DESPITE THE GLOOMY OUTLOOK painted for manufacturing jobs, there is an acute shortage of trained machinists. While training in the latest metalworking and machine technologies is available, that training may not be enough. In addition to training employees in the latest technologies, shops often have to educate their people on ways to compete successfully. And, when local technology training is not available, shops can change that.
Shops face constant pressure to reduce costs and speed deliveries, even on repeat orders. Technology helps to cut cycle times and boost quality, but how do you squeeze productivity out of jobs without constantly investing in new machines and software? Time-based performance measures are not good enough, and many shops find that skills-based training pays off by shortening the learning curve for workers while ensuring continuous improvements in quality and productivity.
Often, the answer shops become performance-driven organizations that focus on performance metrics to define how workers perform the functions needed to make their products. These performance metrics can be documented to create a library of skills and techniques a shop has acquired. Once documented, the metrics can be upgraded as workers attain them. Such a library also reveals areas in which skills are needed.
Shops need personnel who have technical skills, who can think on their feet and who are adept at problem solving. For instance, machine operators must understand what is going on behind the scenes to understand the screen data they look at on a machine as a part is produced. Forwardthinking shops give employees a broad perspective on technologies with continual training on such topics as CNC programming and CNC lathe and milling machine operation, even though those employees may not be programmers or machine operators.
The need to produce documentation for certification, compliance and tracing purposes is an increasing, and many shops rely on consultants to train employees on understanding the documentation required for ISO certification or compliance, the operators' role in meeting these requirements.
Competition in the metalworking industries makes it prohibitive for shops to hire entry-level personnel with no shop experience, and exacerbating the problem is the fact that many high school students no longer graduate with basic machine tool experience.
Shops looking for qualified machine operators often are disappointed with graduates of company-sponsored apprenticeship programs because, as metalworking companies specialize, apprentices are not exposed to a broad range of shop experiences.
One program that helps to create trained shop workers is the NIMS competency based apprenticeship system administered by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc. (www.nims-skills.org). NIMS integrates national metalworking standards and credentialing assessments, combining traditional on-the-job apprenticeship with the use of personal assessments as performance measures. To become a NIMS certified machinist, toolmaker, CNC setup programmer or certified journey worker, an apprentice must demonstrate satisfactory performance in a required number of core competencies.
Some shops are near vocational or technical schools, community colleges, universities or association technical centers that offer basic machine shop training or advanced technology training. But, the lack of student interest in metalworking has led to the deterioration of some of these training programs. However, that can be remedied. For example, one Mid-Atlantic community college threatened to eliminate its shop program because of falling enrollment, but local manufacturers responded and saved the program.
Those manufacturers realized that the institution's shop facilities, coupled with out-dated equipment and a substandard curriculum, turned students off. Through volunteer work they spruced-up the facility and a local distributor loaned newer machines to the school. With the help of grants, a full-time program director was hired to upgrade the curriculum, integrating it with the NIMS apprenticeship system to certify student proficiency. More recently, a machine tool manufacturer agreed to supply high-end CNC equipment and to periodically upgrade the facility with newer machines, and more shops joined with the original group to support the training facilities.
Contributors to this article include:
Charmilles Technologies SA (www.charmilles.com)
Jewett Machine Mfg. Co. (www.jewettmachine.com)
Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) (www.pmpa.org)
National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc. (www.nims-skills.org)
National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA) (www.ntma.org)
New Century Careers (www.ncsquared.com)
Oberg Industries (www.oberg.com)
WireCut Co. (www.wirecut-co.com)