A&E Custom Manufacturing, Kansas City, Kan., isn't much different from other metal fabricators today. It is looking for the right skilled employees.
"If we could find the people, we would probably add four to five employees," said John Jaixen, A&E's general manager, in December. Specifically, he would bring on talented welders for the second shift and inventory help—if he could find the right people.
Needless to say, A&E isn't alone. In October 2012 the Boston Consulting Group issued a report saying that manufacturing companies had 80,000 to 100,000 open positions for skilled workers. That's dwarfed by the 600,000 openings cited in a 2011 survey from Deloitte Consulting and The Manufacturing Institute. Sure, that's a big disparity, but the fact is that the current manufacturing workforce isn't getting any younger; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average age of manufacturing workers in the U.S. at 56.
A&E, like other manufacturing companies, isn't interested in simply adding warm bodies. They want people who have good character, a strong commitment to do the job, and the competence to be able to execute job functions. Steve Hasty, A&E's president and owner, calls it the three C's.
"If they have the ability, we can train them," Hasty said. "But we are only going to train people that are of good moral repute, good character, and can get along with people."
The company has taken on the training initiative itself. It isn't going to wait for the situation to get better with hopes that key personnel will show up eventually. Like any organization involved in continuous improvement programs, A&E is looking to get the most out of its current employee lineup:
- It regularly asks its machine tool vendors to visit the A&E facility to teach employees how to work with new equipment.
- When employees need extended training on a piece of equipment or on programming software, the company sends them to a class at the machine tool builder's headquarters.
- The company brings in an outside consultant to assist with welding certifications as management looks to beef up its capabilities.
Jaixen said that these training efforts have proven invaluable in helping to maintain productivity levels in the face of more jobs hitting the shop floor. He mentioned one incident in which the welding foreman was injured in a motorcycle crash, and another welder with almost as much welding skill stepped up to assume the leadership position. When the foreman returned to work, his temporary replacement was named the lead welder on the second shift.
The goal is to have people with the right skill level and leadership ability in positions where they can move into key roles. It keeps the fabrications moving through the shop floor, and employees are engaged because they know they are working on a career, not just a metal part.
"It helps the morale. And when people see that employees get opportunities, they understand that is the way that we operate," Jaixen said.