February 12, 2004
During the economic downturn, many companies cut employee training to help control expenses. At the same time, technical and vocational programs were and continue to be cut for a variety of reasons, including providers' budget concerns and low enrollment.
Signs point to a manufacturing recovery—albeit slow—and employers are reinstating training. With many programs cut, where can today's workers find the training they need to advance their careers and help their companies remain competitive?
As understandable as budget cuts were during the downturn, cutting employee training perhaps was not the wisest move. Did employers lose more ground in terms of remaining competitive than they gained by curtailing employee training?
In a Jan. 21 congressional hearing to explore the offshoring practices of U.S. CEOs, business consultants and academics testified that the long-range value of a company improves the more the company invests in its workers instead of relying on cheap labor. One study, shared by Princeton-educated economist Dr. Laurie Bassi, showed that companies that made significant investments in their employees consistently reaped better long-term stock performance than those who sought short-term profitability.
An investment in continuing training is vital to an employee's career growth and a company's success. What works well today often doesn't tomorrow, and the employer who fails to update workers' skills may find his or her business lagging more progressive competition.
Workers who receive ongoing training usually perceive their employers as not only caring about remaining competitive, but also valuing them and their contributions to the organization. Because the employer makes an investment to train the employee, the employee's sense of job security increases. Workers who feel appreciated and more secure in their jobs usually take fewer sick days and often are more productive.
Participants in a recent two-day Progressive Die Workshop held in Atlanta were surveyed following the workshop. Among the survey questions was "How are you and your co-workers trained for your jobs?" All of the participants who responded answered, "on the job." Seventy-five percent also mentioned conferences, and 25 percent mentioned technical classes. Of this group, no one specifically answered online/video training or in-plant training, although both of these training options could fall under the "on the job" category.
All respondents said that they passed on information they learned in the conference to others in their facilities, mostly informally—another form of on-the-job training.
In terms of experience, the workshop attendees ranged from people new to stamping to company presidents. Shop floor personnel rubbed elbows with sales and marketing professionals and managers. Why were they there?
Brian Funk, tool designer at Marion Die and Fixture, said, "The company does some progressive-die work, but it's not the company's bread-and-butter type of work. The company is looking to expand its market to include more progressive-die work."
Funk hoped to gain more insight in solving the problems and various challenges faced when designing a progressive die. He said he achieved his objective.
Stan Bruce, Funk's co-worker and company sales and customer service manager, also mentioned business expansion along with career enhancement—a goal echoed by others—as his reasons for attending the conference.
Bruce wanted to learn additional methods of calculating draws and network with others. He accomplished both through the conference.
Bart Rouse, a tool designer for Clairon Metals, attended the conference to better his design skills and to learn different methods of designing dies.
Another attendee wanted to learn about drawing material and the problems associated with the process. All respondents said they learned what they set out to at the conference.
Putting Knowledge to Use
The attendee survey asked the question: "Are you or will you be doing your job differently as a result of what you learned at the conference?" All respondents answered yes.
Rouse responded that he now sees die problems in a much broader picture than he has in the past. Bruce is more analytical in his thinking as a result of instructor Art Hedrick's premise that stamping is a science—physics. He used some of his newfound knowledge when quoting dies to a customer.
All respondents also reported that they would attend future conferences—employer permitting.
The attendee survey also asked: "In your opinion, how important is ongoing training to your company?"
All respondents agreed that ongoing training is important—even critical. Bruce said, "It's definitely important to any company's future. You can't afford not to continue to learn."
Ever wonder where conference presenters and other technical instructors gain their knowledge? Art Hedrick, who hosted the Progressive Die Workshop, attends conferences. He also reads industry publications, attends FABTECH®, and works closely with forming simulation software developers. Through his work as a stamping consultant, he visits hundreds of stamping facilities—everything from jewelry to automotive. Hedrick believes that there is a "sort of disconnect in the stamping industry" in that knowledge is not easily transferred from one manufacturer to another.
The workshop also featured a presentation by Jeff Jeffery, who spoke about the relationship between lubricants and stamping. Jeffery learns about the latest lubricant developments from chemical suppliers. He also watches industry trends, reads trade press, and attends technical seminars. His company is located in a major city, giving him access to universities for research and lab co-op assistance.
Hedrick and Jeffery both said that their primary motivation for presenting is to serve the industry. Hedrick simply loves stamping. "I love to take a flat piece of sheet metal and turn it into something useful." He also receives great satisfaction in hearing from conference attendees that something they learned helped.
Jeffery said, "Presenting forces me to package a meaningful, noncommercial message. That helps me review an important topic, and hopefully gives valuable insight to the attendees—resulting in new ways of thinking for an industry that needs it but has served me well for 25 years. Hearing related presenters speak gives me additional industry knowledge, and listening to the questions raised and spending time with attendees gives me a better perspective on what matters most."
Hedrick hears from many attendees after conferences. They e-mail him pictures of problem parts, call to thank him for something they learned that made a positive difference, and even call to ask how he performed the magic tricks he included in his presentation.
Sometimes attendees' companies request in-plant training by presenters. Hedrick has conducted many follow-up in-plant sessions in the years he's been presenting. Jeffery was invited to meet with a Progressive Die Workshop attendee's company the week after the conference. Conferences are an ideal forum to assess possible instructors for in-plant training.
Most people would agree that a knowledgeable, appreciated, motivated work force can give a company a competitive edge. Unfortunately, shaky bottom lines have caused some companies to ignore this vital element of a successful business. As Hedrick said, "Training has taken a step backward at a time when companies need training most. Stamping decisions must be data-based, and employees need ongoing training to make the right data-based decisions." The same holds true for other metalworking industry sectors.
The FABRICATOR® is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971. Print subscriptions are free to qualified persons in North America involved in metal forming and fabricating.