"You train a dog. You educate a person."
That's the note an industrial technology educator sent to us after reading a recent "Fabricating Update" e-newsletter that contained comments lamenting the lack of skilled workers in the U.S. We received 10 or so responses, but that one sentence really has stuck with me. I think it captures the public's mindset about manufacturing.
Manufacturing companies often express that the image most Americans have about manufacturing—that it's dangerous and dirty—is outdated, nothing like the modern shops that are fabricating complex components and assemblies for cutting-edge industries, such as the aerospace and biopharmaceutical segments. But maybe those companies are wrong about Americans' perception of manufacturing. What if they view manufacturing as mind-numbing, instead of or in addition to dangerous and dirty? I think that's what most people are afraid of: Manufacturing is a dead-end street.
Having visited many forward-thinking metal fabricating shops, such as Seconn Fabrication, Waterford, Conn., and GenMet, Mequon, Wis., I know entry-level positions in the field can lead to wonderful career opportunites. That knowledge is far from universal, however, and leads some manufacturers looking for a warm body to fill a slot instead of a human that is truly a resource for the company.
That's why "training" can be viewed as such a loaded word. Train 'em a skill, and put 'em to work. I mean, it sounds like a 1920s assembly-line approach to workforce development.
Manufacturers need to embrace the role of career developer, not just for the employee's sake, but for the company's benefit. Skilled workers are supposed to be at a premium, so companies that are able to hold on to—and even grow—their own cadre of high-achieving employees are much better off than their do-nothing competitors. Companies take on the role of educating employees so they continue to grow, and the employees offer their loyalty back to the employers.
Those in the manufacturing field love to poke fun at the fast-food industry, but if you show any initiative beyond just wanting to flip burgers, McDonald's and its deep-fried brethren gladly educate you in the ways of being a manager. I think manufacturing companies have trained the general populace to think otherwise when it comes to their own industry.