Better training leads to a stronger workforce

Through the cooperation of controls suppliers, machine builders, educational institutions, and the end-users, the workforce as a whole will benefit.


"A rising tide lifts all boats." That quote typically is ascribed to John F. Kennedy back in the 1960s, when my metalworking involvement consisted of playing on the jungle gym at the school playground. Actually, his speechwriter borrowed the quote from a local chamber of commerce, who had the same idea I present to you here.

The metalworking industry as a whole benefits from the ongoing cooperation of controls suppliers, the machine builder community, and educational institutions, whether high school shop classes, vocation schools, or university engineering departments. It also benefits from everyone in the end-user world, from the five-man job shop to the production department of a major original equipment manufacturer. This is not pie-in-the-sky or Pollyannaish behavior; it is serious business.

For example, my company has formed an alliance with the TMA, the former Tool & Die Institute located near Chicago. This association changed its name when it broadened its scope to include more companies, larger companies, and more affiliate members among the industry supply base. This was done to expand the input, thinking, and direction of the group-something from which we can all benefit.

The members are still related to metalworking, but they include stampers, weld shops, chip cutters of all sorts, and even the machine builders and dealers who supply the industry. They find that they have much more in common when running their businesses, and those perspectives are useful to all the members. We're helping to sponsor competitions among the members and the students at local schools, with an eye on raising the bar, or water level in this analogy, to improve the skill sets of current workforces as well as the next generation of machine operators, programmers, machine designers, and maintenance engineers.

Meanwhile, the feedback we get from these various groups helps us design controls that are more flexible, more responsive to user needs, more adaptive to the rapidly changing landscape in machine shop operations today, and, maybe most important, look ahead to the future of manufacturing in America.

I think of the speed with which we transitioned from manual machines to NC tape drives to CNC machines. Now we have robotic articulation, machine-to-machine communications, transfer-line technology for blank to finished workpiece flow, and even the elimination of the zone controllers on fully automated production/assembly lines. After all this change, it's obvious that controls suppliers must make a commitment to follow every development in the market.

This is not done to make us richer, as our involvement in most training enterprises is offered gratis. Rather, it's done to make us a better supplier, to make our customers build better machines, and to make the industry more viable and more competitive worldwide. In the end, everyone wins.

Several machine builder customers are now sending their students and customer workforces our way for specific training on CNC technology. In one case, a builder has developed an entirely new machine for the job shop sector, based on the input we derived from our joint experiences.

In the field, too, better training means a better operator workforce that's capable of running multiple and very different types of machines. The days when an operator of Brand X lathe wouldn't even consider working on a Brand Y lathe are gone-and thank goodness they ARE gone, because U.S. shops wouldn't survive with that mindset anymore.

Through the cooperation of controls suppliers, machine builders, educational institutions, and you in the end-user community, the boats will indeed all rise and prosper.

Incidentally, I want you all to know that I was recently certified as a lift truck operator. We all need to multitask and keep honing our skills. Collectively, it will make us a better, stronger industry. In my case, I can now move some of the workpieces into our tech center work areas. I had pretty good test scores, actually, and I'm kind of proud of that. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Randy Pearson, a long-time veteran of the machine tool industry, is the Siemens sales support manager for U.S. dealers and OEMs. His special interest is the many levels of training on CNC machine tools, which he conducts through various seminars, workshops, and classes the company conducts at vocational/technical schools and on site at shops, as well as at Siemens training facilities around the country. His e-mail is 

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