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Workforce Development

Demand for Shop Floor Skills Training Increasing

There is an interesting trend developing with respect to the demand for technical skills training on the shop floor. This training typically focuses on foundation skills such as shop math, blue print reading and interpretation, and training in metrology or the use of precision measuring instruments.
When trying to understand the increased demand for this type of training it is important to listen to the voice of the customer and what they are telling us is very revealing. A question often asked is, “What are your major challenges as they relate to workforce skills?” When they respond, you will hear some interesting similarities. Many manufacturers are coping with an aging workforce and retirements are beginning to impact the company’s knowledge base. This is often referred to as a “brain drain”. There was a recent article in this newsletter entitled, “Why Can’t I Find Skilled Workers?”

Some of the same factors that companies face with new hires also apply to incumbent worker skill deficiencies.

Even if new employees are not added to replace the retirees there will be some reallocation of staff to fill the vacancies. Soon the employer realizes that Joe or Jane, who are experienced employees and performed well in another department prior to the new assignment, simply do not have the skills required to effectively function in the new position.

Another dynamic that is challenging incumbent workforce skills is the rapid implementation of new technology on the shop floor. For example, a manual machine is replaced by a computer operated model. The justification for making such an investment is the promise of productivity improvements and the ability to operate to closer tolerances that will enable the company to compete in the higher-end markets that most U.S. manufacturing companies strive to operate in.

Unfortunately, the workers who had mastered the operation of manual machines that made products to less exacting tolerances are challenged to apply the old skills that once served them well to the new technology. All of a sudden they need new skills to program machines. This requires upgraded math skills. The new machine is capable of more precise tolerances so the operator now has to learn to interpret more sophisticated drawings with GD&T callouts and to use more sophisticated measuring tools to validate output and it goes on.  Does any of this sound familiar to the issues you face?

Companies that are fortunate to be growing and have added to their workforce lately are finding that although they have hired “good employees” these new employees lack the technical skills to operate in the current environment because they lack training and experience. This, unfortunately, seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
Fortunately there is a solution that can address this challenge. MassMEP has developed a “Basic Manufacturing Skills” curriculum that seems to have provided part of the solution based on the response and demand we have experienced over the past year. The most popular modules selected are shop math, blueprint interpretation, and metrology.

This training is typically delivered over an 18- hour course schedule,  on site by an MEP trainer who familarizers himself with the needs of the operation. These courses can be customized since they are modular by design. Another apparently popular feature is the training can be delivered in ways that minimize the disruption to ongoing production demands by breaking up the material into 3 to 4 hour increments.

The good news is companies that track progress and establish metrics to measure improvement have reported they see results quickly in terms of increases in productivity, such as delivery improvements, reduction in overtime and improvements in quality through reduced scrap and rework. As important is the apparent development of an energized and motivated workforce willing to take on the challenge of implementing new technology and accepting increased responsibility for their own quality output and productivity. This happens when a workforce gains confidence in their skills and become empowered by the new knowledge and begin to work smarter not harder. People in general express their appreciation towards their employer as they recognize the investment that has been made in them. It is a classic win-win for all involved. To address your workforce training needs call or email Ted Bauer or 508-831-7020.

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