Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Someone help! Is there a machinist in the house?

I fly often, and often enough, that I have actually been on several flights where the call for a medical expert had been requested. The good news has always been that the call was answered in each of these instances.

As many of you know I get pretty passionate about the state of manufacturing in the United States, sided with a deep care for STEM education opportunities we are providing for our kids. The fact that as a nation we tend to no longer value skilled labor is a crime. It has severely affected our ability to remain the largest manufacturing economy in the world, but more disturbing, is that we have limited the opportunities for our children to exploit their talents and entrepreneurial spirit.

I was recently listening to some talking heads on television that said manufacturing was dead because we are now about the use of technology. What an ignorant statement! But unfortunately that is the belief still held by too many Americans. They still think of manufacturing like it existed in the days of Henry Ford — dirty, low wages, oppressive environments, relying on massive amounts of unskilled labor. We have come so far from that!

Almost every machine on my production and machining floor is run by a computer. Guess what, computers don't program themselves. Someone has to write the program that can create the final part needed, and if that’s for a multi spindle or axis machine, that starts to get fairly complicated.

Making chips fly and producing something out of raw materials is an art form as well as a technical skill and we are losing both at an alarming rate in this country.

The impact of this really hit home during my last quarterly sales meeting with my regional sales managers. As each one reported on their top priorities, they talked about the key issues with each customer and what was needed for the project to go to production. Over and over I heard them report that customers can't find the skilled labor they require to make their product. Granted, this is more than just machinists; their request for help includes needed support from mechanical engineers, CAD specialists, technical sales people, protection workers, programmers etc.

How sad that with the rate of unemployment we have in this country, we still don't have the skill sets we need to capitalize on the manufacturing opportunities we have available. How scary it is that when we call out for skilled and technical employees, the response is mostly silence.

Shame on us.