The technology press is all atwitter about the resignation of Steve Jobs as the day-to-day leader of Apple. The hullabaloo is probably warranted given that his company's products have revolutionized the world. The Apple® I was the first personal computer, forever influencing the way people communicated and conducted business. The iPod® turned the music industry on its head because a music collection was now as mobile as the music collector. The iPhone® is a smart phone that's destroying other market segments, such as mobile gaming and global positioning systems. Meanwhile, people still are trying to wrap their heads around what the iPad® means to everyone's personal and professional lives. Arguably, Jobs might have the best resume of anyone alive today.
I was reading this short tribute and found it touching. I also found one paragraph very familiar:
"His parents scrape to send him to Reed [College]. He drops out of college and starts dropping in on classes that interest him. He makes money returning bottles and he hits the Hare Krishna temple now and then for a free meal. He takes calligraphy, eschews the typical coursework, and at age 20 he and a buddy start a company."
Now, outside of the visits to the Hare Krishna temple and the calligraphy courses, doesn't that description sound like the background of a metal fabricator you might know? It's a person who isn't necessarily great at school, but isn't dumb either. It's a person who has some talent, but can't find the appropriate outlet in a structured school environment. It's someone looking for an outlet and finally finds it.
In the 2011 readership survey conducted for The FABRICATOR, we asked subscribers how they got into the metal fabrication business. The 292 responses revealed that a majority of metal fabricators didn't go to college for this:
- Joined the family business—13 percent
- Joined the industry after high school—30 percent
- Joined the industry after obtaining a technical degree from a two- or four-year college—35 percent
- Entered the business after making a career change—30 percent
- Purchased a metal fabrication company as a business opportunity—1 percent
Almost a third of the survey participants never intended to become a metal fabricator; they took a circuitous route to their home on the shop floor.
Scott Plance, owner of Metal Dynamics, Wooster, Ohio, is a good example. He is a trained tool- and diemaker, but is now the owner of a successful metal fabricating company. A job assignment to set up the fabricating department for Commercial Turf Products Ltd., Streetsboro, Ohio, then a joint venture between LESCO and MTD Products, provided him with the inspiration to try out the metal parts-making business. He started welding some parts on the side in a two-car garage in 1998, and when 2000 came around, he quit his job and started welding full-time. He added a new press brake and a used punching machine in 2003.
"I thought, 'Why not let the machines do all the work?'" Plance said.
Now he's surrounded himself with 10 employees he trusts to produce parts with the same quality level that he expects as if he were making them himself. Meanwhile, he's still making parts for the company that was his first customer. The customer hasn't found anyone else that can deliver quality parts as quickly on a consistent basis.
A four-year degree from a college isn't a guarantee for future success. Steve Jobs and a wealth of talented metal fabricators are a testament to that fact.