Management in the metal fabrication industry


February 9, 2017
By: Aaron Continelli

Just as shop floor workers require special skills, shop managers do so as well. Here is an overview of management duties and what employers in the metal fabrication industry are looking for in managers.

As in any industry, metal fabrication requires skilled management. Ensuring worker safety and knowing workplace procedures protocol are expected in any factory setting, but what is it about metal fabrication that requires pointed management skills? What are best practices for managers? In this article we’ll take a look at the metal fabrication manager’s roles and responsibilities and see what companies look for in their new hires.

Costs

Metal fabrication, like other industries, relies on smooth and efficient processes. Managers often are asked to analyze the current state of the factory’s production and identify areas in which costs can be cut. For example, the manager could compare existing suppliers with others in the market to see which offers better deals without sacrificing quality. Perhaps improvement in equipment or changes in product materials could render certain production steps obsolete.

Production Activities

Managers are responsible for keeping production moving forward, regardless of current demand levels. This means scheduling jobs to start ahead of schedule so deadlines can be met. Experience with the company’s customers or products can inform a manager’s expectations about future demand. Understanding the floor’s equipment is also essential to keeping production running. This means knowing when to schedule maintenance and adjusting schedules to account for sudden breakdowns or issues.

Office Duties

Production isn’t limited to the factory floor. Managers must know how to process orders. They also schedule shifts, which means they are responsible for working out sick days, vacation, and time-swaps. Nobody enjoys paperwork, yet strong managers understand this comes with any management position.

Safety

While keeping costs down is important for any business, more important is ensuring worker safety. Metal fabrication managers are responsible for training new employees and refreshing existing employees on safety protocol. Managers produce step-by-step instructions and guidelines and update them as necessary. Clear expectations are vital to avoiding accidents.

In 2014 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlighted areas within the metal fabrication industry that should be the focus of worker safety. These included:

  • Machine guarding and safe equipment use: Common issues included lack of guard provisions, lockout violations, and handling equipment improperly.
  • Electrical equipment handling and use: Improper grounding, wiring design, and extension cord safety were among the common issues.
  • Material handling: Employees must know how to handle all material handling equipment, including industrial trucks and cranes.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): Employees must wear proper gear to protect the hands, face, eyes, feet, and more.
  • Toxic and hazardous substances: Employees must know how to handle and dispose of lead, asbestos, hexavalent chromium, and other substances that might be encountered on the floor.
  • Walking and working surfaces: Proper guards for wall and floor openings must be in place.
  • Fire protection and planning: Facilities must have accessible fire extinguishers, sprinklers, and evacuation plans.
  • Hazard communication: Employees must know about all hazardous chemicals used on the floor and the information in the OSHA Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that applies.
  • Brazing, cutting, and welding: Employees must be familiar with work procedures, equipment maintenance, and the proper storage of gases and liquids.

These areas come together in what OSHA calls the General Duty Clause. This states that the company must provide workers with an environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” Unlike in other management positions, there’s constant pressure within metal fabrication to monitor and address safety concerns from a variety of sources.

Employees

Of course, employee management includes far more than safety. Managers need to ensure the right candidates are hired. Among the necessary traits is the ability to handle the day-to-day stress of working on the production floor.

For example, can your employees handle sudden increases in production? Are they able to speed up their work without sacrificing safety or quality?

Good managers can help struggling employees by showing them better ways to manage their time and handle activities. Managers must also be able to handle the stress of high-demand days without negatively affecting worker morale.

Work Environment

Of course, great managers go beyond traditional roles and responsibilities. They’re always trying to get the best out of their employees, from productivity to personal development.

Mechanical contractor Shapiro & Duncan Inc., for example, focuses on building a talented workforce in three ways. Managers create a challenging and rewarding work environment while workers are given high daily quotas to meet. Managers are always on the floor giving pointers and ensuring work is up to standard. Managers are always looking out for new talent through paper ads, community events, and trade schools. Potential candidates are brought in for hands-on testing, a requirement for certain trades like welding. Finally, managers train workers on corporate culture and soft skills. These managers enjoy seeing workers develop their skills and fall in love with what they’re doing.

Great managers should strive to do this with every employee.

What Companies Are Looking for in Managers

Now that we’ve covered some general requirements for metal fabrication managers, it’s time to dig into some specific qualifications companies look for in candidates.

Competencies and Experience—Workplace experience is only part of what makes a great manager. Manager candidates need to possess intellectual abilities to ensure they make reliable and well-informed decisions. Competencies include:

  • Customer service and relations: How well does the candidate communicate with the client? Can the candidate address client concerns without losing patience? Can the candidate communicate order issues with empathy?
  • Problem-solving: Unexpected issues can occur on the factory floor. How well can the candidate use experience and originality to address these problems?
  • Strategic thinking: Can the candidate identify and anticipate problems that affect their floor today and in the future? Can he or she analyze why production slows at a particular time of the month or how future technology will impact workers?

An Understanding of ERP—Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is an integral part of the metal fabrication manager’s role. Things like identifying ways to reduce costs, processing orders, managing production, and planning capacity — many of the roles and responsibilities discussed previously — are managed using ERP. To produce goods on time and within the budget, while meeting compliance standards, managers need to be proficient in this technology.

Supervisory Experience—Managing a metal fabrication floor requires a mix of on-the-job experience and critical thinking. Companies typically look for 5 to 10 years of supervisory or management experience, preferably in manufacturing. Based on the job posts we’ve reviewed, experience appears to be a more important factor than education (although high school is expected).

While experience is important for any manager, metal fabrication is a highly specialized field with a lot at stake. Employees look to managers for guidance and reassurance when the going gets tough. Managers are under pressure to meet deadlines while ensuring safety. Of course, with high risk comes high reward. Managing a metal fabrication floor can be a highly rewarding job for the right candidate.

Aaron Continelli

President
Cre8tive Technology and Design
5075 Shoreham Pl
San Diego, CA 92122
Phone: 858-457-2786