The Search For Skilled Manufacturing Employee Candidates

Skills Drop Off

Skills Drop Off (Photo credit: squacco)

A common refrain I often hear, and read about, is the lack of a quality pool of technically skilled employees to draw from when it comes time for hiring.  Take a look at any manufacturing news site out there and you’re bound to see it yourself: skills gap, lack of training, unprepared candidates, etc.  Heck, jump to some of the better CNC machine forums and read first hand attempts at hiring that sound more like some demented David Lynch scene than a run-in with an unqualified applicant.  Joking aside, it’s a real concern for not only the larger manufacturing behemoths but also the smaller independent shop looking to expand and fill needed roles.

When it comes time to hire we all hope to land a great applicant, one not only with technical skills and experience, but the wherewithal and common sense to do the job right.  As many of you can attest there are a lot of us grey beards in the shop these days.  Not to say that is a bad thing at all: we come with years of knowledge, know-how, and experience.  But we understand that keeping our trade healthy and alive means bringing in the younger generation of able bodied men and women.  So where are they, how do we go about drawing them in, and how do we ensure they’ve had the proper fundamentals and training to ensure a successful and productive path?

Manufacturing Training Programs

I’d be a liar if I said I had an answer to this tricky bit of business.  I started out on a used CNC machine, being mentored from the ground up; pushing the broom, measuring parts, doing set-ups, change overs, CNC repairs…well before I was ever let loose on a “real” job.  While we’d all love to be able to mentor a new hire (and some of us still do) it’s often not practical.  The costs, the time, ,and the propensity for the situation to simply not work out.  Seems the nature of our business is that by the time we need to hire someone, we need to do it yesterday, so we’re in need of someone with skills and experience that can quickly get up to speed.

I’d like to share a couple of articles I came across today on this subject.

This article from The Modern Machine Shop gives us a bit of flashback to the manufacturing climate in the 1990’s and 2000.  It illustrates how the outsourcing of manufacturing,  the lack of manufacturing investment in supplemental training for employees, and the push for non-manufacturing college degrees culminated in the decimation of new manufacturing talent.

There is a bright side to the article.  It lay out the pro-active moves between a number of industry’s and a local college to reinvigorate the training and acquisition of new manufacturing talent.  It’s motivating to read about a program that not only helps fortify the industry I know and love, but to know that it’s some real training here: no light-weight diy cnc hobby here.  These trainees put in the work.  Read for yourself.

The Modern Machine Shop: Not Just a CNC Degree

Want to continue with that good feeling?

This article from Forbes ( “CEO Takes Action On Manufacturing Skills Gap” ) touches upon many of the same issues and takes some of the same sorts of approaches.  Using Germany’s apprenticeship system as a model, CEO Tom Hudson of nth/works used his own team and resources to create an apprenticeship program that gives high school students hands on technical training and know-how.

From the article:

…providing them with hands-on, paid training in five areas of manufacturing: welding and automation; tool and die making; tooling design; CNC machining; and kaizen, a Japanese manufacturing philosophy devoted to continuous improvement.

These students spend two and a half months working in each specification and upon completion can pursue secondary training, begin looking for work, or become a part of the program.

Motivating to read indeed.  I recommend checking it out.

Your Turn

While I don’t have the solution to our manufacturing woes and talent shortages, I do believe programs like the ones outlined above go a long way toward instilling the fundamentals of our industry in qualified applicants.  In many ways I believe programs like the above not only cut the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, but incentivize younger people toward manufacturing.  Just read Jocelyn Salinas quote at the end of the Forbes article where she talks about creating  air block cylinders if you don’t believe me.  But what about you?  Do you believe programs such as these can help alleviate the poor quality of candidates many of us encounter?

CNC Machine Personalities

Computer Numerical Controls (CNC)

Computer Numerical Controls (CNC) (Photo credit: wistechcolleges)

As CNC machine operators/machinists, technicians, even button-pushers, we’re a breed apart.   As I stated previously in an article dedicated to CNC shop management and ownership issues, “We tend to be gear heads, persons interested in how things work, passionate about our trade and our skills…”.

We are passionate about what we do and how we do it.  There may be more than one way to skin a cat (or knock out that spindle replacement), and  you’ll certainly find most of us willingly acknowledging this…right before continuing to show you the best way.  We sure as heck are not afraid to get our hands dirty or to attempt new solutions to old problems.

Just like the machines and materials we work with on a daily basis, we come in all shapes and sizes and personality types: some of us smooth around the edges, others a little rough but still full of character.  Some of us are a bit older and seasoned, much like that old used CNC machine that may have a bit o’ grey but runs like a workhorse.

HaasPlus.com: 5 Types of CNC Machine Personalities

The HaasPlus.com blog has a fun post touching on the different makes and models that comprise the people in our industry.  From the “Perfectionist”, “Energizer Bunny”, to the “CNC DIY enthusiast” they cover any number of the personality types I’ve encountered over the years.  Take a look and see if you recognize yourself.

One of my favorites: The Teacher.  The Teacher is an instrumental figure in the lives of those just starting out.  Patient and willing to instruct while never just giving you the answer, thereby allowing those fresh on the block to truly learn and understand their trade.  They realize they could just program that g-code for you but understand it’s better for you to do it yourself, to train your mind to think logically and muscle through.  The Teacher was instrumental in my life and I’ve seen it time and again with regard to others.

Your Turn

How about you?  As the HaasPlus.com blog post asks, did they miss any personality types?  Where do you fit in?

CNC Machine Resources: New HaasPlus.com, Manufacturing, and More

A new week is upon us, and hopefully you’re as busy as I have been!  As we all know the manufacturing environment has it’s share of ups and downs and at times it feels like it’s either feast or famine.  As we head into the dog days of summer here in the US I hope it’s nothing but feast for you all.

Today I have a few useful tidbits I scrapped together from the inter-webs that you all may find of interest.

All New HaasPlus.com: Haas CNC Machine Repair & Replacement Parts

Image via HaasPlus.com

Image via HaasPlus.com

As I wrote in an earlier post, all signs seem to be pointing to better days ahead when it comes to CNC machine manufacturing.  Many of us are already seeing upticks in our business, and that includes myself as well.  Due to my own shops production increases, and wanting to stay up on my equipment’s maintenance, I was on the hunt for some CNC replacement parts and upgrades.  As the name of this blog implies, I’m a Haas guy, so I pointed my cursor to HaasPlus.com to take a look around.  Imagine my surprise when I found a totally new and re-vamped site.  I’ll be keeping my eye on the new site and blog for further updates…

Color me impressed!  I was particularly shopping around for a ball bearings replacement kit and valve control and found the new site set-up smooth, well organized, and friendly.  Some great pricing here folks.  Whether you’re a lone ranger running a used CNC, a shop owner, or a DIY CNC enthusiast, I highly recommend checking them out!

Cerasis: Top 4 Manufacturing Issues in America – Part 1 & 2

If you’re like me you try your best to keep up with manufacturing news and trends.  As a member of the CNC Machining and Manufacturing community on G+ I often come across great community news and postings.  Cerasis recently posted a pair of articles highlighting the top 8 manufacturing issues in America.  Stay educated on the news and trends in your field and take some time to check them out; well worth the time.  You’ll notice that mention of additive manufacturing in that list…pay attention folks, it’s going to impact us all!

Cerasis: Part 1: Top 4 Manufacturing Issues in America

Cerasis: Part 2: Manufacturing Industry Trends in America: The Final Four of 8

The CNC Cookbook: Lights Out Manufacturing

Continuing with trends and manufacturing news: The CNC Cookbook continues to post great articles and resources for your g-code and CNC machine needs.  Bob Warfield has posted a great introduction to Lights Out Manufacturing.   Increase your performance and productivity gains!  Whether you run your own shop or manage a full-scale CNC machine production floor, you’ll want to read this and consider implementation!  We’re all looking for ways to increase productivity and income, and this may well be an approach for many of you out there!

Your Turn

Have a new resource you’d like to share?  Know of a great online shop like HaasPlus.com that has CNC machine repair and replacment parts at competitive prices?  How about a great article on CNC machine manufacturing?  We’re all on the lookout for great deals and valuable resources so let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to share!

CNC Machine Manufacturing: Education

image via ToneAudio.com

image via ToneAudio.com

Imagine my surprise today while perusing the internet’s for some CNC machine related goodness and coming across a mention of  Rock Valley College over at The Modern Machine Shop.  Let’s just say that I’m familiar with Rock Valley College and have met many an upstart who schooled there.  From everything I know about the school and the quality of it’s graduates it definitely speaks to a well-rounded and thorough program.

CNC Machining and Education:

The Modern Machine Shop has a great video describing some of the aspects of what it is like to study manufacturing.  This video serves as an introduction for anyone considering a career as a CNC machinist or any other related specialty in machine manufacturing and the education that accompanies achieving that goal.

You can view their video and brief here: What it is like to study manufacturing.

A couple of points I liked from the video (I’m paraphrasing here):

Misconception: “…the misconception that there are still some ‘easy’ jobs out there. The reality that there is a wealth of knowledge one has to immerse themselves in before they are a skilled enough employee to be of real value to a company..”

While there may be some easy jobs out there, somewhere, CNC machining is not one of them.  Sure, if you’re a general operator (sometimes referred to as a ‘button pusher’) your work may not get too complicated.  The reality is that many a machinist is a living compendium of knowledge and skills: Electronics, mathematics, programming, trouble-shooting know-how, mechanical and machine aptitude, materials knowledge, etc.  The reality is also that you’re probably not working on a brand spanking new CNC machine (if you are you have my heartfelt jealousy at present).  More likely you’re running a used CNC machine that has seen it’s fair share of use and abuse.  With that comes trouble-shooting CNC repairs, CNC parts replacement, alarm diagnosis, and beyond.

Education is going to cover many aspects of what you’ll need to know, but as the man said, it’s pertinent for the beginning student to understand that this field does require immersion into a wealth of knowledge.  If creating with a CNC machine get’s your juices flowing than prepare to fill your brain with a variety of information and knowledge.

Subjects:  “…studied physics, electronics, strength of materials…”.

As the young man describes in the video, he has been introduced to and required to study a variety of topics and information.  He’s also working hands on with the machines, processes, and is involved in actual projects.  Like I mentioned above, there are many more skills one needs to acquire as well.

Employment Opportunity:  “…job placement right away…companies interest greater than the number of students at present…”.

Drifting?  Milling about in your garage with that CNC hobby?  Put that interest to work!  Granted, job placement and industry interest is going to vary depending on your location, but all the signs are pointing to the positive regarding manufacturing, and specifically CNC machine manufacturing, at present and in the future.

Your Turn:

What do you think about the content of these video’s?  Are they simply nice product placements for Rock Valley College, Haas CNC machines, and Fadal, or are they doing the good work of promoting manufacturing education?  What are your thoughts on the quality of students you’ve interacted with whom have attended programs like the one in the video?  Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

CNC Machine Manufacturing: The News Just Keeps Getting Better

plasma cutting with a cnc machine

plasma cutting with a cnc machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a number of occasions I’ve pointed to specific articles highlighting the potential growth of US and specifically, CNC machine,  manufacturing  in the near future.  You may recall this article about GE and the in-sourcing boom, this article about manufacturing in the Silicon Valley, and this Wall Street Journal article centered around advanced manufacturing.

Never fearful of good, heartening news, I came across another optimistic juicer that I’d like to share today as well.

Comeback: Why the US Sits at the Brink of a New Boom

Your CNC Machine Future

 

Between the growth in newer technologies like 3d printing, the energy boom, and signs pointing to companies bringing their manufacturing  back to America, it seems we’re sizing up for a manufacturing rebirth here in the US.  That is good news for those of us in the CNC machining industry.  Whether you own your own shop outfitted with a rag-tag mix of new or used CNC machines, or you’re managing a crew for a large manufacturer, the time to prepare is now.

Don’t get left behind and find yourself scrambling to update those used CNC machines: take an inventory of needed repairs, upgrades, and replacements, and get those replacement parts ordered.

Shop in disarray?  No better time than now to take a look at your shop layout and workflow.  Can things be better organized?  Are you wasting valuable time in your process due to poor layout?  Streamline your workflow now.

What type of work are you equipped to do?  Do you have the ability to branch out, take on new clients and expand your production?  What are these articles pointing to?  Is it plausible to branch out into 3d printing?  Do you have the skills and expertise on hand to make these types of transitions?

These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asking my own self as I keep my sight on the future of CNC manufacturing and what I can do to continue to expand and grow.

Your Turn

While it’s easy to get caught up with buzz words and hype, we certainly need to tread carefully.  The news that continues to come in definitely points to better days ahead.  I’m not one to advocate foolishness, but I also don’t like to be blind-sided either.  Whether the manufacturing news is all hype, or good tidings of things to come, planning and preparation, maintenance and upkeep, will only serve you and your company for the better.  So what do you think:  is now the time to invest in new CNC machines and equipment, to prep our shops for a potential influx of business, or is it best to hold steady for the time being and see how things pan out?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

The CNC Machine Shop: Ownership & Management Issues

Whether you’re the owner of a  small CNC machine shop running a mix of new and used CNC mills and lathes, or the foreman overseeing a crew  for a large manufacturer, ownership and management issues are frequently going to arise.  On a daily basis you are dealing with employees, schedules, customers, workflow, safety issues, timelines, equipment repair and replacement, shipping/receiving…the list goes on.  Owning and/or running a CNC shop is not for the tame of heart.  The demands are many, the schedules are tight.  It’s a juggle of the ulcer inducing variety, and all the worse if you realize you’re eating downtime due to poor planning and easily correctable on-site inefficiencies.

Today I’d like to touch on the issue of managing our shop employees and make some suggestions for maintaining a productive crew.

Managing the CNC Machine Shop: Employees

 

Machining a bar of metal on a lathe.

Machining a bar of metal on a lathe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We CNC machine operators, machinists, programmers, techs, DIY CNC’rs…we’re a different breed.  We tend to be gear heads, persons interested in how things work, passionate about our trade and our skills.  We work hard, we play hard.  Those are only a few of the defining hallmarks of our personalities, and those traits can also make for a complicated creature.

If you’re managing a crew, no matter how big or small, at some point there will be an employee issue: maybe tardiness, attitude, scheduling, or overtime. Something will crop up.  How you manage that is important.  I was over at the Practical Machinist the other day reading a thread about employee issues that got me thinking about this.  Some of the examples cited would make my father blush.

I have a few common-sense thoughts and ideas on managing your crew:

  • Clearly define the workplace guidelines, job descriptions, and expectations.  Don’t fudge on this: the more in-depth and concise the better.  This means all of it: vacation scheduling, absentee/tardiness guidelines, medical coverage, behavior guidelines, overtime expectations, shop security policies (theft, cameras, etc) etc. Present and cover this prior to hire.  Periodically review with your crew.
  • Create an open door policy.  We all have complicated lives.  Working in a CNC manufacturing environment can come with a lot of overtime.  This can get tricky for those of us with family’s and outside demands.  Show your crew you care, listen to them, invite them to come in anytime with concerns, life-issues, you name it.  No, you’re not there to be their personal shrink, but we all have things that come up and can affect our performance.  When you’re in the know, you’re better off.  And, if you do care about your crew, you can find ways to help them out.  That’s trust and loyalty and that goes a long way.
  • Be Fair.  You may have one guy or gal that outshines the rest.  Great!  That doesn’t mean they should be treated like royalty while the others are treated like serfs.  Common sense rules the day.
  • Address the work related concerns of your employees.  If you truly show your crew you care, they’re going to show you that they do as well.  When a crew member comes to you with shop related concerns (safety issues, employee conflicts, needed machine repairs, scheduling, etc.) address those issues.  Do not brush them aside.  Make the time for them.  If it’s a safety issue go out and investigate.  Seek the insight of the other crew members.
  • Sometimes you’re going to have to let an employee go.  Be judicious. Be fair.  Give them every opportunity to learn, grow, and make up for mistakes and lack of experience.  It’s not easy finding the right people, and it sure ain’t cheap training someone.  Though sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  Document the process with the employee, outline a trajectory, and if it comes to having to let them go, you’ve got solid reasoning and documentation behind.  Most likely, they’re going to understand that you gave them a fair shake and they’ll respect you for it.

Your Turn

Have you encountered unique situations with crew members and fellow employees?  How did you address those issues?  Feel free to share your stories and insights in the comments!  Just click that little ole’ comment bubble at the top right of the article.

CNC Machine Training

If you’re like me, you’ve often taken some of your free time pandering around the internet for CNC machine related topics and information.  Maybe you own your own shop and are searching for CNC replacement parts or used CNC machines?  Maybe you’re looking for a quick tip on some g code, or even some help on a troublesome alarm?  No matter what it is you are looking for, if you start Google-ing around you’ll eventually encounter links for CNC crash videos.

About once a week I’ll find myself watching a CNC crash video while getting the sleep out of my eyes and slurping down a couple cups of coffee.  These video’s make it easy for one to sit behind their screen, laugh and shake their head, and mumble to themselves about all the morons in the world.  I’m guilty of it myself.  But I’ve been thinking about these video’s a little different lately.

CNC Crash Video’s: What Are They Really Showing Us?

We’ve all had our bad days, am I right?  Made some rookie mistake and cost ourselves, or the company we work for, time and money.  Replacement parts add up fast, and while it’s a fact of life that things are going to break from time to time, it always hurts when it’s the outcome of a preventable mistake.   

So, when you see one of these crash video’s, do you see yourself at some distant point in the past?  If not, count yourself lucky.  

What I’ve started thinking when watch these crash videos is the importance of training.  Yeah, like we all need another CNC Machine and safety training meeting, right?

Yes, we do.

The Importance of CNC Machine Training

Periodic training sessions carry a number of positives.  First and foremost it puts information at the forefront of our minds.  Yes, a session may cover a topic most of the shop already knows, but it may just brush the dust off of it as well.  We carry a lot of knowledge in our heads, and it’s often that some of that is used only on rare occasions.  Nothing wrong with brushing it up, giving it a nice new mental veneer.  It’s simple refreshment that can often save yourself time and money.  It’s easy to forget the small things…and often that is where refreshment training saves us time and money.

Also, sessions like these often lead to related topics and discussion that open the door for the whole shop to learn and benefit.  

 

Let us not forget the newbies  in our shops.  No matter how industrious and sharp and driven, he/she is going to make some blunders.  Hopefully of the less expensive kind.  Added training and mentorship is where my thinking lay when it comes to the young-in’s in our industry.  By taking the time (and yes, short-tern expense) to aid and mentor them in their learning, we all benefit.  Not only do we save ourselves money in the long term, we help craft better CNC machinists and operators.  

That benefits everyone in the CNC manufacturing industry.

Whether you’re clocking hours in a Haas CNC machine shop or a DIY CNC enthusiast experimenting in your garage, periodic training and discussion pay’s dividends in the long-term.  

Your Turn:

Do you believe that periodic training sessions, say, once per month, are a benefit to your shop?  Let me know in the comments!