Precision Plus, Inc. is featured in the latest issue of Wisconsin STEM Pathways Magazine. 
The article, entitled Companies in the Classroom–Putting the Classroom in the Workplace, chronicles the company’s two year journey from a concept to the reality of having an internship and a apprenticeship program for high school and college students, as well as a fully equipped classroom within its facilities.
Pathways-Article copy
PMPA member companies recognize the challenge of finding a skilled workforce.
That’s why companies like Precision Plus, Inc. are actually doing something about it.
And why we are active working locally and  nationally to make a difference and change the conversation about skills and careers and economic success.
Congratulations to Precision Plus, Inc., for leading the way to create the skilled workforce our industry needs.
To download a PDF of the complete article, click here.
The Precision Plus Inc. Blog
Precision Plus Website

“Upside-down” programs allow students to transfer accredited technical training, work experience, military training, or community college coursework as credit toward a bachelor’s degree. Expansion of such programs, with emphasis on manufacturing-related fields, will reduce barriers between skills training and degree attainment, and enhance the quality of the manufacturing workforce.”- Milstein Symposium Building a Nation of Makers
Upside Down Degree
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have traditionally succeeded by combining practical production knowledge with technical expertise and business acumen. The blend of practical, technical and managerial  that typifies these firms is not the result of a 4 year college program.  While technical and managerial knowledge can be obtained in college coursework, obtaining practical production type skills are gained in another path.
According to the Milstein Symposium report, “More troubling is that students are given little incentive to connect these two tracks. Colleges and universities frequently do not offer transfer credit for technical skills acquired either on the job, in community colleges, in the military, or through training.”

To overcome this disconnect, they propose an expansion of upside-down degrees.

An  “upside-down”  program essentially inverts the traditional four-year college model. Upside-down students start with the focused technical training and then take the broader coursework to both expand their knowledge base and enhance their critical thinking (see diagram above).

An “upside down’ program would entail academic credit / recognition for varying combinations of:

  • Technical training,
  • Military training,
  • Associate’s degrees,
  • Job experience

These could  be counted as up to two years of college credit.

Students then need only complete the remaining coursework to earn a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution.

Upside- down degrees can provide an  excellent means of integrating the skills needed by employees at todays advanced manufacturing SMEs- technical, practical, and managerial/academic.

We think that this idea is worth considering. We know that it works- as many of our PMPA member companies provide support for continuing education of both technical and college subjects.

Upside- down degrees

For more details on upside-down degrees see idea #2 (page 16 of the PDF) at the Milstein Report on PMPA’s homepage.


The Manufacturing Institute has developed a one-stop, how-to guide on developing and recruiting a skilled workforce.  Written by and for manufacturers, the toolkit on Developing Skilled Workers speaks to chief executives, human resources professionals, and operations managers, with steps to take, partners to build, and templates to use to grow their own talent pipeline.
Toolkit for employers
Toolkit for employers
Here’s the link.

I had the privilege of participating in the Business Leaders United Fly-In to Capital Hill in Washington D.C. earlier this week representing the Precision Machined Products Association.
In our Monday evening meeting we were joined by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzger, and from the White House, Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy.

Two Cabinet Secretaries and the Top White House Economic Advisor showed me that Washington realizes we have a skilled workforce problem.
Two Cabinet Secretaries and the Top White House Economic Advisor showed me that Washington realizes we have a skilled workforce problem.

The fact that we got to meet with top staffers at various Senate and House offices, as well as staffers from the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee convinced me that we had the attention of the folks who could make a difference in Washington, D.C..
I spoke with top staff assistants handling policy for Speaker Boehner and Senator Portman from my home state of Ohio.
We had substantive  and frank discussions about the facts (on which we all seemed to agree) and possible solutions for this issue.
What worked –  creating employer driven partnerships- even among competitors- summer youth programs, quantifying local area opportunities and job market research to make the career case- was shared and explored.
The challenges- lack of educational attainment, lack of ‘soft skills,’ and various funding issues were also discussed.
Despite the news stories about tension and gridlock in D.C, we were able to speak to the people that can help solve this problem.
Despite the news stories about tension and gridlock in D.C, we were able to speak to the people that can help solve this problem.

It is no longer about admitting that we have a lack of skilled workers in the ‘unemployed workforce.’
There was no evidence of denial of the problem of unemployment and lack of skills.
What all of our contacts asked about  was centered around three key questions:

  • What works to help us qualify and put to work long term unemployed in middle skill jobs?
  • How do we build the ROI case for this?
  • How do we scale it nationwide?

My fellow small business delegates from BLU shared  some of their challenges, but more importantly, their success stories of their local partnerships.
What Washington wants/needs to know is how can we build these up to gain national traction?
What would you suggest?

We need to change the community perception that manufacturing  is “not deserving/worthy enough” for their kids. With the majority of recent college grads un-employed, under employed, and underwater on their debts, and lucky to get part time work, careers in manufacturing for people with skills offer rewarding challenging fulltime employment that makes a difference in the lives of us all.- Speaking of Precision

This post originally appeared on MAGNET’s  Manufacturing Success blog and is reposted with permission.

Is This Our Sputnik Moment?

By Fatima Weathers, Executive Vice President, MAGNET

Fatima Weathers, Executive Vice President, MAGNET

At a recent conference I attended in Washington, D.C., panelists from industry, academia and labor gathered to discuss manufacturing’s next step.

Several panelists described the current manufacturing environment as being on the edge of a new era that is being driven by widespread and affordable access to 3-D printing and cloud computing.

Only mentioned in passing were the usual barriers to growth like unfair trade, taxes, labor costs and access to capital. Indeed, much of the discussion focused on the debate surrounding immigration laws. Many attendees and panelists agreed that access to highly skilled talent is the factor that will tip the scales for gaining the competitive edge in the U.S.

One panelist challenged manufacturers by describing the current environment as our “Sputnik Moment”—either grasp this fleeting window of opportunity to lead through innovation and talent or forever miss the moment to be the global leader in manufacturing.

What do you think? Is this our “Sputnik Moment?” What do you think is the most important factor manufacturers face right now? Respond below, or email me atgro.krowtengam@srehtaew.amitaf. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can read the original post here.

It is not just demographics of our workforce that drives our industry. It is also the demands of society that provides us with the opportunity to innovate.

I was on a panel at IMTS last year on workforce issues.

I shared the following information regarding our workforce demographics in 2020 according to BLS

Major changes ahead for our shops.
Major changes ahead for our shops.

You can read my post here Skilled Workforce Demographics 2020

I was interested to see a presentation from Paul Horn GmbH. entitled Society- Driver of Technical Innovation at HORN Technology Days last week. Their approach was workforce agnostic- it was based on a look at the  demands from society, rather than focus on how industry will supply that demand.

My economics professor would be so proud.

in 2008-2009 we learned that it is Demand, and Not supply, that drives the economy.
in 2008-2009 we learned that it is Demand, and not Supply, that drives the economy.

So how does Horn see societal demand driving innovation in the precision machining space?

7 Megatrends to Impact our Industry

  • Mobility
  • Population Growth
  • Globalization
  • Communication
  • Health
  • Aging Society
  • Urbanization

Changes in each of these areas requires technical innovation in Production Technology, Materials, Processes, Electronics, and Software, to make new technologies economically adoptable “Just in Time.”

Pillars of technical innovation
Pillars of technical innovation

Interestingly, Precision Machining “owns” all five of the “columns” in this model as we grow into our future state.

Which of these  are your particular “sweet spot?” What is your plan to gain competence in the others?

Who would argue that we are not facing new challenges in production technology, materials, processes, or increased use of electronics and software to make tomorrow’s more challenging parts?

We will revisit some of these megatrends in coming blogs.

Do you have a process for identifying “over the horizon” issues that will affect your shop?

Which megatrends are opportunities more so than challenges for your shop and team?

Thanks to  PMPA Technical Member Horn USA for sharing the materials from Technology Days

Dan’s comments were a response he shared with PMPA members regarding the charge of one talking head on last week’s 60 Minutes that ‘there is no Skills Gap… industry would have skilled workers if we only paid higher wages.’

Guest Post by Dan Murphy, REM Sales

Part of the problem is that nowadays most of the manual labor has been automated out of manufacturing processes.When you had a large pool of unskilled workers performing simple tasks, a company could find the hard working person that had math skills and mechanical aptitude and put them into an apprenticeship program and that person could advance. Today companies need to find that person right out of the box which is very difficult to do.

There are some people that will never be good at math, and the more time I spend in this business, I truly believe that mechanical aptitude is genetic. You either have it or you don’t, and it can’t be taught. Perhaps the solution is to recruit seniors from high schools. There is a standardized test for mechanical aptitude and I think that test, administered along with something like the Predictive Index and a math test, would yield better candidates.

At the end of the day, no school is going to give you a guy that can hit the ground running on an eight-axis Swiss, or be able to set up and troubleshoot a multispindle cam automatic. Companies still have to develop employees with those skills and offer continuous training to keep their employees skill set up to date. Raising wages alone does not create great machinists. Aptitude, attitude, talent, training, and experience do.

These do not arrive by merely raising wages. Higher wages are a reflection of these in an employee.

Just boosting wages will not magically (nor immediately) create 8 axis qualified machinists.

We need to create a pipeline of talent for our machining craft. Working in conjunction with local community colleges is an ideal way to help take some of the training burden off of small companies. But we have to get involved so that the school gives us what we  need in our workforce today.

I just returned from a trip to China. China is different than I imagined.

I was surprised by the number of big American and European cars on the roads. And the factory I visited was world class.

The companies in China are doing plenty of training too. they do because they need machinists too.

It’s not about raising wages. It’s about finding talent and providing training.

As a company, we have always been willing to share our training materials with our customers.

Surprisingly few ask for it.

The Invisible Hand Is NOT Training Enough Skilled Machinists.

(And by the way, neither are we.)

Estimates of as many as 600,000 unfilled skilled manufacturing jobs despite  years of unemployment over 8% just don’t compute. As a free market guy, I continue to be frustrated waiting for Adam Smith’s Invisble Hand to bring the trained workers our industry needs.

Have we done enough to pursue our own interest, so that society too can benefit?

Why isn’t the Invisible Hand working?

  • Has it been handcuffed by school bureaucrats who insist that college is for everyone? 
  • And parents who fail to critically think about the ROI and Debt obligations that a college degree means today?
  • Has the invisible hand been amputated by school board  and advisory council members who think that the trades is just a necessary evil for someone else’s troublemaker of a kid?
  • Do we have a need for public private partnerships like Right Skills Now to elevate the need for skilled tradesmen and to show advanced manufacturing as a viable, well paying career? Why is the US only in the 17th in Science or 25th in Math achievement worldwide?
  • Or have we as shop owners and machinists been missing  in guiding that invisible hand by concentrating on everything else except skilled workforce development?

What are you doing to develop the skilled workforce that you need?

Or are you waiting, like most shop owners over the last decade or so have waited, for someone else to train your crew?

Invisible Hand Graphic courtesy Micro Loan  Bank Kiva

A Few Good Workers originally published in Modern Applications News May 1999.

The Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) has partnered with The Manufacturing Institute to expand Right Skills Now, a fast-track machining training program aligned to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System.

Working together to help talented people connect with careers in advanced manufacturing.

Right Skills Now and the Skills Certification System are successful programs that are building the educated and skilled workforce manufacturers need to successfully compete in the global economy.

We have seen estimates of up to 600,000 open jobs available in advanced manufacturing. Positions in precision machining, tool making, welding, and quality control are jobs where you can make a rewarding career as well as a living.

PMPA and The Manufacturing Institute are combining forces to help make information available about these careers, programs where you can get started to qualify for these careers, and to promote the use of credentials and the Skills Certification System to assure employers of the ability to perform defined skills and operations. Expanding Right Skills Now will help make the training and credentials more widely available.

Read the full release.

For more information to help you decide if a career in precision manufacturing is for you, go to PMPA Career Page.

Just because everyone else is unemployed doesn’t mean that you have to make the same decision that they did. Get the facts about a career in advanced manufacturing.

Guest post by Matt Gudgel of SourceOne who responded to our post about NPR’s story about the lack of people with math skills needed in manufacturing.
SourceOne feels so strongly about skilled workforce, it is included as part of their mission statement: To maintain a vibrant, skilled and dedicated work force…to use our diverse capabilities to meet challenges…and facilitate growth.

Maintaining a skilled workforce is part of the company mission. Why?  To meet challenges and facilitate growth.

Matt’s response to our post  decried the fact that “we spend too much time teaching our employees to ‘use the tools of the trade’ rather than ‘the tool five inches between the ears-‘ the ultimate tool we’re born with and have forgotten how to use.”

This is what we are really looking for…

In other words we just take it for granted that people know how to think, how to frame the problem, and to know when to use the ‘tools of the trade.’

Matt says that the challenges to manage this issue  are difficult.

  • Changing thinking from “any warm body will do” to hiring quality is one challenge we face as we continue to be squeezed on price by our customers.
  • Finding time to train people  in the face of hard deadlines for our production is another.
  • Growing people into ‘general specialists’ who can handle not just machining but also have practical knowledge of electrical and pneumatic systemsis a need, not just a want.

One challenge though,  is incumbent on our people, it is not just up to management.

“We want our employees to be well trained, and it is our responsibility to help them get trained. But employees need to step up too and master the skills.”

When looking at employees, here is Matt’s advice- “They have to fit our culture, just as much as they need to fit the position in our company. Economic competition means we need to find the right people.”

As the NPR story mentioned about basic math, (adding subtracting and dividing decimals as a lost ability among job candidates!) and as Matt Gudgel pointed out:

Finding the ‘right people’ means ” finding people who are effective at using the ultimate tool we’re born with and have forgotten how to use- the tool five inches between the ears.”