Preparing employees to help create your future

April 21, 2010

If you aren’t doing all you can to train the next generation of skilled workers, within a decade you may find yourself without the knowledge you need. One speaker at AMBA’s annual convention in Florida provided some tips to get you started.

Ryan Pohl of eXpert Technical Training, a company based in Comstock, MI that promotes itself as “Masters in Industrial Training and Development,” really hit a hot-button with the attendees at the AMBA Annual Convention in Orlando, FL. Most are faced with the aging of their workforce. Pohl cited some figures: 40% of our skilled workers will retire in the next five to 10 years and the average age of the skilled manufacturing workforce is 53. When those skilled workers retire, mold company owners will lose the knowledge base and the skills that those employees have.

Ryan Pohl of eXpert Technical Training recommends assembling a best-practices team to help employees learn from each other.

“People will make the difference in the future of your business,” said Pohl. “They can be the determining factor in your success or failure.”

As high schools shift away from career and technical educational programs, and push students toward a four-year college education, it will be more difficult to find young workers who want to enter manufacturing training or apprenticeship programs, he said. “Their priorities aren’t geared to trade schools or training, and much of that is a poor image of manufacturing,” said Pohl. “There’s also a lack of government support. That means there are fewer people in the pipeline.”

Pohl expressed how much he loves manufacturing. “We need to restore pride in manufacturing workers,” he said. “Finding skilled people is a real challenge. For most industries to survive, we have to pass the trade along to the next generation.”

Pohl pointed out that the young people coming into the trade are “very complex” but extremely tech savvy. “They’re born with a laptop as their first toy, so that’s a huge asset,” he said. “They’re also extremely creative, highly flexible, and environmentally conscious. They expect instant rewards, but demand development over the long term. They’re entrepreneurial, impatient, and information obsessed.”

While most mold shops are aware of the challenges facing them in the future, Pohl said, “It’s not too late, but we have to start today to prepare our workforce by capitalizing on their strengths, get more youth into our shops, and lower that average age.”

One AMBA member company, Ameritech Tool & Mold with facilities in Mooresville, NC and Ormond Beach, FL, has an active relationship with the local high schools and a top-notch apprenticeship program. Steve Rotman, who has been engaged in attracting young people into the trade for nearly 10 years, noted that the average employee age at his company is 33-20 years less than the overall average age of 53.

Pohl said that every company needs a good employee development plan that includes:
1. Implementing a proactive worker recruiting and hiring program. “Don’t wait for them to come to you,” he advised. “Go find them.”
2. Implement a structured employee training program, along with an existing-employee improvement program.
3. Identify non-skill (soft) success characteristics. List the skill-related ideal employee for your shop. “Be creative in where you look,” advised Pohl. “Do you like the way the young person at Best Buy explains high-tech equipment to you? [This demonstrates technical know-how.] Always keep your eyes open for the type of person you’ve identified that would be an asset to your company.”
4. Then present this person with solid reasons for working in the industry. Ask if he or she has a friend that might be interested. “It all starts with you,” said Pohl.
5. Provide structured employee training. “Don’t just say ‘go work with Charlie and he’ll show you the ropes,’” said Pohl. “You need planned days of orientation.”
6. Provide efficient skills development, including:
• Expectations and outcomes.
• Mentorship—pass down the knowledge and skills.
• Apprenticeship program. “We need to take another look at this,” said Pohl.

With respect to existing employee training or ongoing training, there’s much that can be done. “With new technology coming along, there’s a skills gap,” said Pohl. “Identify and fill this gap. Tie the new knowledge to the existing knowledge whenever you buy new software or machinery.”

Another tip: Train the long-time employees in how to mentor the younger employees. Roger Klouda, president of MSI Mold Builders (Cedar Rapids, IA), said that one valuable tool he uses is the reverse: Teach the younger employees how to mentor the journeymen employees. Younger people can have a lot of tech-savvy that they can pass along to the older employees, who may feel put off by the technology.

Pohl also suggested a “best-practices team” so that employees can learn from each other. “Current employees are the greatest asset for your company to be successful in the next five to 10 years.”

Pohl suggested that every shop needs continuing education plans. “The so-called professionals are always going to school,” he said. “Continuing education helps them see new perspectives. Technology is always changing and they need new ways of looking at it.”

Continuing education is “people maintenance—it helps keep them sharp,” Pohl said. “We have to establish our own future by training our future. We must strategically pass on the trade.” Clare Goldsberry

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