FMA jumps on the certification bandwagon

March 13, 2007
By: Jim Donaldson

Many industries and careers rely on certification programs to train workers. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.®, has identified a need to certify precision sheet metal workers and is launching a certification program. This article explains the program's goals, outlines the development process, and describes how industry professionals can participate.

Metal forming certification

Certification is everywhere you look in just about every industry imaginable: law, health care, education, and manufacturing, to name a few. People can be certified in many different jobs within a variety of businesses. Certification is offered by many organizations, from the American Society for Training & Development to the American Society for Quality to the American Welding Society.

In November 2005 FMA, threw its hat in the ring of associations intent on offering the metal forming and fabricating industry a means of demonstrating its precision sheet metal workers' knowledge. FMA will launch its first Precision Sheet Metal Fabricating Certification Examin early 2008.

Why Certification?

What drove FMA and its board of directors to take this path? According to FMA First Vice Chairman Steve Heim, president of Brenco Industries Ltd., Delta, British Columbia, "The apprenticeship program system in North America is not in good shape, and we are especially lacking in focus on the effective operation of what is becoming some pretty sophisticated metal forming and fabricating equipment. We see FMA providing a valuable service here for both companies and individuals; companies will gain skilled and tested workers who can more effectively run equipment, and individuals will gain the recognition they deserve through certification testing.

"We also have observed governments relying more and more on industry associations like FMA for information and assistance in training workers in absence of the traditional apprenticeship programs. The bottom line is we want our program to be a useful tool to grow our member companies and to improve our individual members' careers."

Program Goals

The three goals of FMA's certification program are:

  • Provide objective evidence of a person's expertise in shearing, sawing, press brake, turret punch press, laser cutting, and mechanical finishing.
  • Assist manufacturing organizations in selecting, promoting, and retaining workers.
  • Help manufacturing organizations improve productivity, quality, and scrap rates.

Certification Benefits

So why should someone go through certification? What is the value of being certified? What does certification mean to organizations? How can it help the individual or organization? What are the monetary benefits of certification?

Reasons for certification abound. As America's work force continues to gray and retire, the need for skilled workers continues to increase. Certification programs can help focus and expand training efforts toward viable industry skills.

To compete in today's global marketplace, companies must have a knowledgeable and skilled work force. It is not enough to work harder; employees have to work smarter too. They must recognize customers' needs and solve their problems. According to Lutz Ziob, general manager for Microsoft Learning, research shows that certification has a high correlation to customer satisfaction and successful implementation of customer projects (T+D, May 2006).

Certification can provide additional evidence of a person's expertise in a given industry and position. It demonstrates proficiency. For the individual, certification is an impartial confirmation of achievements. For those with the skills and experience, but no degree, certification can be a springboard to higher-level positions. It affirms the individual's commitment to a chosen industry and career and helps gain peer respect.

From an organizational standpoint, certification is another tool human resources and managers can use to make better decisions in hiring new employees and promoting current workers. Qualifications can be compared more easily because certification is built on industry standards.

Certification also is an avenue for employee development. By assisting employees in their quest to become certified, organizations demonstrate they care. Development programs can increase employee motivation and improve retention. Credentialing is a mark of excellence not only for the individual, but also for the organization that employs such people.

Elevating Sheet Metal Workers

FMA believes certification is needed to elevate precision sheet metal work to the higher status it deserves. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, certification is one element that defines a profession (McFarland, T+D, May 2006).

FMA's development strategy is methodical and conscientious. To ensure the highest standard in measurement, FMA will create and validate exams through a rigorous process.

Process Description

  1. Benchmark Other Programs
  2. Analyze Job
  • Task research
  • Job descriptions
  • Expert panel review
  • Worker survey
  • Build a Body of Knowledge
  • Develop Exams
    • Train subject-matter experts on how to write test items
    • Write questions individually
    • Assess items by committee
    • Conduct critical analysis of exam by a third-party psychometrician
  • Administer exams in a secure environment
  • BETA-Test the Questions
  • Employ Continuous Improvement
    • Perform item analysis
    • Initiate committee review
    • Rewrite deficient questions
    • Eliminate outdated or underperforming test items

    Currently, the FMA is busy gathering survey data from individuals involved with shearing, sawing, press brake, turret punch press, laser cutting, and mechanical finishing. This data will be used to develop curriculum from which exams will be written. According to Walter McFarland, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a major trait of any profession is its ability to articulate the body of knowledge that defines it (T+D, May 2006).

    According to the Occupational Information Network, in 2004 there were 251,000 precision sheet metal workers in the U.S. Based on this population, FMA needs about 400 surveys to meet statistical requirements. FMA has collected 80 surveys to date and is seeking additional survey participants.

    FMA's certification manager recently spoke with two companies about why they participated in the job survey. One HR professional said certification may help compare one employee to another for organizational purposes of advancement (responsibilities and leadership) and compensation. Although this individual did not think of certification as a way of qualifying job candidates, he did know some companies that might.

    The main reason another manager from a second company participated in the survey was to find out what training his employees might need. This manager plans to use FMA's summary report as an industry benchmark.

    Jim Donaldson

    FMA certification and in-plant training manager