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!

The Internets: DIY CNC Machine Resources & More

A CNC Turning Center in the FAME Lab in the Le...

A CNC Turning Center in the FAME Lab in the Leonhard Building at Penn State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to CNC machine resources there is nothing better than having the internet at your fingertips.  Whether you’re into DIY CNC, looking for used CNC machines and replacement parts, sharpening your g-code skills, or pondering the pursuit of a CNC hobby, you’ll find a wealth of valuable information.

If you’ve been following me for some time you know that there are a number of sites and locations I’ll periodically tout.  The Practical Machinist immediately comes to mind as a wonderful forum and valuable CNC machine resource for the machinist/operator and CNC hobbyist alike.  Another blog that I frequent, and which I’ve linked in the sidebar some time ago  is the CNC Cookbook blog.

The CNC Cookbook blog  posts are interesting, in-depth, and accessible to all CNC machine enthusiasts.  Bob Warfield covers a variety of topics from cookbooks on using his G-Wizard G-Code editor to advancements in 3-d printing.  With 20,000 and counting members you know you can’t go wrong by dropping in for a visit.

DIY CNC Machine Resources

Which brings me to mentioning a recent post/cookbook Mr. Warfield put together over at CNC Cookbook:

DIY CNC Cookbook: In-Depth Articles on Building CNC Machines, CNC Routers, and 3D Printers

This is the kind of resource you are going to want to take a look at especially if you are considering going the DIY CNC route and building your own.  Mr. Warfield has put together an in-depth cookbook covering all the angles.

G-Code Tutorials

Since I’m touting the expertise over at the CNC Cookbook I thought I’d mention they’ve also cooked up an extensive G-code tutorial and course.

As the man say’s, every machinist should know g-code, and that means you as well.  Jump on over and see what I’m shouting about!

CNC Cookbook: G-code Tutorial and Course

Your Turn

What about you?  Know of a great CNC machine related blog or resource and would like to share?  A favorite CNC internet stomping ground?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to share!

CNC Machine History & More

Continuing with last weeks post on CNC machine education, I thought I’d drop a link to the CMS North America Inc. site which contains an article entitled:  “A Brief History of CNC Machining”.  The article highlights John Parson’s work on the precursor to CNC – numerical control – and how this work led to developments at MIT in 1949.  As the article states, while these beginnings were rudimentary compared to today’s machines, there is still much commonality: the requirement of a command function, a drive/motion system, and a feedback system.

An interesting, though brief read, for anyone interested in the history and development that has led to their CNC machine center.  Now just imagine finding that humongous bad-boy at your local used CNC machine outlet?  Sheesh…

CNC Machine Manuals

Keeping with the resource nature of this site I came across a post over at the Practical Machinist forum earlier today that led to a trove of CNC machine manuals.  While I had hoped to come across a bounty of Haas related manuals and resources, this could be a valuable and helpful list for those of you out there with different types of CNC machines. I don’t recognize all the types, but could be helpful for the DIY CNC or hobby CNC crowd out there as well.

One quick caveat, and don’t let it discourage you: this is a French site.  Just use your Google translate and you should be good to go.  Say you want a milling manual.  Select milling from the category, select the manual type, and you’ll find a link at the top that should lead you to a pdf or a download.  Much to be searched and discovered here.

A trove of CNC machine related manuals

CNC Shop/Business Tips

Last but not least for this glorious Friday afternoon is  “10 Tips for Growing Your CNC Machining Business” from Thomasnet.com.  Some decent, general advice here for the self-employed shop owner.  It’s never a bad idea to read up a bit and see if there are aspects of your business you’ve neglected, or ways to improve and expand your business that you may have overlooked.

Your Turn

How about you, any related bits you’d like to share regarding the history of CNC machining, links to manuals, or shop and business tips that should be included with Thomasnet.com’s list?  Let me know in the comments below!

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!

DIY CNC: The Kickstarter Way

English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July

English: Fireworks on the Fourth of July (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fourth of July has come and gone, though for many of us the celebrations continue throughout the weekend.  What a wonderful time of year to celebrate our independence and the innovative American spirit!  When I think of what makes America great much comes to mind: our indomitable work ethic, our spirit of innovation, American Manufacturing (…hat tip to our CNC machine operators and machinists out there!…), the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces (a hearty salute to those American warriors!)…the list is endless.

Kickstarting CNC

 

Speaking of innovation I came across a few items this past week that the DIY CNC crowd may find interesting.  Heck us “regular” CNC metal heads may find it of interest as well.  Kickstarter is an interesting idea/funding generator.  It speaks to that ingenuity and innovation I mentioned above: a truly American spirit.  When I was pondering our great American heritage and what it meant to be a CNC machinist in America, I got to thinking about our inventiveness and curiosity.  One thing led to another and I came across these Kickstarter projects (see below).  In hindsight, it seems an obvious extension of the CNC machinists inventiveness and curiosity to find a place among the innumerable Kickstarter projects seeking funding everyday.

The Handibot:   From the site: “Handibot is a robotic, multi-purpose tool for makers that’s controlled by smart phones and computers via programmable apps.  Think of it as a portable CNC that’s capable of cutting, drilling, carving, and many other machining operations.”  

Now this is obviously a limited-capability machine, ideal for the DIY individual, tinker-er, garage workshop environment.  When I first saw this little CNC machine I thought it was made out of plastic, but viewing some of the sites video’s leads me to believe it may be a bit more durable.  Also, while I understand the video’s are intended to demonstrate the Handibot’s versatility and variety of applications, some of these demonstrations seem a bit contrived.  Example: as someone who has done a fair share of his own home construction it’s much easier to use a handheld router to cut a utility box hole in some drywall.  You’d be finished with a room by the time you set this thing up.  The same goes for cutting out stair risers: much quicker for the reasonably seasoned person to line out their steps with a square and knock it out with a skill-saw.

What I do like about this is the fact that it’s open source.  To me that means that that innovative and curious spirit we harbor is going to find ingenious uses and expressions with this little guy.  I can only begin to imagine the various apps and programs the DIY Maker crowd will come up with.  I also think it’s a great introduction for the younger set out there.

The Othermill:  From the site: “The Othermill is a portable, computer controlled, 3-axis mill that is specifically designed for use at home or in a small workspace. Our objective is to build a mill that is compact, clean, and quiet enough for use at home, yet is precise enough for high level electrical and mechanical prototyping work. The Othermill will be at home on your desk, in your workshop, or on your kitchen table.”

Another DIY-centric machine, though specializing in custom circuit creation.  This just “sparks” my imagination.  Now only if I were more electrically inclined.  Once again, an open source project with quite a bit of versatility.  Ideal for those with limited space but large imaginations.  It will be interesting to see in the day’s ahead what interesting and varied creations people come up with!

 

Your Turn:

Know of any innovative CNC related Kickstarter project’s out there that need some attention?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to share!