Many of us can remember from our high school days that the expectation was that university would be the next step in the education process.  However, many kids don’t know where they want to go with their career because they don’t have the life experiences yet that would help them decide.  So my question is why push college? Every day we hear about the rising cost of higher education and many folks are challenging the return on investment for a college education and the stifling debt from student loans.

What I hear from industry leaders in both small businesses as well as Fortune 500 companies is that we need more skilled trades and continuing education in the technical field of manufacturing.  This is an area that this country lacks big time.  I believe we have plenty of engineers.  We need more qualified workers to operate the machines that build things!

This means that tech schools have never played a more important role in our country’s economic output.  It takes one person to design something but 20 people to build it.  Where are those 20 workers going to come from and where are they going to get the necessary training?  Somebody builds the car, the computer chip, etc. and the quality of those products is directly impacted by the skill level of the tradesmen.

There are hundreds of different specialties when it comes to manufacturing stuff: foundry work and casting parts, milling parts, plastic injection molding, tool & mold building, glass forming, etc.  Think about how many different components go into building a car.  Different specialties in design are followed by many more specialties in manufacturing labor.  Just think of the car seat.  It takes a structural engineer, mechanical engineer and ergonomist on the design end.  However, there are exponentially more specialties involved on the labor side to actually build it.

Just How Important Is This Issue?

Our country isn’t giving enough attention to this issue and it’s a problem with national implications.  Jim Ryan, CEO of Grainger, a distributor of facilities maintenance products, said more companies Grainger works with are in a position where they can’t fill jobs and train employees themselves.  “What our customers are telling us is that they’re having more and more difficulty finding people with these skill sets,” he said. “If we don’t address this problem, it’s going to be difficult for us to have a sustained economic recovery.”

Look at welding.  I suggest business owners estimate the cost of hiring an employee with welding experience versus the cost to train someone in it. The advantages are in favor of the training:

  • Employee retention is better as the employee grows within the organization and sees a future for himself in the company.
  • Training gives them the most current skills and techniques available.
  • It leads to a safer environment (welding requires a certain lens shade, medical advances show you need a darker shade now compared to 10 years ago).

Here in my shop, I’ve seen the upside to employee training.  We sent an employee to school to learn CAD and CNC operations.  Our accuracy has gone way up and our operation runs a lot better than using a tape measure and shear, which is what we did in the past.  That means more satisfied customers.  And training helped us get to that level.

It is essential for growth of the business as a whole.  Moving to automated and highly technology-driven operations requires good, solid training.  It’s all fed by the accuracy of the data being entered into the machine, hence the importance and quality of the training of the operator

Conclusion

If you’re a manufacturing business owner, what can you do about this challenge?

“Companies have to get involved, as well as educational institutions and the government,” Ryan said. “I think it’s that public-private partnership that really starts driving some more awareness to this issue.”

If you want to grow your company, then continue the education of your workforce on the latest technologies that are available.  Most communities have access to a wide variety of training programs.  In our area, we have a number of technical schools: Moraine Park Technical College, MATC and WCTC.

I like how specialized some of the training programs have gotten.  For example, Durham College in Canada, educates the manufacturing workforce there in renewable energy technologies.  There’s even a technical school in the UK that specializes in sign builder training.  There’s a school for everything, even if you want to be a Jedi knight!

We want to do our part to drive awareness of these issues.

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