13 years ago
about JB's mental state or Sarah Palin's meltdown. (Well, a few words,
obviously, but none below, I promise.) It's also long; but you knew
that when you saw who posted it.
The company I work for, like most machine shops I'm sure, is just
not able to find the skilled people it needs. I've ranted about this
before, so I won't elaborate. But we need skilled people - desperately.
So, I've decided to take a shot at fixing this by proposing to the
company that we grow our own skill in-house. And, to my horror, the
company owner has approved my proposal.
In fact, this isn't anything new for me. I've done a lot of
teaching and training in the past, and I enjoy it immensely. But this
will be the first time I've actually had the chance (maybe) to try
growing whole machinists from scratch. I think I know what to do; and
my plan includes a lot of details about how to do it. But, seeing as
how I really care about this, and would sorta like to make it work, I
thought I'd toss it at the group and ask for thoughts, suggestions, or
maybe even some warnings about how/where I'm liable stumble.
The plan goes like this:
I've contacted counselors and industrial arts teachers at several
local high schools, and a community college with a decent "manufacturing
technologies" program. I've asked for their help in putting me in touch
with kids that fit the following profile:
1. Recent high school graduate - just graduated a month ago would
be fine. A little bit of tech-school training, but not too much, would
also be good.
2. Not likely to be attending college full time in the fall. This
could mean someone who's not able to afford college, who has to work
while attending, or who just wants to get to work, rather than spending
more time in classrooms right now.
3. Someone smart enough to be looking for a career, not just a job.
My plan is to find kids with good work ethics, character, and
energy, and offer them a tangible, detailed path to a real career if
they're willing to pay some dues and earn their way. I'm also,
necessarily, looking for people who haven't been working very long (if
at all, beyond just summer jobs), and who haven't yet put themselves in
the position of being unable to start at the bottom rung of the earnings
I'm going to hire these kids in small groups - two to four at a time
- and they're all going to start out working for me as janitors. There
are good (I think) reasons for that.
First, I manage the company's maintenance department. My primary
responsibility is the equipment, of course - installations, repair, PM,
upgrades, etc. But, by extension, and because we haven't found any one
else to do the job, I'm also responsible for managing and maintaining
the air conditioners on the roof, and the septic system under the
parking lot, and pretty much everything else in between. I have a small
team of people who work for me; but they're not very good. I won't
waste words explaining why, except to say that when someone
intentionally applies for a job mopping floors or packaging parts,
they're probably not going to be all that wonderful.
So I'm going to fill (overfill actually) my team with people that I
think are the skilled machinists, cell leaders, plant managers, and shop
owners of the future; but who need someplace to start out. Starting out
in the maintenance crew, I reason, will offer people a chance to learn
their way around the shop, and get acclimated to what we do and how we
do it, before they're ready to start doing it themselves. And, there
isn't any part of the shop that my team doesn't see and touch and deal
with, from the air conditioners on the roof to... Well, you get it.
The first phase will be boot camp - cleaning restrooms, mopping
floors, pulling chips, and proving a willingness to work hard, follow
instructions, and do a good job even when the job isn't much fun. That
will last a month. Anybody who can't do a sinlge month of grunt work in
order to earn their way into the program will be dropped.
Why would anybody take a job like this? Well, I figure that someone
who ISN'T interested in being a janitor (or a stock clerk in a shoe
store, or a counter tender at McDonalds), but doesn't yet have the
skills to be anything more, might be willing to earn what they really
want. People stand in line by the millions to be embarrassed and then
dumped by Simon Cowell on American Idol. And they fall all over
themselves to maybe (or probably not) have a chance of getting voted off
whatever dirty, ugly, smelly island is the setting for this year's
edition of Survivor. And folks join the army to get things like job
training, and health benefits, and college tuition, even though they
know they might get their asses shot off in some third world hell-hole,
10,000 miles from home and friends and family. So maybe this will look
good, by comparison.
Those who make the cut after 30 days with me will get a pay raise,
and will then spend five MORE months working for me in maintenance.
This will still be the daily routine of floors and toilets and chips;
but will also include some training and some variety. When I need to
run a cable through a conduit, the youngsters will push at one end while
I'm pulling at the other. When I take a machine apart for service,
they'll help me move the cover panels, and will clean the machine parts,
and dig the chips and crud out of the dark corners that don't normally
get enough attention. They'll become responsible for mixing coolants,
checking and topping off way oil and hydraulic oil tanks, and like that.
They'll also do things like changing the media in the vibratory
tumbler, changing the filters in air conditioners and mist eaters,
transferring coolants and lubricants from drums we receive into our
dispensing system, and marking bars of raw materials as those are
received and placed on racks.
By the end of the first six months, my recruits will have put their
eyes, their fingers, and hopefully their brains, into every corner of
every part of the shop. They'll know where to find everything, they'll
understand the need and the reasons for cleanliness, organization,
teamwork, and more. They'll know the name and number designation of
evey piece of equipment. When a belt breaks, or a limit switch gets
eaten by chips, they'll know what those things are. They'll have seen
them, and touched them, and they'll have worked with me to understand
that an alarm indicator on the machine's control isn't a mystery, but a
problem to be reported accurately, and solved methodically, by means
that are real and learnable. The kids will have proven that they can
learn and perform basic tasks of many kinds. And they'll have started
learning some vocabulary. They'll also have been plugged into the
shop's e-mail system, and will start to see the traffic there - what
goes wrong, who's involved in what projects, how we set priorities, etc.
THEN (I hope), they'll be ready to start learning real stuff. At
the end of six months, the kids will get another pay raise, and will
become what I'm calling Class 2 manufacturing assistants. In this
position, they'll still report to me; but will be farmed out to the
various cells in the company for things like deburring and cleaning
parts, loading stock into bar-feeders, fetching collets and tool holders
for the machinists, or cleaning and putting away the stuff that comes
out of a machine at the end of a job. They'll be required to work in
every cell, with every different kind of equipment and job, during the
next six months. I want them exposed at this level to as much variety
as possible, and I want all the cell leaders to test drive each of the
kids for two reasons. First, I need good feedback about how they're
doing, from viewpoints other than my own. Second, I want each of the
kids to have a chance to find something they like best, or that
interests them most, to start thinking about directions for the long term.
Those who do well as C2 Mfg. Assistants will get another raise, and
will move up to Class 1. That will include the same stuff as Class 2,
plus learning to read micrometers and calipers and prints, and don't
drop the gauge blocks on the floor, and "tending" machines that would
otherwise run unmanned. Check every third or fifth part in a specified
way. Enter the data into the computer tracking system at the bench.
Learn what's a problem, and report it to the cell leader, etc. And, of
course, learn and learn and learn, and do every job well enough to keep
paying our way while we teach you.
At the end of approximately 18 months (6 in maintenance, 6 each at
the two levels of Mfg. Assistant), my young charges will have gone from
mopping floors to (almost) operating machines in production, and from
$9.00 an hour to $12.00. And, they'll have survived their time with me.
They'll know the company, the people, the rules, the expectations, and
they'll have proved that they can live with all of those.
And each time a group moves on, I'm going to fill in behind them
with another class of janitors and toilet cleaners, so the pipeline is
always full of new recruits.
After performing well as Mfg. Assistants, the kids will graduate to
bigger and better kinds of learning and performance. They'll have three
options. They can train to be either CNC machinists, quality control
technicians, or building maintenance specialists. All of the previous
training was preamble, and should prepare the kids for any of the three
main areas. They can lean to cut metal, or learn QC, or stay with me
and learn plumbing, electrican's stuff, network cables and air handling
systems and what's behind the walls that needs fixing or improving. Or
maybe they even graduate from that to learning gears and bearings and
electronics and PLC's, and to fixing and maintaining machine tools. If
needed or appropriate, some will be sent back to the community college
to learn more math than they got in high school. Or they'll attend a
machine builder's programming school, to put some more formal and
structured knowledge with the day-to-day things they're learning at
work. Or they'll get tuition reimbursement in lieu of pay raises,
coupled with flexible work hours, so they can go back to college and
learn metrology, or engineering, or whatever makes sense for them and
has future value to the company. For the right people, properly
screened and qualified and tested, investments like that will make
sense, and be easy to justify.
In a continuing series of steps, under the care of skilled people
who've agreed to help, the kids will keep learning, and growing, and
earning pay raises, and eventually filling the positions in the company
that we can't fill off the street. They'll learn tooling, and setups,
and programming, and inspection, and processing, and more and more and
more, over the course, of course, of a serious number of years.
There will be problems, naturally. But all the ones I've thought of
can be solved, as far as I know. I've already had good response to the
basic idea, and have candidates calling for interviews. Obviously, this
isn't really a great innovation or anything. It's just an
apprenticeship, pretty much like what's been done in skilled trades for
a thousand years, at least. The trouble is, nobody does apprenticeships
anymore. It's a lost part of our business, and probably something that
looks new and strange to somebody just starting out in the world. So
I'm recycling an old idea, and hopefully implementing it in ways that
are appropriate for the 21st century, rather than the 19th.
But I'd really like some thoughts, cautions, or other perspectives
from the group members. Where will I screw up? What things should I
teach early, or save for later, or whatever? How would you do this, if
it were your project? What would you want or expect, if you were 18
years old again, and looking for an entry point into a career?
Think. Share. Please! I'll sincerely appreciate any comments or