SPECIAL FEATURE: Education/Training - Assessing the Value of Training

For the U.S. to compete globally, it is essential to train the moldmaking workforce in its skill and technology.


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Although it is painfully obvious that the manufacturing base in this country is in a state of crisis, there is still hope. Part of the reason manufacturing in this country seems to be disappearing-and a good portion of it has in fact left this country-is that the competitors can do it faster and cheaper. One way to combat the cheaper is to keep jobs here by doing them more cost-effectively.


Industry Training

Keeping our manufacturing workforce educated and up to speed on technology is key to competing globally. The graduates of any technical school should be turnkey ready. This means that they are equipped with the necessary skills to be successful and are eager to work, tooled with the latest technology. Even though there is a predicted shortage of upcoming workers to replace those who are soon to retire, it is my prediction that the people who are getting up to speed today will be holding the ace cards in the future. Upcoming workers will need to be more highly trained, with a different skill-set than before.

There is a pitfall, however, with regard to industry training. It can sometimes be difficult for an employer to send an employee somewhere for training if the employee does not want to do it on his or her own time. Regardless of where training comes from, it needs to occur if we want to keep our workforce current. It is understandable that some employers' point of view is "I train them, then they leave." Perhaps so, but that person did serve you and must have been productive enough to justify the training. If that person leaves, at least there is an educated employee in the workforce.


Building a Stronger Workforce

Traditionally, this trade has been migrational. A skilled employee helps build a stronger workforce as a whole. From the employee's side, combining work and school is hard; I see it every day. But you are investing in your security in the future, but maybe not at the same employer until retirement. At least you will still have an ever-growing skill set that has proven quite lucrative in the past, providing you keep your skill set sharp.

If formal training is not an option, an alternative is learning from trade magazines. Make it a course requirement that each student or employee reads an article relative to his or job or industry. This is very effective and creates very interesting conversation.

Another potential stumbling block for some is age. Many older workers are hesitant to start school again because of their age. This should not be of any negative concern to them. There are students in full-time programs that are within years of retirement who refuse to take any early retirement and are very determined to re-enter the metalworking workforce with vim and vigor. Age, sex, ethnic background or economic status should not stop someone from furthering his or her knowledge base or skill set. The students leaving schools today are quite up to speed. If they aren't, an employer should be contacting or, better still, becoming actively involved in local technical schools. If employers contact their local area technical school and ask if they can participate on an advisory board or steering committee, they will be met with open arms. This participation is critical; without it, technical schools have a hard time determining what skills are needed and what equipment should be used. Industry truly is the driving force that should be directing technical education. If you are lacking employees with the right skills, contacting your local technical school can help students reach that skill set before they enter the workforce. Participation is critical.


Training Sources

Where is training offered? One source is your local community college or tech school. Most offer specialty classes as well as full- and part-time classes. Do you just go in and sign up? No, do your homework, research what skills are needed in the area in which you intend to work and find where those skills are taught. Talk to the students of the program and talk with the instructors. This is a highly technical trade and although the person signing you up may have a pretty good idea of what the course entails, the instructors know it best and can generally explain it to you better. You also can call your area tech school to see if it offers an open house or other event where you have an opportunity to see the labs and speak with instructors. If money is a concern, you will find there are dollars available through government funding, grants and private scholarships. Many scholarships are not granted because students do not apply for them. You should also contact the financial aid office at the educational institution you plan to attend and they can provide you with a variety of options to help fund your education.

In-House Training
Some businesses have in-house training programs, which are great because the training is application-specific and usually accommodates an employee's work schedule. This type of training can be less costly than reimbursing individual employee's tuition even if an onsite instructor needs to be hired and often there is some sort of certificate achieved in the end. The recognition of training is important because it puts a value and importance on the training received and the time invested.

Industry Trainers
Other training sources are the OEMs, machine tool builders or distributors, tooling manufacturers or any other manufacturer or supplier related to the moldmaking and metalworking industry. The challenge with this option is that the employee usually needs to leave town for the training or the trainer needs to be onsite. This can become both costly and time consuming. One avenue an employer can take with this option is to contact the training source and arrange-with the help of other businesses-to have the manufacturer conduct a group training session in a neutral location such as your local tech school, hotel conference room, etc. School and industry partners have done this with success. It takes some time on the phone and some public relations, but can be very rewarding for all involved.

User Groups
Still other sources of information are CAD/CAM software user groups where people meet and discuss software issues such as problems, features and enhancements. If you are driving software, you should at least subscribe to the software newsletter. It will keep you up to date on the various techniques that are currently being used. Attending the work groups also can prove beneficial because you will be getting different points of view from different users. Everyone has something to offer and everyone has something to learn.

Finally, the Internet is a valuable tool. If you are looking for moldmaking and metalworking information, you can find it here. There is excellent information on the Internet. For example, a search for "machining data" received 357,000 hits. Some interesting sites were:

  • www.efunda.com/processes/machining/chip_formation_2.cfm
  • www.techsolve.org/prodserv/Machining/Machining%20Data%20Hand book.htm
  • www.mmsonline.com/articles/0500td1.html
  • www.mmsonline.com/articles/019703.html
  • www.discount-tools.com/drillsspeeds.htm
  • http://ase.tufts.edu/mechanical/shop/feeds.html
Many schools and research facilities have course outlines, cutting data and application specific reports, and presentations on their Web sites. However, they need to be interpreted and understood because there is no interaction with the author. The Internet is not a substitute for a competent trainer or instructor.


Observing the Environment Around You

One simple training tactic, that can be implemented by the employer and employee, and which is cost-free, is paying attention to what is happening in the industry. Take a look at the overall process; look at the shape of the chip, the condition of the insert, the sound of the tool and machine motion. Can this be improved? If you think it can, discuss it and weigh out the options. There are no dumb suggestions. At least it shows an effort to improve the process and cut costs.

Whether you are an employer or employee, educate yourself on the cutting that is being done. Tool catalogs are an excellent source of tool-specific cutting applications. Know your speeds and feeds and keep up on them as technology changes-and it changes fast.

Remember, training is a global issue and if we don't have a strong workforce our manufacturing sector will continue to slip away.


Training Programs
Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC)/Applied Manufacturing Technology Center (AMTC) (West Bend, WI)
  • Machining technician is a two-year technical diploma program. The program consists of a first-year common track and in the second year, students may choose either a CNC track or tool and die-making track.
    • The first-year track consists of the basic machining skills needed in either tool and die or CNC-blueprint reading, metallurgy, basic CNC manual programming, 2-D CAD and 2-D CAM.
    • The second-year tool and die track consists of building two working stamp dies, the first being a progressive die and building two working mold dies, the second being a multicavity family mold.
    • The second-year CNC track consists of 3-D CAD, 3-D CAM, CNC CMM metrology, programming, set up and operation of turning centers including bar feed and live tooling application, vertical and horizontal machining centers, EDM and machine tool communications. Focus is placed on production efficiency, tool longevity and part integrity using current tooling.
In 2002, MPTC/AMTC was the first in the area to implement a wireless machine tool network in the area. All of the machining technician instructors carry a journeyman tool and die makers card and have served in the trenches, as well as having trained numerous dislocated workers and students, male and female, ranging in age from 18 to 60.

The school also has the only two-year degree tool and die design program statewide. In addition to program classes, it offers onsite industry training, customized technical assistance and industry partner workshops, classes and seminars.