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?

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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 Documentation

English: An example of a 5-Axis waterjet cutti...

English: An example of a 5-Axis waterjet cutting head used to cut complex 3-Dimensional parts on a CNC waterjet cutting machine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure most of the more seasoned CNC machinists and operators out there have their go to places when looking for CNC machine manuals and the like.  We’ve all encountered a situation where we needed a quick reference after the shop brings in a used CNC, or that “new guy” misplaced the manual.  Though if you’re relatively new to the field, just starting out, or simply doing some investigating after being inspired by a DIY CNC project, you may not yet know where to go.

You’d think these companies, especially in this day and age, would make their manuals readily available on-line, but they seem to be few and far between.  Sure, there are plenty of shady looking websites where you can pay but we know we don’t want to do that.  Really, what good is a manual if you don’t own the machine.  Here are two places that are a sure fire bet  that’ll give you up to date information, specs, manuals, you name it.

CNC Machine Manuals and More

Just as the name say’s, I’m a Haas guy even though this site has a broad reach.  So naturally I’ll often drop into Haas Automation’s site.  You’ve got to be impressed with a company that has this much coverage.  YouTube channels, manuals, News, Facebook pages, etc.  More than I care to parse myself but I’m sure it’s all very useful.  What I wanted to specifically point out are the : Haas Automation Manual Updates. Great resource for our Haas folks out there.

Keeping with the broad reach of this site:  FadalCNC.com has a huge collection of Fadal manuals on line for your convenience   Fadal CNC machine parts manuals, operator and quick reference manuals, maintanence manuals, and more.  Hey, for our CNC brothers in Mexico they have manuals available in Spanish as well.

Forums.  Don’t forget to check the CNC forums.  There are a lot of persons looking for and sharing manuals on just about all of the CNC machine and DIY CNC hobby forums.

Your Turn

How about yourself, do have a favorite place to locate CNC machine manuals?  Let us know in the comments below!  To all my stateside brothers and sisters, have a great Memorial Weekend and remember to take some time to observe those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for our well-being.

 

Update:  From the G+ CNC Machining and Manufacturing Community I’ve an addition to the list:  CNC Alarms.com where you can look up  CNC Machine Alarms and error Codes for Fanuc, Mitsubishi, Yasnac and more.

CNC Machine Manufacturing in the USA

I try to hit a number of CNC machine related forums a few times a week.  I enjoy reading the insights, opinions, and suggestions of others on various forum threads.  As you can imagine a common topic of conversation is the state of manufacturing in the USA.

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)

From the  CNC machinists, operators, and programmers, to the set-up persons and CNC repairs tech, we take pride in knowing that just about any product made here state-side that lands in a persons hands has been machined at some point.  Manufacturing has also been one of the great mainstay’s of this country’s middle-class, and the common refrain for quite some time has been that manufacturing is dead. I often read the lament from forum poster’s that we’re a dying breed. While manufacturing has seen it’s shares of ups and downs, I believe it’s on the way up.  Again.  I believe it’s a fairly optimistic time. More and more companies are realizing that there are too many trade-offs by off-shoring their production.   More and more people are fore-going the common route of working for a company, purchasing a used CNC machine and other shop equipment and going it their own.  With the technological advances (3D printing and DIY CNC anyone?), coupled with a home grown college tuition system that seems bent on disenfranchising a whole generation, I’m seeing more and more young persons moving toward CNC programming and machining. A couple of articles I’d like to point you toward:

The Insourcing Boom

This is a very in-depth and excellent article describing our recent manufacturing past here in the states: the outsourcing boom, the decline in manufacturing jobs, and the subsequent realization that the trade-offs of outsourcing are many.  GE serves as a prime example in this article of realizing that outsourcing is the old, inefficient  and poorly imagined way of conducting manufacturing in the US.

Skilled workers needed to run high-tech CNC machines

Like the title says…skilled workers needed.  Us older guys are going to want to retire at some point.

Your Turn:

How about you?  Do you believe manufacturing, specifically CNC Machine manufacturing, in the USA is on the rise?  Believe we’re a dying breed?  What are your thoughts on the newest CNC up and comers?  Leave your thoughts below!