
through the air, you'd get to endure weeks of hard, demeaning work, just
to get through boot camp.  You'd suffer insults, abuse, and hardships,
just to take a single step toward your goal.  Then you'd do more
training, and classes, and more training, and more.  You'd be tested,
challenged, and dropped like a rock, the first time you failed, or
complained.  The Army, or Navy, or Air Force aren't going to invest
years in training you, if you're not the best, most promising candidate
they can find.  If you managed to qualify for flight school, you'd be
sure that countless others had not, and that you'd been selected as one
of the best available - before you ever got to see the inside of a
military aircraft.  Then pre-flight training, and flight training, and
practice, and more; and all the other duties and responsibilities and
rules of life in the military... and then years of flying for your
country, to earn your way into the right kind of aircraft, so you can
fly more hours, and more, on your way to maybe, someday, getting to fly
for yourself.  And, of course, your pay scale during most of this
years-long ordeal is nothing to be envied.
   Why would someone do that?  Because they want to fly.  It's important
to them.  It's worth it.  It's got to be earned.  And because society as
a whole places enough value on the skills of a good pilot to make it
worthwhile, and to provide good earnings, for those few who succeed.
   If you wanted to be a doctor, you'd have a hard road, too.
Outstanding grades in high-school, and in 4 years of college, before you
get to stand in line with all the other would-be med students, and hope
that you're good enough to make the cut.  You'd be tested, and
challenged, and dropped like a rock if you weren't part of the cream of
the crop.  No med school is going to invest years in training you, if
you aren't the best and most promising student they can find.  If you
manage to get into a medical college, you can be sure that countless
others didn't.  Then you'd do years of hard study, and internships, and
tests, and long, LONG hours, just to get out of school with an MD.  And
then residency, and more training, and more and more; and you're 30
years old, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to the folks who
make student loans, and just about ready to start earning an actual
   If you wanted to be a writer, how many stories and articles and
manuscripts would you need to write, and submit, and have rejected,
before the very first editor published some tiny little bit of your
lifelong dream?  And how many more years would you work, and wait, and
"pay your dues", before you could develop your skills, and attract an
audience, to sell enough to feed yourself without having to wait tables
or wash cars, while trying to keep your dream alive?  It's a long, hard
road, most of the time.  And, if you one day find your name in big
letters in a bookstore window, or on somebody's bestseller list, you can
be sure that there are countless others who never even came close.
   If you wanted to be an architect, the story wouldn't be much
different.  School is demanding, expensive, and consuming.  The first
job you'd get, after earning your degree, would probably be as a
draftsman, or detailer, or some other kind of third-level assistant to a
"real" architect.  You'd spend years helping others do the work they
want done, and doing it the way they told you to do it.  You'd see
buildings going up - real, solid images of the same dreams that drive
you, deep down inside; and you'd know that your only contribution was to
check the prints for the heating ducts, because that was your part of
the job.  You'd do a long, LONG apprenticeship, learning the business,
as well as the craft.  You'd have to excel, in the eyes of every person
in a position to judge you.  You'd have to be patient, and energetic,
and watch vigilantly for every chance to advance, to grow, and to work
toward a day when it might be your own design that takes your breath
away, even if it's just a garage or a new porch.  Still, if you did
succeed, and you did manage to become a successful architect, you could
be sure that there were countless others who couldn't wait, or who
wouldn't make the sacrifice, and who'd never feel what you feel at the
sight of everything you've ever dreamed and done.
   Why would someone do all that?  Because they want to accomplish
something important to them.  It's worth it.  It's got to be earned.
   And if you wanted to be a machinist?  You'd go get a job in a machine
shop, and call yourself a machinist.  No, it's not really that simple;
but it's close.  Too many people call themselves machinists who aren't
truly skilled at all.  Too many people, who don't even understand our
skills, lay claim to the pay, and respect, and job opportunities, that
only real skills should command.  And every dollar they earn, and every
job they get, and every ounce of respect they receive, is borrowed from
someone who HAS earned the skills; but has failed to protect them from
impostors and hitch-hikers.
   What would happen to the medical profession if anybody that worked in
a hospital and owned a stethoscope were allowed to call himself a
doctor?  What if they were allowed to treat patients, and prescribe
drugs, and perform surgery, just because there weren't enough trained
and licensed doctors to go around?
   What would happen to the airline industry if any self-taught,
self-certified almost-aviator could apply for a pilot's position at a
major commercial airline?  What if the airlines hired people like that,
because they needed more pilots, and couldn't find enough good ones?
   Would you want to live in a building that was designed by some
carpenter or plumber who'd followed enough of somebody else's
instructions that he thought he could start doing the whole job
himself?  I wouldn't.
   As ridiculous as those questions may sound, they represent EXACTLY
the kinds of problems that have nearly destroyed the metalworking
   I saw an auto accident, last week.  A car ran a red light, and
another hit it broadside.  I don't know just how fast the cars were
going; but I could see that the car with the right-of-way almost managed
to stop.  The tires screamed, the car slowed to a fraction of it's
original speed; and the driver, passenger, and a child in the back seat,
all survived.
   And it got me to thinking...
   An ambulance took the injured people from the accident scene to a
nearby hospital, where doctors would treat their injuries.  Those
doctors probably earn $100, or $200, or more, per hour.
   How much did the machine operators make, who turned the brake rotors
on that car?  How well were the people paid who made the stamped buckles
for the seat belts, or who drilled the precise little holes in parts for
the air-bag assembly.  $10 per hour?  $20?
   Not nearly as much as the doctors, for sure.  Yet it was those
unseen, underpaid people in the metalworking professions who really
saved some lives that day.  If not for them, and for the skill and
services they provided, the doctors would've had nothing more to work
with than bags of dead flesh.
   We tend to pay people in any profession based on two key standards:
1: How many of us are willing to buy what they offer, no matter what the
reason.  And 2: How difficult is it to find the minimum level of skill
or productivity that we feel safe with, and how much do we have to pay
to be sure that the supply is always adequate.
   The first of those pay categories includes people like entertainers
and athletes, whose services are optional parts of a culture that can
afford leisure and entertainment.
   The other set of pay standards, based on need and demand, is reserved
for doctors, pilots, dentists, architects, and others that we know are
people with rare and hard-won skills.  In some things, we really do
demand the very best we can find, or at least the best we can afford.
The risks of buying cheap are too great, and too obvious, when life
itself is at stake.
   But what about machinists?  If we provide the very basics of
civilization as we know it, then that's pretty vital and important,
isn't it?  And if EVERYBODY in the whole world uses what we make, then
that should be enough sales volume to earn us some decent wages,
shouldn't it?
   Yes, it should.  If only we understood our own value.  If only we had
as much respect for our own skills as we have for the skills of others.
If only we didn't lie to ourselves and cheat ourselves, quite so often
and so badly.
   No good doctor would practice in a hospital that expected him to work
side-by-side with unskilled charlatans.  No sensible patient would go to
that hospital.
   No competent pilot would ever fly a plane if he knew that his copilot
got his wings from a mail-order flight school.  And no sane passenger
would ever set foot on such a plane.
   No honest architect would agree to design an office building, if he
knew that the foundation was planned and executed by someone whose work
he didn't respect and trust.
   But machinists?  A whole different story.  Name one real, skilled
machinist - just ONE - who doesn't work every day, somehow, with people
who aren't truly fit to pull the chips out of his machine.  I'm betting
that you can't.  No, I don't mean trainees.  They're a different issue.
But how many of the precious, irreplaceable hours of your working life
have you spent helping people you weren't responsible for training, or
who didn't want to be trained, and whom you didn't think were trainable
in the first place?  How many taps have you pulled out of expensive
castings, because the guys who broke them didn't know how.  How many
machines have you fixed, and how many tools and holders have you
replaced, and how many fixtures have you welded and re-machined, because
somebody was doing something without the skill to do it carefully, and
   How many days have you worked overtime just because somebody else
didn't do their job well enough, or didn't get it done when they should
have.  And was it you that worked the extra hours BECAUSE you had the
skill to get things right?  Was it you that had to climb inside some big
piece of machinery, looking for the broken parts, when the person who
broke them got to stand by and drink coffee while he watched you?  Is it
YOU that people come to, because they know you can do what they need?
Do they come to you last, AFTER they've let every other creature on
Earth try and fail at something you could have done, or showed them how
to do, the first time around?
   How many times, and how many ways, have you done all those things?
And why?
   Near where I once lived, there was a guy who made at least a part of
his living by repairing lawnmowers.  On the front of his garage, in big,
clear letters, he had his basic price list.  It looked like this:
 Lawnmowers fixed - Guaranteed Quality
 Basic Repairs:  $25.00
 If you tried to fix it yourself:  $50.00
 If you and your son and your brother-in-law
   all tried to fix it:  $200.00
   I think this guy had the right idea.
   I also think he had a lot to teach those of us who make our livings
cutting metal.  We will never get the respect, the wages, or the
recognition that ought to go with our skills, if we don't believe in our
own value, and ACT like we believe in it, every single minute.  Equally
important, we will never be properly rewarded for our years of work and
learning if we aren't willing to draw clear and distinct lines between
ourselves, and others who haven't made the investment of time and energy
that we've made.
   Please don't get me wrong.  I'd be the LAST person to advocate some
kind of licensing or government blessing to attempt to validate my
skills.  I don't believe there's any way that someone in Washington, or
in a state capitol, is likely to know more about my ability and worth
than my customers, employees, or co-workers.  But it took me as many
years to learn what I know about metal-cutting as it takes a doctor or a
dentist to learn his or her skills.  It's often much HARDER for me to
gain the trust and respect that lets me use my skills fully, since I
DON'T have a license or certificate that makes me appear well-trained
and trustworthy.
   And I'm hardly unique.  Everyone who truly knows how to work with
metals has invested years of his or her life, and has probably
accomplished the equivalent of a university degree - several times
over.  But we don't feel like professionals, if we envy the pay and
working hours of plumbers or electricians.  And we don't act like
professionals, if we continue to complain about our lives, and never do
what's needed to change them.  And we don't deserve to be treated like
professionals, if we fail to hold ourselves, and our profession, to the
right kinds of very high standards.
   We're people who will work for hours, to achieve the most exacting
standards imaginable for something like the flatness of a ground
surface, or the roundness of a hole, if we know that its function
depends on it being just right.  And then we'll hand that same,
perfectly formed, excruciatingly precise bit of our life's work to
someone we don't respect, who couldn't have made what we just handed
them, and whom we don't hold to any particular standards at all.  We
demand near perfection from ourselves, and demand nearly nothing from
   We're people who'd shut down a machine-tool, and refuse to let it
run, if we thought it couldn't be trusted with the work it's supposed to
do.  Yet we accept errors, omissions, carelessness, and worse, from the
people who'll operate that same machine-tool, once we've fixed it and
made it right with our own skill and energy.
   We're people who rage in anger when an employer or company owner
spends only $100 to buy a cheap milling cutter, instead of $125 for one
that would be better, more reliable, and last longer.  And then we'll
quietly accept the fact that the shop is filled with workers who earn
$9.00 an hour, because people like us, who can do a better job, are too
rare and expensive.
   We're people who've spent years learning a craft, and then a
business, in order to build or buy a shop of our own, and to make our
own best try at our own little piece of the American Dream.  And then we
spend the rest of our lives protecting our business, and our dreams,
from lawyers, and tax collectors, and union leaders, and more, who think
that their dreams give them the right to consume ours, and who succeed
because we let them, or because we think we can't stop them, even when
we know that they couldn't live a week without us.
    We're people who won't let a single speck of dirt into a precision
gearbox we're supposed to repair, or a hydraulic system we're trusted to
assemble and test.  But what kinds of crud and pollution do we allow
into our lives, our workplaces, and even our own minds, when we think
about ourselves and our work?
   And, more important:  What can we do to change?
   I have some suggestions.  Some ideas, at least.  But I'm going to
stop here, before this post gets any longer; and I'm going to ask those
who are interested to think about what I've said already.  I'd like to
hear how others feel, while I'm figuring out the best way to write my
own thoughts and proposals.
   I first got into the metal-working business by luck, mostly; but I
fell in love with it the very first day of my very first job in a shop,
28 years ago.  Since that day, I've never done, and never wanted to do,
anything else.  It matters to me; and I really do believe that what I do
is, or at least could be, the Most Important Profession.
   Let's see what you think.  I'll finish my little essay in a couple
days, if anyone wants to hear the second half.
Kirk Gordon

Here are the reasons you can't find a CNC Programmer or Machinist.

I hear it all the time. "We can't find people to fill our positions..."

As a professional involved in Manufacturing for the past twenty years, I've noticed a few trends in the industry. One of these trends is the dwindling supply of qualified CNC Programmers, Setup Machinists, and Machine Operators. Since I've spent a lot of my time training people over the last 16 years, I thought I'd share some insights on what it takes to not only hire good people, but also retain them. (Which is arguably more important than the initial hiring.) In the interest of disclosure, this post is aimed at the Management of a manufacturing company. I'll be doing a follow-up post that will be directed at Machinists and Programmers that are looking for ways to advance their careers in their chosen industry. So if you're one of the latter group of folks, please be patient. I do think it is valuable to consider both sides of the coin, so you may gain some insight from this post as well...

What are you offering? Pay is important, but I'd argue that it is only a small part of the overall equation.

I find there to be a vast difference between different areas of the country, but also different mindsets of management and ownership with regards to how much various positions should earn. It would be easy for me to say "just pay people more...", but that of course is an easy answer to give. One of the issues that I find most curious, is the attitude I've encountered at numerous shops that an "Operator" isn't worth very much. While this can be attributed to a lack of skill on the part of a new hire, it also says a lot about the culture of the company, and the lack of opportunity for advancement for many of the young people starting out in our industry. Say what you will about Unions, but the reason many of them started was to provide a framework for advancement, and to ensure that people earned a living wage. It also brought about things like the 40-hour work week. (The Politics of the 20th Century and the roots of the Industrial Revolution are beyond the scope of this post. Please, let's not turn the comment section into a "They took our jobs" rant, or a discussion of US Trade Policies. I'm trying to get Owners and Management to think about the overall picture of hiring and retention of good quality people.)

Of course pay is important, so let's start with that.

I hear many shop owners and managers say "well, this is all we can afford to pay for a starting wage". Why? Is is due to your culture (don't want to upset existing employees?), or just the bottom line? I understand the pressures of price and the value proposition of manufacturing. I also see a lot of shops that are stuck in the 80's or 90's mentality, and have refused to update their technology, or buy new machinery. Even worse, many of them do buy new machines, but let their operators dictate how efficient those machines are being run. From turning down the feed rates, or simply setting the Rapid Override at 10-25%, these attitudes (or in some cases pure laziness) are hamstringing your company. How many hours does your spindle run per shift? And is the actual "running" of that machine at maximum efficiency?
I deal with a lot of shops where the planners and management are expecting 70% spindle utilization, but are maybe getting half that, if they are lucky. Obviously there is a major disconnect somewhere. If that spindle was cutting twice as many chips per hour, or you were shipping twice as many parts, could you afford to pay your people more? Of course you could. And the offset in higher wages would be more than made up in higher overall profits for your company. This is what makes Cell Systems (that are properly managed) so attractive. It is possible to get 90% spindle utilization (or more) out of a well run system. My friend Jason Vice ran a cell system for years, and clocked 96% spindle utilization on a regular basis. (The 4% was weekly scheduled maintenance, and is absolutely essential.) That machine was only down 4 hours per week. There are 168 hours in a week (simple math, I know), but the rest of the time, that spindle was cutting chips, 24-7. (Pallet changes notwithstanding.) So what does that kind of efficiency bring? That Cell System paid the entire shop's payroll on a weekly basis. For around 20 Machinists. That's saying something. When Jason left, their spindle utilization dropped by 20-30% on a weekly basis, almost instantly. Even though Jason stayed on to help train the new cell operators. (Plus, it took 3 guys to do the work that he was doing by himself.) How much money was lost because the owner didn't want to give a couple dollar an hour raise?
Of course, getting to the point where a cell runs at that kind of efficiency requires knowledgeable, skilled people, and a willingness to invest in technology. If you are looking for someone to show you how to setup, program, and schedule a Cell System, Jason is the man. Small plug:
So yes, pay is important. It is after all, a person's (and potentially their family's), livelihood. But that pay should also reflect the skill level of the person you are hiring. There is nothing wrong with asking someone at a high level of skill to prove their worth. But there should still be a path for growth for that person. Don't expect that as a high level employee gets hired, that their wages will remain static. Especially if they are investing their own time and money in learning new skills, or making you more money. Set goals for them, or involve them in the process of setting goals for wage growth. You would be amazed what an extra dollar or three per hour will gain you in loyalty.

The same thoughts should apply to the newest employees you hire.

How many times have you experienced churn at your shop? You bring a guy or gal in at the bottom, then invest time and money into integrating them into your culture, just to see them leave for a few more dollars an hour? Frustrating right? Here are the reasons I see this happen, from an employee's perspective:
If your starting wage is really low, there there is ample reason for your employees to look elsewhere. Periodically you should look at the starting wages for new hires and journeymen in your area, and see if you are below, at, or above the local market.
That said, money is not the most critical factor for lower-level employees. Opportunity for growth, and being praised for doing a good job are far more important. A sincere "Good job!" goes a long way towards keeping the good employees around. I have been in many shops that ruled their workforce by threat of CAM. (Corrective Action Memo) Rather than investing in their shop's culture, and making sure that all their employees had the resources to do their job well, the employees lived in fear of screwing up and being yelled at. That is not a recipe for success. If someone is working harder than everyone else, or doing an especially good job, you can reward them just by telling them what a great job they are doing. Besides praise (which is key in my opinion), consider a reward system like small cash-based awards for the people that make great suggestions, or improve shop processes. At one of my first jobs, I suggested some improvements that cut nine minutes off a 45 minute machine cycle. The owner came up to me a week later, and sincerely thanked me, and then handed me a $50 dollar bill. I also got a dollar an hour raise the following month. That $50 was nothing to him, but it meant an awful lot to me. Far more meaningful though was the praise I received.
What is the wage ceiling at your shop, and how does a junior operator get up to that level? How many years should it take? Or does it depend on the level of skill and work ethic that employee brings to the table? If there is no more opportunity for advancement, be it learning new skills or earning more money, then you risk losing that employee. What other opportunities are available for them to grow? Does your company pay for training or college? What about more responsibilities? Almost immediately when I started as a machine operator working in Aerospace, I had a desire to get into the programming office as a CNC Programmer. I left that company after a year and a half, once I realized that it would have taken me 15+ years to get an opportunity at programming in that company's culture. Evolve your culture, or let it choke your productivity. The choice is yours.

Technology is our future. But you must train your people to take advantage of it...

Are you investing in the technology to remain competitive, and training the skills to take advantage of the new machines and controls? Automation is what will make you competitive in today's market. We as a country cannot compete with Chinese or Indian wages. But through buying state-of-the-art machines and software, we don't have too. On the flip side of that coin though, the machine shop model of "Operators" doesn't work. Just paying someone $12 bucks an hour to load parts, deburr, and push a button is going by the wayside. In place of that model, Operators are increasingly becoming hi-tech workers. The lines are being blurred between operating a machine, and knowing how to optimize the increasingly complex machines that make you competitive. Are you trying out new cutting tools? If you are running modern cutting tools, with modern software, then you should be cutting Titanium at 100 inches per minute, and Aluminum at 600-1000 IPM. You can't make money with a million dollar machine if the operator is turning down the feed rate knob.
That means that you've got to have the software that support newer High Speed and High Efficiency Machining strategies. Mastercam has made some huge strides in this arena over the last 10 years. There are other software packages that are also including some HSM strategies, but Mastercam seems to be on the forefront of developing the technology, and making it accessible to the average programmer. Other companies like Celerative Technologies (Makers of Volumill) offer a plug-in for many of the popular CAM programs on the market. For a small investment, it is possible to stick with your current CAM system, and yet add new HSM capabilities. HSMWorks has incorporated that strategy into the name of their product, and they also do a decent job of removing metal quickly.
It can be scary to program a job at 2-5 times the feed rates you are used to running. Scary for the Operator, scary for the Programmer, and scary for the Owner or Manager. But that shouldn't stop you from trying. The same can be said for incorporating robots into your operations. As the price of robots come down, and the technology becomes more accessible, the benefits for incorporating them into your shop become ever more apparent. As much as people need jobs, nobody enjoys repetitive monotony. Doing the same thing, over and over, day in, day out, gets old. So the idea that one higher-skilled employee can tend two, three, or ten machines that are loaded by robots becomes more feasible. That said, to get there, you'll have to invest in the capital expenses, but also in the employees that will become a mixture of Machine Operator and Engineer.
In addition to the newer machines and software that is needed, you should also think about retiring old machines when the value in them has been used up. An old machine, with an old control, is an anchor around your neck. I've heard so many times "but those machines are paid off. Why would I want to get rid of them?". Because the new machine you could put in its place would net you 10 times the productivity. It might take some painful months of growth, or a big loan from the bank to get there, but I promise if you don't the shop owner down the street will. And you'll be left shutting the doors, and calling the auctioneer.
"It is not necessary to change. Survival isn't mandatory."  -W. Edward Deming
Once you've made the decision to invest in new software or machines, you need to train your employees to take advantage of the new capabilities. Look to the Machine Tool Builder, the Software Developer, or a 3rd party consultant to get your employees up to speed. From formal classes to seminars, webinars to online courses, there are resources available to take advantage of these new tools. Invest in your productivity and your people, to see your profits soar. Look at your culture, make sure that your people are treated well and have opportunity for growth. You'll be glad you did.

By,  Colin Gilchrist

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Why We Desperately Need To Bring Back Vocational Training In Schools

I write about job skills and training in the 21st-century workplace.

 Throughout most of U.S. history, American high school students were routinely taught vocational and job-ready skills along with the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Indeed readers of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of huddling over wooden workbenches learning a craft such as woodwork or maybe metal work, or any one of the hands-on projects that characterized the once-ubiquitous shop class.
But in the 1950s, a different philosophy emerged: the theory that students should follow separate educational tracks according to ability. The idea was that the college-bound would take traditional academic courses (Latin, creative writing, science, math) and received no vocational training. Those students not headed for college would take basic academic courses, along with vocational training, or “shop.”
Ability tracking did not sit well with educators or parents, who believed students were assigned to tracks not by aptitude, but by socio-economic status and race. The result being that by the end of the 1950s, what was once a perfectly respectable, even mainstream educational path came to be viewed as a remedial track that restricted minority and working-class students.
The backlash against tracking, however, did not bring vocational education back to the academic core. Instead, the focus shifted to preparing all students for college, and college prep is still the center of the U.S. high school curriculum.
 So what’s the harm in prepping kids for college? Won’t all students benefit from a high-level, four-year academic degree program? As it turns out, not really. For one thing, people have a huge and diverse range of different skills and learning styles. Not everyone is good at math, biology, history and other traditional subjects that characterize college-level work. Not everyone is fascinated by Greek mythology, or enamored with Victorian literature, or enraptured by classical music. Some students are mechanical; others are artistic. Some focus best in a lecture hall or classroom; still others learn best by doing, and would thrive in the studio, workshop or shop floor.

And not everyone goes to college. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that about 68% of high school students attend college. That means over 30% graduate with neither academic nor job skills.
But even the 68% aren’t doing so well. Almost 40% of students who begin four-year college programs don’t complete them, which translates into a whole lot of wasted time, wasted money, and burdensome student loan debt. Of those who do finish college, one-third or more will end up in jobs they could have had without a four-year degree. The BLS found that 37% of currently employed college grads are doing work for which only a high school degree is required.
Yet despite the growing evidence that four-year college programs serve fewer and fewer of our students, states continue to cut vocational programs. In 2013, for example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, with more than 600,000 students, made plans to cut almost all of its CTE programs by the end of the year. The justification, of course, is budgetary; these programs (which include auto body technology, aviation maintenance, audio production, real estate and photography) are expensive to operate. But in a situation where 70% of high school students do not go to college, nearly half of those who do go fail to graduate, and over half of the graduates are unemployed or underemployed, is vocational education really expendable? Or is it the smartest investment we could make in our children, our businesses, and our country’s economic future?
The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them. The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today, and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers. Many of the jobs in manufacturing are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. They don’t require expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.
And contrary to what many parents believe, students who get job specific skills in high school and choose vocational careers often go on to get additional education. The modern workplace favors those with solid, transferable skills who are open to continued learning. Most young people today will have many jobs over the course of their lifetime, and a good number will have multiple careers that require new and more sophisticated skills.
Just a few decades ago, our public education system provided ample opportunities for young people to learn about careers in manufacturing and other vocational trades. Yet, today, high-schoolers hear barely a whisper about the many doors that the vocational education path can open. The “college-for-everyone” mentality has pushed awareness of other possible career paths to the margins. The cost to the individuals and the economy as a whole is high. If we want everyone’s kid to succeed, we need to bring vocational education back to the core of high school learning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

I'm back!

Sorry for the long duration of non-posting activity.  I have been hospitalized for about one year and am home recovering.  I will begin to scour the internet for article regarding manufacturing and specifically posts about manufacturing training.  Thanks for all of the great remarks.  It makes me want to do an even better job.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Manufacturing's Youth Problem

July 2, 2015
Laura Putre
On Easter weekend in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, with all the gleeful grade-schoolers streaming into the streets, “you would have thought they were giving away free puppies,” says Jennifer Miller. But the puppy handout was actually a STEM fair, featuring friendly drones and a hovercraft that kids could ride made out of a blower, a hula hoop and a lawn chair.
Miller, the vice president and chief operating officer for the business development organization Upstate SC Alliance, says that only recently--in the past year--have manufacturers in the region made outreach to young people a priority.
According to a new Brookings Institution study, that newfound outlook is a baby step, at least, in the right direction. Rather than just relying on word of mouth and the occasional booth at the local job fair, manufacturers need think more deeply about engaging younger workers--and develop more sophisticated strategies to train and recruit young people for the skilled jobs manufacturers will need to fill.
The study, “Unemployment Among Young Adults,” named manufacturing as one of four “promising” industries that has not tapped into the potential of the younger workforce, to the detriment of both employers and workers. The other industries were transportation, logistics and healthcare.
The study focused on two cities, Louisville and Chicago, comparing the sectors where workers under 30 are getting hired with the sectors that offer them the best opportunities, like good wages and career advancement. Researchers, led by Brookings Fellow Martha Ross, compared employment and earnings data and conducted interviews with local employers on their workforce needs and strategies.
The study noted that workers under 30 aren’t seeing the benefits of economic recovery like older workers are.  Although unemployment has gradually fallen for the general U.S. population since the Great Recession (to 5.5% in March 2015) it has actually increased for younger workers—to 17.1% for 18- and 19-year-olds and 10.4% for 20- to 24-year-olds.
Younger workers tend to be concentrated in low-wage industries like restaurants, retail, and nursing care facilities, according to the study. Manufacturing, on the other hand, is showing more post-recession growth and paying higher than average wages for under-30s without a bachelor’s degree, but it isn’t attracting a proportionate number of young people.
Manufacturing subsectors deemed most promising for young people are fabricated metal, machinery, plastics and rubber products and primary metals.
The study mentioned 2014 research from Harvard Business School on school-to-work transition that found that employers being involved in education/training “beyond ‘light touch’ activities such as career days and occasional student visits” significantly improve hiring outcomes.
“Employers need to identify more clearly the skills necessary to execute their business plans and improve their strategies to recruit, assess and train for those skills,” the Brookings study noted. Employers also could benefit from a closer relationship with schools to increase credentialing and expand work-based learning.
Interviewees who took part in study, including plant and HR managers at manufacturing companies large and small, shared some thoughts on how to improve things. They advised that employers evaluate their in-house HR practices to determine “what skills are truly necessary and how to assess for them, and how to build their workforce from within as well,” Ross said in a phone interview.
“There was a manufacturer in Louisville who said, ‘The employers were such a part of the problem for so long—all we did was complain, but we never jumped in to tell people what we needed.’”
Another interviewee, a plant manager, described how his company changed their hiring and workforce. “He said initially when he joined, if you had a pulse and could pass a drug test, you were hired,” says Ross. “And he said they were doing their strategic business planning about how they wanted to grow and realized they could not do it if they didn’t have the talent they needed, so he started building strong relationships with area schools and training programs.”
Ross asked him if he had time for that, “and he basically said ‘If it’s a priority, you will make time for it.’”
An HR manager of a Chicago precision machining company that makes large durable metal parts told Ross that when she first came on, “she was very unsatisfied with their recruiting and hiring policies. They tended to use word of mouth and they tended to keep hiring Polish people because that was their network, and she was like, ‘That is not going to get us the workforce that we need.’”
To improve the selection process, that company determined the skill sets of their top performers in various occupations, then developed, adapted or found assessments to test for those skills in potential hires. Candidates must now perform specific tasks on the shop floor, like reading blueprints and solving problems, and senior workers observe and assess them. The company also branched out from the Polish referral network to an “all of the above” recruiting appraoch, finding candidates from Saturday job fairs, advertising on foreign language media, Linkedin and Craigslist.
The under-30 workforce is also increasingly diverse, with racial minorities expected to become the majority in that age group by 2027. “Improving the educational and employment outcomes of blacks and Hispanics is critical to maintaining a skilled and competitive labor force,” the study notes.
Ross says that a less-diverse older generation’s reluctance to actively recruit a more racially diverse workforce can be a hindrance to finding good candidates. “I think there’s a couple layers,” she says. “There’s a general adjustment that needs to happen with the transfer of older and younger workers. And I do think the fact that younger workers are more likely to be of color adds another layer to it.”
On the plus side, manufacturers were the only group of employers in the study who were specifically interested in targeting younger people. “That’s because they’re facing an upcoming retirement wave,” says Ross. “Other employers are certainly interested in young people, but they wouldn’t say that they want to target them.”
One manufacturing HR person told Ross she was “petrified” about upcoming retirements. “Another one said—and I’m pretty sure it’s hyperbole,” said Ross, “that the upcoming retirement wave was going to have as big an effect on the industry as offshoring to China.”

Monday, August 3, 2015

The death of shop class

Young female apprentice sanding a cabinet part in a woodshop.
Scenes like this are happening less often in our high schools
by Mark E Anderson
This past week I attended my class reunion. On Saturday morning we took a tour of my alma mater, Madison East High School—GO PURGOLDERS! Many things had changed in the school, and some things, like the smell of the boys locker room, will likely always stay the same. In high school, I was a shop rat. Power mechanics, auto mechanics, auto body, drafting, print shop, plastics shop, wood shop, and metal shop. Those classes are likely the only reason I was able to graduate from high school. I learned how to weld, sandblast, paint, sand, use power tools, hand tools, I learned to set type and run a printing press. I learned how to repair anything from a lawn mower engine up to my dad's '79 Mercury Zephyr. I learned more about math in wood shop than I did in Algebra and Geometry.
While I use few of those skills today, I still do use some of them. I am not afraid to use a saw, hammer a nail, and could likely still run an arc welder if I needed to. Those classes were central to my education. Teachers like Mr. Ackley (wood shop), Mr. Sample (auto shop), Mr. Bloom (power mechanics), Mr. Kane (metal shop), Mr. Suchomel (plastics), and Mr. Stasiluk (drafting and print shop) taught me the importance of reading comprehension, math, and above all, patience. They taught the practical side of what I was learning in English, Algebra, Geometry, and Physics.
More below.
What disappointed me most about the school tour was what had happened to the shop areas of the school. No welding can be done in metal shop anymore. That wing of the building, built in 1932, does not have adequate ventilation. The paint booth in the auto shop is gone, also a victim of inadequate ventilation—there's no money to upgrade the ventilation for those classrooms. The auto shop is reduced to nothing more than simple auto maintenance classes as there is no money for the diagnostic tools used on modern automobiles. The print shop is no more, a victim of advancing technology. The plastics lab is now an athletic trainer's room. The wood shop, while still full of equipment, is no longer as popular as it once was.
We often hear of the skills gap, where there are jobs out there, but not enough qualified applicants for those jobs:
Based upon estimates of surveyed executives, about 60 percent of the manufacturing jobs unfilled today are attributable to a shortage of applicants with the requisite skills. Thus the authors anticipate that 2 million of the projected 3.4 million manufacturing jobs that come online by 2025 will be unfilled because of the skills gap.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has also mentioned the skills gap in his weekly radio address:
I've frequently heard from employers that they cannot find enough skilled workers to fill positions. The skills gap is a very real concern in Wisconsin and around the country. And the gap is only expected to increase. In the next ten years, approximately seventy percent of jobs will require some training behind a high school diploma but less than a four year degree.
This is the same governor who has attacked public schools during his tenure in office to the point of crippling them. For all his talk of tools and reforms for public education, his record more than speaks for itself:
The Wisconsin budget accelerates Walker’s four-year attack on the public sector, in particular the public schools. Among its measures are an expansion of a voucher program that provides taxpayer funding of private schools and cuts of $250 million to the state’s nationally renowned public university system.
Between the attacks on public education and the well-meaning emphasis on academics due to the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, which has induced high schools to shift resources toward core subject areas of math and reading, shop classes like machining, welding, and robotics are being crowded out. The very classes that allowed me to actually understand the Pythagorean theorem or Newton's Third Law are the very classes that are on the chopping block. We will always need people to be able to weld, fix cars, and other trades and these jobs should not be looked down upon, nor should they be looked at as second tier jobs.
The work of electricians, builders, plumbers, chefs, paramedics, carpenters, mechanics, engineers, security staff, and all the rest is absolutely vital to the quality of each of our lives. Yet the demands of academic testing mean that schools often aren’t able to focus on these other capabilities at all. Vocational programs – such as carpentry or welding classes, cosmetology classes or many of the other practical areas of study available in some US high schools and in the vocational schools that dot our cities and suburbs — are seen as second-rate options for people who don’t make the academic cut.

In many cases the very people screaming about the skills gap, and stating that they desperately need skilled workers are the very ones responsible for gutting school funding.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) is pushing to eliminate the state's top income tax bracket of 7.65 percent, a rate paid by individuals earning $240,190 per year or more and married couples earning $320,250 per year or more.
Aiming to make Wisconsin more attractive to business, Republican lawmakers have proposed reducing the state tax on the production earnings of manufacturers and agricultural businesses to almost nothing by 2016. The tax reductions - slashing the rate in annual steps from the current 7.9% to 0.4% - would apply to the production income of the businesses, not to income such as royalties and investments. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the measure would cost the state $359.7 million over its first five years, and $128.7 million a year once it is fully phased in starting in 2016.
How can manufacturers expect to have intelligent, trained workers when they do not want to pay taxes? Not all teens are great at academics, and not all kids are going to be good welders. But, each child should have an equal chance at success. It is well past time to make businesses pay their fair share towards educating the youth of America. If they need an educated work force—and they do—they should help pay for it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

More high schools teach manufacturing skills

WHEELING, ILL. — Javier Tamayo looks like a journeyman machinist as he briskly turns a wrench to replace a chipped tool in a computerized cutting device at Bridgestone's metal parts factory here.
Tamayo, 19, landed the $12-an-hour job last year after graduating from Wheeling High School's manufacturing program and is on his way to a career that pays upwards of $80,000 a year.

Wheeling has been turning out hire-ready manufacturing workers like Tamayo for six years. It's one of a growing number of U.S. high schools that have launched or revived manufacturing programs in recent years to guide students toward good-paying jobs and help fill a critical shortage of skilled machinists, welders and maintenance technicians.
Manufacturing courses were dropped from vocational education programs as the industry declined over the past three decades and no one tracks how many high schools offer them now. But Project Lead the Way, which creates high school engineering and technology curricula, says one manufacturing class it designed for Wheeling is offered in about 800 schools — nearly twice as many as in 2009.
The training targets a glaring imbalance in the labor market. Despite high unemployment since the recession, manufacturers still struggle to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings. Since bottoming out in February 2010, employment at U.S. factories has risen by 700,000 to 12.1 million, recouping about 30% of the jobs the industry lost in the downturn.
Manufacturers are increasingly looking to high schools and community colleges to fill current staffing needs and gear up for a wave of Baby Boomer retirements. Educators are trying to dispel student's misconceptions about the industry and spark their interest before they choose other jobs or head to four-year colleges, a costly career investment that has yielded disappointing results for some graduates.

Manufacturing is dogged by an outdated image that it's "very physical, labor-intensive, you're working with your hands, you're getting dirty and there's no career path," says Gardner Carrick, vice president of the Manufacturing Institute, the industry's training arm. Actually, "you're working with computers and robots that are doing what you used to do by hand. That requires a skill set (in math and science) above what was required a generation ago."
Lessons from Germany
The high school programs borrow from Germany's education model, which forces students to choose a career track and take part in internships as early as age 15. Many are channeled into skilled labor jobs, which are more highly respected than they are in the U.S. After building plants in the U.S. in recent years, several German companies are teaming with U.S. community colleges to replicate that apprenticeship system in this country.
Several years ago, Siemens, the German energy conglomerate, sought to train new U.S. workers for a 1,500-employee turbine and generator plant it was opening in Charlotte in 2011. But only 10% of applicants passed a math and science aptitude test and only about 450 of 3,000 people it trained for five months were hired. So Siemens partnered with Central Piedmont Community College to create a program that supplies machinists for the factory. High school seniors and graduates who enter the program earn associate degrees while serving as paid apprentices at Siemens for 3½ years. When they're done, they're guaranteed a $55,000 a year job at Siemens.

"You're getting paid, you have no debt and you get a job at $55,000," says Eric Spiegel, CEO of Siemens USA. "The average liberal arts graduate (from a four-year college) is making less than $40,000" or can't find a position in their field. "Meanwhile, we can't fill these technical jobs."
Other Charlotte-area manufacturers are also taking part in the program, most of them German.
Another German company, Volkswagen, went a step further, building its own academy next to the 3,200-employee assembly plant it opened three years ago in Chattanooga, Tenn. Instructors from Chattanooga State Community College teach high school graduates and others to maintain and repair robots at the plant while they serve apprenticeships at the factory.
The company-specific training isn't cheap. It costs Volkswagen about $1 million to put each student through the three-year program. "We are interested in having our own skilled team members who ... have to be familiar with our equipment," says Sebastian Patta, the plant's executive vice president of human resources. Toyota has a similar program at its factory in Georgetown, Ky.
President Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is working to spread the community-college-apprenticeship model across the USA, initially through programs led by Siemens, Dow and Alcoa in Texas, California, Illinois and Minnesota. The group plans to release an online manual that provides a road map for schools and employers in other states.
"We're looking for ways to get more communities involved and to scale this," says Siemens' Spiegel, who's on the partnership's steering committee.

Students are turning to training and two year programs to find a career where a job will be waiting for them when they graduate.

A draw for 'A' and 'C' students
Wheeling and other high schools aim to spur students' interest in manufacturing and familiarize them with equipment, rather than turn out fully formed craftspeople. Tom Iida, president of Bridgestone, which makes construction and mining equipment parts, says Tamayo had to be trained for eight weeks when he was hired, though he learned quickly.
"We have high hopes for him," he says.
In the six years since Wheeling and other schools in Illinois District 214 began their manufacturing classes, the number of participating students has increased to 216, nearly doubling since 2012. The schools are providing a growing labor pool for factories in metropolitan Chicago, one of the nation's most manufacturing-intensive areas.

Wheeling's manufacturing lab, nestled in a quiet corner of the bustling school, almost resembles a small factory, with three hulking computerized machines to cut and shape metal, two manual mills, a drill press, a laser cutter and other devices. In another room with rows of PCs, students write programs that tell the digital machines how to shape formless metal or wood.

When the classes started in 2008, instructors initially faced resistance from parents turned off by the industry's gritty image and wedded to the idea of their kids attending a four-year college. "You go up to a parent and you say we have manufacturing classes, and they walk away," says Wheeling teacher Michael Geist. "But you say manufacturing-engineering and you show them the kinds of things" kids are doing in class "and they become excited."
The traditional college route is an option for Peter Barts, a strapping junior at the district's Elk Grove High School in nearby Elk Grove Village. His father is a lawyer, and he gets high grades and takes advanced placement physics and math classes. But, he says, "I've always loved working with my hands."
Until he began taking manufacturing classes this year, "I thought of it as you're doing exactly the same thing over and over again." He changed his mind when he learned that machinists use judgment to program computerized machines to trim metal to precise specifications measured in ten thousandths of an inch.
Barts says he plans to be a welder, which can pay upwards of $100,000 a year with overtime, or a shop-class teacher. Either way, he may get additional training at a community college. "For me, it's not work — it's something that I love doing," he says before donning a protective mask to practice on the school's welding simulator. "Once you're done building something, you have this sense of pride — 'I did that.' "
There are also financial benefits: "I won't pay as much (for school) as students who are going to a four-year college," Barts says.
"Whatever makes him happy," says Peter's father, David Barts. "People think that if you don't have a piece of paper that says you went to college that you're no good. … It's wrong."
For struggling students, the program provides inspiration and a potential career path. Before he took Wheeling's advanced manufacturing class this fall, junior Adrian Trego had poor grades and often neglected his homework.
Now, he says he's getting B's and C's in geometry, chemistry and literature and plans to work as a machinist after he graduates. "With this class, I have the motivation," Trego says after furiously turning the crank of a manual milling machine to flatten a small metal block in Wheeling's lab.
"It's a way out," Trego adds. "I don't want to be working at McDonald's."

Where the Jobs Are: Manufacturing 11Alive News
Manufacturers: Potential for growth
Many pursue industrial careers. A third of the graduating students are hired by local factories, earning starting wages of $12-$16 an hour, a third continue their training at a local community college, and the rest scatter to other careers.
District officials work with about 100 local manufacturers to help design classes and establish internships for some students.
Despite the successes of the high school and community college programs, there are hurdles to importing Germany's apprenticeship model to the U.S. The demand for workers still far outstrips the number of students taking courses.
Bridgestone's Iida is frustrated that the competition for interns among local manufacturers is so fierce that the school hasn't provided the firm any the past two summers. "I would love to get more," he says.
Community colleges also are turning out more prospective employees but not keeping up with demand. Nationwide, community colleges awarded 1,557 associate degrees or certificates in manufacturing last year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. That's up from 616 in 2005 but below the nearly 1,600 doled out in 2000.
Spiegel of Siemens says just 15 apprentices are in the company's program with Central Piedmont Community College, a total he would like to substantially increase. He also wants to encourage more U.S.-based manufacturers in the Charlotte area to join the partnership with the college.
"One of (manufacturers') concerns is — if I train people for 3½ years, somebody else can come along and hire them," he says. "If you just have a few companies doing this in certain markets, it is a little bit of a risky investment."
The solution, he says, is to blanket the country with such programs. "I think this is really a path to America's new middle class," Spiegel says.

America's Advanced Industries: New Challenges for a New Manufacturing

Manufacturing has changed.
Yesterday's concept of the dark, dirty, dangerous and dull manufacturing industry – a siloed industry of production in isolation from service and technology – no longer bears any resemblance to the vibrant sector it is today.
Digging out of the recession these last few years with the help of advanced robotics, 3-D printing and "digitized everything," the lines between technology, business and manufacturing have been blurred almost completely.
The result is a new kind of manufacturing industry – STEM-based and overwhelmingly broad – that has once again reclaimed its place as the driver of the U.S. economy.
Special Report: IndustryWeek's Coverage and Analysis of "America's Advanced Industries"
This has been a recurring theme on the pages of IndustryWeek for years, but the full power of the transformation was just revealed this morning in an explosive new report from the Brookings Instutution on "America's Advanced Industries."
The report links 50 otherwise isolated industries – including 35 from the manufacturing sector and 15 more from energy and service – into one advanced industries super-sector in order to measure the real economic impact manufacturing and production in all its forms is having today.
"Technology is exploding," explains Mark Muro, a senior fellow and director of policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. "Manufacturing is turning out to be a very different, much more dynamic and high technology pursuit that is at the center of all sorts of things that are going on today."
This recasting of the sector paints an interesting picture of manufacturing in the 21st century – a truly high-tech endeavor that pulls far more weight in the economy than anyone even suspected.
According to the report, every new job falling into that advanced industries sector creates 2.2 jobs domestically. That means that of the 12.3 million workers currently employed in the super-sector, "another 27.1 million U.S. workers owe their jobs to economic activity supported by advanced industries through their supply chains and their employee's consumption."
That is a powerful effect.
"When you include both direct and indirect employment through this multiplier effect, you arrive at nearly 1/5 of the nation's economic activity attributed to this relatively modest-sized set of 50 industries," Muro notes. "Its importance is beyond arguing."
While all of this is certainly good news for manufacturing, it also underscores some of the real and immanent challenges facing the American workforce that serves it: To keep up with this growing and diversifying high-tech industry, we need a workforce with advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and high-tech experience to drive it.

Forging a STEM Workforce

"We have a massive challenge in having quickly trained, precisely trained people relevant to a whole range of production jobs," Muro says. And these are unequivocally good jobs, too, he adds – high paying jobs in exciting, competitive industries.
According to the Brookings report, wage growth in the advanced industries far outpace anything outside it. In 2013, it measures the average advanced industries salary to be around $90,000, at least twice as much as the average outside the sector.
To a large part, that is to be expected. This industry, the report figures, consumes 80% of the nation's engineers and about half of the country's science, engineer, computer and mathematics workforce.
With the technical skills they require and the value these workers generate – $210,000 annually versus $101,000 outside the sector – it's not exactly surprising that they would be paid more.
But what is surprising is that many of those high paying jobs don't require the advanced degrees you'd expect.
"These industries provide not only very high-paying jobs themselves, but they also provide a surprising degree of accessible employment as a group," Muro notes. In fact, he adds, half of the jobs in the super-sector only require middle skills or sub-bachelorette degrees.
So far, all of this looks great – recast into the advanced super-sector, manufacturing looks robust and growing, its workers are well-compensated and require anything from basic to advanced tech skills.
But this current state is far from stable. There is still the looming threat of the skills gap to tackle.

Taking on the Skills Gap

While not every job in this industry requires advanced degrees, the Brookings report calculates that 60% of the jobs posted for it are for STEM workers, compared to 34% outside the sector. Those job posting, it states, remain unfilled longer, indicating a major supply problem in the workforce.
And that's no surprise.
STEM graduates at any level are pretty dismal in the U.S., which ranks 23rd among developed nations on that account. Worse, the report notes, Finland, South Korea, the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Portugal, Poland and the Slovak Republic all have STEM graduation rates 50% higher than the U.S.
And that is a major problem for a country so reliant on these advanced industries.
To combat that issue, Brookings included in the report a number of recommendations for both the private and public sector.

Private Sector:

"Companies, to start, should reinvigorate their efforts to develop the talent they need in both the short and long term," the report recommends. "The demands of renewed growth amid persistent skills gaps necessitate a stronger focus on retention and internal training even as firms seek out new opportunities in recruiting talent."
To do that, the report recommends the following:
  • Invest in strong talent management and retention strategies.
  • Implement more flexible hiring standards.
  • Expand recruitment efforts to include community colleges and career and technical education programs.
  • Get more involved in modernizing their local workforce development system.
  • Partner with local educational institutions to develop the next generation of skilled STEM workers.

Public Sector:

"The imperative for private-sector initiatives and involvement notwithstanding, it remains the public sector that delivers the most formal education and workforce training in the United States," the report notes. "Significant change is needed if the nation is to ensure the advanced industries sector has access to the workers it needs to thrive."
It recommends the following steps:
  • Improve accountability and encourage innovation in education, particularly in schools that serve low-income students.
  • Increase investment in applied STEM education at all levels.
  • Articulate and implement a strong vision of aligned advanced industry-related training and education.
  • Facilitate and support "bottom-up" efforts to align labor supply with demand regionally.
  • Attune educational curriculum to regional demand for STEM skills.
  • Take steps to boost student completion rates.
  • Increase the number and quality of STEM learning-opportunities in high school.
  • Improve the quality of teaching in STEM disciplines in secondary and middle school.
  • Ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality schools.
  • Expand access to high-quality early education.
To read more about these tips or about America's Advanced Industries as a whole, check out Brookings' full report at