The individuality of manufacturing

Each engineering recruit has a unique skill set and background. By approaching the hiring and training process with an individualized approach, you can help foster and mold future industry leaders.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, CFE Media September 22, 2017
There is a moment at the start of every school year when you are face to face with your teacher. You’re stuck with one another for the next nine months, and if there’s any consolation as a student, you can look around and realize that there are more of you then there are of them.

I’ve been in front of a few classrooms in my time, and I can tell you the view from up there can be daunting. This is why I have so much respect for teachers; they have all the knowledge, but they have to play ringmaster every day to maintain the classroom as a place where that knowledge can be delivered. It was tough when I was in school, and it’s tougher today, especially because there’s more knowledge to deliver.

I’ve observed two types of teachers over the years: 
  • Those who look at the assembled students and ask: “What do they need to learn?”
  • Those who look at the assembled students and ask: “What do I need to teach them?”
The more successful classrooms tend to be those where the student’s need is assessed and evaluated before the teaching begins. It also requires an understanding of what the student brings to the process. We too often begin with the idea that a classroom is a collection of 20 or 25 identical kids, and that is where education breaks down. Each child is unique in intellect, personality and background.
This is what makes teaching so challenging, and why we need to give it more respect as a profession. It also is why teachers must continually challenge themselves, and their systems, to reach past conformity to find a way to reach each child, each day. 

Manufacturing has an assembly line, which is exactly the image we don’t want for education. But look what’s happened in manufacturing in the last decade: we’ve embraced the idea of single-lot manufacturing. We can bring individual cars with specific options off the same line. Each car comes from the same factory, but each car is unique. Each car is built off the same foundation, but each car reflects a singular vision. 

As we look for the workers to manage this process, we must adopt a similar individualized approach. We must look at each potential employee in terms of what they offer as opposed to whether they fit the specific square peg we have created for the position. In short, can we teach them how to operate in our system?

There are many paths to manufacturing. As this year’s group of Engineering Leaders Under 40 again demonstrates, successful manufacturing workers come from a variety of backgrounds and came to this profession from many directions.  It is this diversity that enriches our plants and can fuel greater achievement. If everyone thinks the same, then there’s no room for growth, for new ideas or new approaches. 

If we’ve learned anything in the last decade, it is that the impression of a singularity in manufacturing has harmed our ability to recruit and retain talented people in manufacturing. We have to support the idea that even in a profession that requires uncompromising attention to safety and quality in every product and process, there is a need for bright minds and sharp thinking to improve the products and processes.

We are in a fight to gain more workers to our field at a time when technology and data management are among our most important recruiting tools. We need to draw new people to our profession, and we can’t do that if we keep presenting ourselves in the same way. Manufacturing has an amazing story to tell. 

If we see our potential workforce as individuals who can bring individual skills to our workforce, we can create a diverse, engaged, and dynamic workforce. If we see these future workers for that they have to offer, we can unleash manufacturing’s potential as a destination for the best and the brightest. 

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media,