Time to take a chance on this next generation


The concept of planned obsolescence has been part of the American manufacturing discussion since the 1920s. In the consumer-driven years of the 1950s and 1960s, it seemed every product, every year was “new and improved.” From cars to detergent to electronics, we want the latest and greatest, the most cutting edge technology we can get.

Except when it comes to people.

Unless they can throw a football or dunk a basketball, we don’t take chance on young people, especially in manufacturing. We don’t train the next generation the way we used to, and we don’t pay for potential the way we should. Younger workers today have a decidedly different skill set, and a different life experience. There’s much debate about training techniques and “relating” to a plugged in and tuned out generation. For those of who in my generation who have forgotten, they said the same thing about us.

The difference was that we got a chance to prove out mettle. Employers were more willing to experiment with workers, to look for potential beyond a resume or an education. In valuing a college education, we have forgotten to equally value skills that do not translate into college. We have forced some round pegs into some square holes, and with inconsistent success.

To re-energize our recruitment and training efforts to plug the massive and growing manufacturing skills gap, we cannot count on these young people to find us. We cannot count on the old ways and the old techniques. We’re going to have to create a new set of incentives and a new sense of possibilities.

Above all, we’re going to have to take a chance on this new generation of workers and, as it was for us, build training and education into those goals. We have to show workers a path to success—personal, financial and business. We have to equate work in manufacturing with creating something permanent.

The problem with planned obsolescence is that its primary tenet is that nothing is permanent. While that’s certainly true, nobody goes into a manufacturing plant with the idea that what they make will break someday. Indeed, some of our best manufacturers are realizing that many of their products have survived and remained useful from the prior century well into the current one.

The PLC has become more sophisticated in its design and function, but it’s still programmable logic, and it’s still control. It may be “new and improved” but we haven’t really improved the foundation on which it is built. We’re just using more 0s and 1s. Motors power our lives, even if they are powered with electricity or LNG. Inclines help us defeat gravity.

There are a few things we haven’t really improved on. A screwdriver can be battery-powered today, but you can still turn the manual one and get the screw to stay in place. The same holds true for a hammer—but as the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

What we do well today is in adapting and improving our machines so that we have something for every kind of problem—a hammer for every nail, if you will. Why haven’t we been able to do the same for the people who wield these new and amazing tools?

The problems are getting solved in small ways in individual regions. Smart people have not just recognized the problem, but are devising solutions that explain the value of a manufacturing career today and in the future, demonstrate the skills needed to achieve in that career, offer a path to personal, professional and financial reward and provide the training and support in order for the individual and the manufacturer to achieve those rewards.

All that is happening, but it is happening on too small a scale, and much too slowly. We have been at this nexus for too long now. The huge gains we have made as a manufacturing industry, and a manufacturing economy, are threatened by the glacial pace of resolving this fundamental issue. Our only salvation at this time is that most of the rest of the world has the same issue.

It starts, though, with the people. We don’t need new and improved people. We need a new and improved process to recruit, train and retain people. I think we will find that these young people are worth taking a chance on.

And if we don’t, we at least ought to remember that someone was willing to take a chance on us.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me