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Speaking of Precision

Speaking of Precision is a knowledge preservation and thought leadership blog covering the precision machining industry, its materials and services. With over 36 years of hands on experience in steelmaking, manufacturing, quality, and management, Miles Free (Milo) Director of Industry Research and Technology at PMPA helps answer "How?" "With what?" and occasionally "Really?"

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Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

Posted November 20, 2012 9:20 AM by Milo

Dan's comments were a response he shared with PMPA members regarding the charge of one talking head on last week's 60 Minutes that 'there is no Skills Gap… industry would have skilled workers if we only paid higher wages.'

Guest Post by Dan Murphy, REM Sales

Part of the problem is that nowadays most of the manual labor has been automated out of manufacturing processes.When you had a large pool of unskilled workers performing simple tasks, a company could find the hard working person that had math skills and mechanical aptitude and put them into an apprenticeship program and that person could advance. Today companies need to find that person right out of the box which is very difficult to do.

There are some people that will never be good at math, and the more time I spend in this business, I truly believe that mechanical aptitude is genetic. You either have it or you don't, and it can't be taught. Perhaps the solution is to recruit seniors from high schools. There is a standardized test for mechanical aptitude and I think that test, administered along with something like the Predictive Index and a math test, would yield better candidates.

At the end of the day, no school is going to give you a guy that can hit the ground running on an eight-axis Swiss, or be able to set up and troubleshoot a multispindle cam automatic. Companies still have to develop employees with those skills and offer continuous training to keep their employees skill set up to date. Raising wages alone does not create great machinists. Aptitude, attitude, talent, training, and experience do.

These do not arrive by merely raising wages. Higher wages are a reflection of these in an employee.

Just boosting wages will not magically (nor immediately) create 8 axis qualified machinists.

We need to create a pipeline of talent for our machining craft. Working in conjunction with local community colleges is an ideal way to help take some of the training burden off of small companies. But we have to get involved so that the school gives us what we need in our workforce today.

I just returned from a trip to China. China is different than I imagined.

I was surprised by the number of big American and European cars on the roads. And the factory I visited was world class.

The companies in China are doing plenty of training too. they do because they need machinists too.

It's not about raising wages. It's about finding talent and providing training.

As a company, we have always been willing to share our training materials with our customers.

Surprisingly few ask for it.

Editor's Note: CR4 would like to thank Milo for sharing this blog entry, which originally appeared here.

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#1

Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/20/2012 9:31 AM

Great article,

Good wages are earned! Not because you have a high number in seniority.

I have to agree about your statement about China. I have a few contacts there, and I look forward of visiting that country.

Also what your statement of:

Raising wages alone does not create great machinists. Aptitude, attitude, talent, training, and experience do.

A statement like that is alike a government program throwing money at a problem with no clear ROI. Practical experience and aptitude can not be undervalued.

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#2

Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/20/2012 11:26 AM

There is also a whole other side to this issue as well and that's management.

Poor management or management that lacks the proper knowledge, mindset, and security/maturity in itself is as much of a problem as worker knowledge and skills and unfortunately in too many companies that is the source of greater problems than limited work force skill sets will ever be. An unskilled or inadequately skilled worker can be trained to be a good worker where as under qualified manager is much harder to identify and train. Especially if he was placed there by someone above him who is also inadequately qualified to truly do their job properly.

My wife and I are both good examples of people who are highly skilled and knowledgeable in our fields however that said both of us have been continually passed over by companies that are supposedly looking for skilled people simply due to our obvious skill set and creditable references in our life's work portfolios clearly being greater than that of the management that are currently in the company we have gotten passed over for being "over qualified" too many times.

From my life's working experiences we are not an isolated set of cases by any means. I personally have witnessed conversations with mangers that passed over perspective new employees specifically just because the application and resume clearly showed them to have superior skill set mindset and experience that was superior to the people who where running things.

How many here know that they have been turned down for jobs they applied because your skill set and documented work experience clearly showed you to be of a caliber greater than that of the people whom ran company?

Ever dummy down a job application and resume to get hired?

Ever get ran off for a lame reason when your skills and abilities where seen as a possible threat to a manager even though you had no interest in causing them harm or other?

I have and too many times as well.

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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/20/2012 11:32 AM

I once called the companies owner son an idiot (which he was) , and to go back jet sking and let the work up to the men.

Once I started, I didn't quit. That confrontation was enjoyed by all.

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#4

Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 12:22 AM

No one doubts that if you want the best CEO's or Sports stars etc you have to pay them well. After all the people with talent and drive look around when young and decide what they're going to aim for.

So no, raising salaries doesn't create more skilled workers, but it helps get the skilled, brainy hard working kids to apply for the jobs and take on the apprenticeships.

It's the same reason the smartest kids go into law or accounting rather than engineering.

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#5
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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 1:13 AM

Haven't encountered that sort of skills discrimination. I do contract work and my clients like that I have the skills/experience to deliver solutions. I deliver, they pay, no angst.

When hiring (subcontractors) I like to hire people who are smarter than me as this strengthens the team and reduces risk on projects so I don't think I would discriminate against you because of that.

If you are discriminated against because your skills are deemed a threat then that's probably a good thing....better than having to work with paranoid fools.

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#6
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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 8:20 AM

Not so much law anymore. At least in the US, there is a glut of lawyers and enrollment in law schools has dropped considerably. The same may be true of accounting. I saw some numbers this past year showing average accounting salaries to be lower than average engineering salaries.

One thing about major sports in the US is that they utilize a 'free' apprenticeship program - college. The NCAA-controlled sports do a good job of selecting and training sports 'stars'; just look at the signing bonuses some NFL draftees get: millions of dollars before even showing up at pre-season camp.

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#7
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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 8:23 AM

I'll agree on working with people that are smarter or more experienced than me. It gives me a chance to learn. I've never felt intimidated by my betters, rather I looked forward to learning.

That said, it's really dissappointing when you meet someone who has a shining resume and reputation and find out down the road that it's all fluff. When you go into a project expecting to learn only to find out that they'll be leaning on you because they can't do or don't know.

The best employees are the ones with inquisitive minds. When you give them a basic task and, not only do they complete it quickly, they learn about it so as to improve it.

The owner of the machine shop I work with still employs his original mentor. The mentor is retired but spends time at the shop doing the more intricate and detailed jobs. The owner keeps him around to pick his brain when he gets stumped. It's kind of like having an encyclopedia to reference when you need it.

The owner of the shop has also noticed the difference between machinists and operators. A machinist will know how to set up a job, how deep a bite to take with a given cutter, etc, which tool to use and how many different setups a job may take. An operator puts the raw material in according to instructions and pushes the start button. The shop owner says that he's lucky if the local trade school gives him operators. It takes years of experience to make a machinist.

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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 9:02 AM

I have seen the same, The attorneys are having a time getting a job. Hopefully they will not 'make work' for themselves

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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 10:06 AM

Just to follow up my previous post. This article discusses the latest LSAT statistics. The number of test takers is way down.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2012/11/number-of-lsat.html

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#10

Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 3:00 PM

I'm not a machinist, I'm a structural engineer but I'm sure the general truths carry through all of the technical trades and professions. Basically, on the search for more money; I didn't ever start out a search for more money, there was always a dissatisfaction with management, or perhaps mismanagement, first, then the search for another job and then the pay became part of the evaluation. It was interesting to note that all of the exit interviewers wanted me to say that my reason for leaving was for more money.

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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/21/2012 3:09 PM

I didn't ever start out a search for more money, there was always a dissatisfaction with management, or perhaps mismanagement, first, then the search for another job and then the pay became part of the evaluation.

I believe most can say this, I left (3) jobs for a considerable less pay, for either opportunity or the challenge.

I should have maybe play things smarter, but I never regretted do it.

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#12

Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/24/2012 12:55 PM

"Skill Gap- It's Not About Wages"

Most of the players involved understand that wages are only - one piece - of this complicated 3D chess game. I say "game" because that's what it is to the players who control the pieces on the board - a game.

Excuses and finger pointing are the current standard in today's "limited liability" manufacturing environment. The theory is if you didn't make the widget - you can't be blamed if it fails although failure is failure no matter the excuse - winners don't make excuses.

US manufacturing has largely evolved into a management shell that controls layers of subcontractors that are slowly but surely pressed into a quantity over quality situation - low bid rules the day. If a product fails then the corrective action to blame the sub and switch to the next lowest bidder.

This "cheaper, faster, point the finger -blame game" mentality has spread through most US board of directors, share holders and the entire management structures. They all want the same output and returns - even in a down economy - and even after massive layoffs and budget cuts. An alarm should go off when a company lays off a third of its work force but maintains the same output and profit margins. Share holders squint their eyes and think happy thoughts like these margins are manna from heaven. Short term overhead is cut by simply denying needed capital request and not paying bills on time. This is a long term death sentence.

Even worse our k-12 educational system is a complete failure with most high school graduates being border line illiterate compared to 30 years ago. They look good on paper after testing well - but didn't actually apply/learn anything in high school. Most shop classes that taught basic hands on wood, metal, small engine or electrical skills are now gone. How can you learn something that you don't apply.

Many technical colleges got rid of more expensive manufacturing programs and opted to fill the gap with low cost / quick cash programs like like office computer operator training.

It's real simple in theory, we get past greed ......and do what we used to do.

  • High schools teach basic math, science and english - not produce numbers
  • Tech schools re-implement the basic through advanced skills programs
  • Manufacturers reinstate time proven apprenticeship programs
  • Invest a portion of profit instead of raping and pillaging
  • Ditch the get rich quick approach

Everyone over 30 already knows this, and younger people don't know any better.

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#13

Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/24/2012 1:05 PM

You're right, higher wages alone won't attract talent, although it might keep it in-house. But there needs to be a stable job market before talent will consider your need as a career. Today it seems that most companies don't want to recruit and develop raw talent, they just want to buy it already developed. Some of them have ignored talent development for too long and are in trouble because their old talent is retiring and nobody can replace them. It's the company's own fault. If a person cannot get a job (company has unrealistic hiring expectations) or keep a job (due to outsourcing) then he's not going to explore or stay in your field long enough to become the experienced talent you desire.

Companies want a major commitment from employees (education, experience, tolerance for working hours and conditions) yet are unwilling to commit to employees (training opportunities, career ladders, job security). I'm not saying that every candidate is viable, and I'm not saying that economics doesn't force hard decisions. But when a person becomes mature enough to realize that they need decades of employment to live life (pay a mortgage, put kids through school, afford retirement, etc.) they notice when companies and job types have high turnover. If you're considered obsolete due to age or salary level after only a few years, and your industry tends to cast you out, that's NOT a serious career choice. So if your company doesn't grow its own talent, and consistently churns its workforce to keep salaries low, don't be surprised when you run out of experience and have trouble replacing it.

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#14
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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/25/2012 3:05 AM

Nicely "penned" mate. We are in each other's heads on that score. GA.

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#15
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Re: Skill Gap- It’s Not About Wages

11/25/2012 8:51 PM

Precision machinist jobs were open even as the rest of the economy tanked 2008-2009. Open jobs in want ads the entire time for skilled machinists. Milo

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