In modern business, knowledge matters, but communicating that knowledge may matter even more.
During his two-day precision press brake operator certificate course, Steve Benson of training firm ASMA LLC usually notes how at some shops, seasoned operators keep their technical knowledge to themselves.
Gary Conner, a consultant at Technical Change Associates, has referred to some shops that prefer to hire untrained people, sometimes right out of high school, because they find it difficult to deal with the poor attitudes of the technically experienced. If people have been doing it one way for decades, it’s tough to change. Moreover, the shops develop and communicate processes so effectively, it no longer takes years of learning to know the ways of a particular shop. It’s all spelled out and plainly visible.
Dick Kallage of KDC & Associates developed his two-minute challenge, which states that procedures should be so clear that even those with limited sheet metal experience should be able to set up a machine in two minutes.
Metal fabrication is one of dire need of the technically talented. In survey after survey about industry challenges, finding talent remains near the top of the list. Many blame the educational system and a culture that doesn’t value manufacturing. But some also point to cultures within manufacturing plants, and the broader business community overall, for that matter: Knowledge is job security; why share it?
Knowledge transfer may be one of industry’s greatest challenges, and it’s one that those of us at The FABRICATOR magazine and the Fabricator’s & Manufacturers Association, International®, take on with gusto. But when it comes to industry veterans—inside and outside of manufacturing—who keep knowledge to themselves, who can blame them, really? So much in the business world seems out of their control. An OEM may shift all of its work overseas, to Mexico, or another region of the U.S., and an immensely talented welder may lose his job. Is it the worker’s fault that the job shop owner had all of his eggs in one basket? But knowledge is under his control. He’s learned the craft, and no one can take that experience away from him.
But as many have pointed out in the pages of The FABRICATOR and elsewhere, automation not only is enhancing throughput, it’s also changing company cultures. A novice may be able to bend parts on a new press brakes in no time flat. Deep process knowledge is necessary and extremely valued, but it’s no longer a key differentiator. Perhaps what now sets people apart is their ability to think. It’s about part flow management, streamlining setup procedures, documenting, labeling, all on top of a good technical foundation of sheet metal forming and fabrication.
It’s not about keeping knowledge to yourself. It’s about spreading it to raise the bar of the entire organization. After all, if the entire organization doesn’t raise the bar, it won’t improve in the eyes of the customer, who in turn may soon look elsewhere. And when it comes to job security, customer perception matters.