Cutting Tool Engineering
July 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 7

Retaining through training

By Alan Rooks, Editorial Director

When I get a phone call about something I've written, I tense up a bit. That's because the people who take the time to call are usually upset. It's human nature when you're mad about something you've read. If you're not upset, you just turn the page. So when Marv Fieberg of PTooling, a machine shop in Ontario, called a few months back, I braced for the worst.

To my surprise, he was calling to compliment me on my July 2011 Lead Angle column. In the column, I discussed how, during the Great Recession, German manufacturers had sent their temporarily idle but well-paid employees back to school to learn advanced skills instead of laying them off.

Marv’s shop takes the same approach, investing in training for his employees and paying them above-market wages. Our conversation led to a profile of PTooling on page 38 of this issue.

At a time when North American companies are trying to attract new employees, it also makes sense to examine how to keep current employees on the job. Continuing education is part of that equation. Better-educated employees can do more, so shops can profit more, and employees can then earn more. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Smart shop owners recognize this and keep employees learning and earning. For example, in Contributing Editor Kip Hanson’s machine tool training article on page 78, he describes how one shop invested $12,000 in online training for 75 people. By the end of 2011, the shop had logged more than 5,000 training hours and completed 1,200 courses—after-hours with no effect on production.

Training is also a key part of new employee development. I’m not an education expert, but I’d suspect the initial training received by incoming employees plays a key role in their long-term perceptions of the company.

Perhaps that’s one reason DMG/Mori Seiki USA is investing in an elaborate apprenticeship program for incoming service technicians (see Industry News, page 21). In addition to traditional training, the machine tool builder plans to fly apprentices to company plants in Europe so they can see how its products are manufactured and serviced. On my first job, I was lucky to get a trip downstairs to fetch coffee for the boss—but that’s another story.

The experiences of DMG/Mori Seiki USA’s apprentices need to be replicated many times over to build a new metalworking workforce. For example, we need more people like Jessica Alegria, who was a 24-year-old student at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology when interviewed for a March 29 article in Saskatoon’s The StarPhoenix. She had originally attended the University of Saskatchewan. “But I decided I didn’t want to do anything terribly academic,” she said.

Instead, she looked through the SIAST catalog and was intrigued by its machining course. “I’d never done anything like it. I didn’t do any shop (classes) in high school. I didn’t even know what a lathe was—you could have told me anything.”

Alegria found the 34-week machine shop certificate program was a good fit. “It’s cool,” she said. “It’s all about details and precision. You have to be a little neurotic and I think that works well for me.” At the end of the program, Alegria had a job waiting at Hitachi Canadian Industries Ltd. in Saskatoon.

“It was always sort of implied that this (a trade) is what you did if you can’t do school, and that’s crazy,” she continued. “You need to be smart to do this. You have to have skills. You need to think ahead, be precise and have a plan.”

According to the article, after working part-time at Hitachi, Alegria is ready for full-time work. “My first day at Hitachi I thought, ‘Holy cow, this is the same stuff I’ve been doing for 7 months. It’s just bigger machinery.’ I totally know what to expect.”

Let’s hope we can find a lot more Jessica Alegrias out there. CTE

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