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We ought to provide immediately relevant training the best way we know how, today. Insisting on old school manual training just might be why we are short about a million workers in advanced manufacturing today.

Advanced manufacturer.

George Jetson, Advanced Manufacturing

What exactly is it that we are trying to accomplish with training? Getting competent employees to help us create and add value in our shops today.

Whenever I hear this topic discussed, the battle lines are drawn between those who insist that the applicant MUST have actually done manual machining with the lathe or bridgeport “so they can feel it.”

This argument seems pretty well established in industry, it is absolutely set in stone in Academia, where the faculty, their advisory boards and the administrators are all committed to the curricula, equipment, and instructors to teach whatever it is that they are already teaching.

Chances are,  the first thing that they are teaching is something that is manual and was produced in the mid-part of the last century…

“Ooooh! I get to learn manual machines first!’- Ya think?


I understand the desire to want everyone to have the same shared experience of “cutting metal.” Of learning the “fundamentals.” Of learning the craft the way “I did.”

But the way we learned may not just be an obstacle or difficulty to today’s students, it may be a barrier. A barrier so real, that they elect to go into another program.

Today, insisting that students learn the same way and the same stuff that we taught students in the 1950’s isn’t working.

Remember how well these worked?

Think about how we teach our own kids to cook. When you start to teach your kids to cook, do you take them outside and show them how to clear an area for a fire, build a fire ring, collect and chop tinder, kindling and firewood, light a fire, and then do the food prep?

Is that really relevant when all of us, even the unemployed, have  microwave ovens available in our homes, workplaces and sitting right next to the vending machines?

I’ll bet you start by showing your kid how to take the packaging off the food item, read the instruction for time and power, and then how to  push the buttons on the microwave to achieve that combination of time and temperature.

I push the buttons and my food is ready.

Imagine if every cooking class started with chopping wood, building the fire, killing and butchering the meat, etc., etc..

“The first thing you need to learn to cook , son is …”

I am not asking for us to lower our standards for professionalism, math literacy, or safety.

Is insisting on teaching them exactly the way that we taught Fred Flintstone back in the day the best way to teach people today- especially people who have always had access to computers, calculators and Microwave ovens? People who are practiced and comfortable at pushing the right buttons to get the right answer, to make the thing on the screen do what they want it to.

People who are comfortable pushing buttons to feed themselves.

The way I see it, we ought to provide immediately relevant training the best way we know how, today.

We have almost million jobs vacant  in advanced manufacturing today. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because when students see the medieval looking manual lathes and mills in the “machining lab” that they are going to have to endure, it just doesn’t seem to be worth it.

They see it is not a match. Why can’t we?

Your potential students say, “you’re kidding right?”

Actually they say something like “WTF- Cr8z Fred Flintstone cranky thing- im’ outta h3ar”  by punching keys on their ‘CNC Phone.’

I do think that manual machine operation is a “Gr8 skilz 2 has.”

But I think that maybe, just maybe, we ought to back fill into it, after our talented trainees have shown themselves and us just how well they can do pushing “buttonz” on the CNC.

Disclaimer: I learned to operate a manual lathe, Bridgeport knee mill, and toolroom grinder at Lorain County Community College.  I took a five day Brown and Sharpe set up class about 20 years ago and am confident I could get a ‘Brownie’ “damn near to print” in a couple of days… <LOL> I appreciate the insight into the machining process that my training gave me. But I ask is it the best and most relevant way to this vital task today?



Boy chopping wood

13 thoughts on “Training- What We Want vs. What We Need

  1. Miles,
    I am shocked to hear that someone has finally figured it out that the schools are not teaching what employers need their employees to know.

    It is apparent that the students can figure it out that our schools are not properly equipped to transfer knowledge and provide hands-on learning activities relevant to what employers are doing in their shops today.

    School administrators have been told more times than I could possibly document but have made little to no progress in trying to meet employer needs, let alone in a timely fashion or with concern and/or about whether or not the student is really competent to perform the tasks the employer needs the employee to do. The biggest reason is the cost of current and future practice technology and equipment. Schools just are not budget-ready to provide such training facilities. They continue to offer manual training since that is all they have to teach with. Most of that equipment is approaching 50 or more years old.

    The business community has shown no interest in providing modern equipment to train with. They are willing to donate outdated, worn out equipment for a large donation receipt they can write off their taxes.

    Equipment manufacturers have shown no interest in helping by consigning equipment. The cost of such a facility as I have estimated is about 10 million dollars if you had to purchase outright everything needed by employers stated needs. After 5 years, much of the technology will be obsolete, requiring a new round of investment just to keep pace with changing times. The cost of training under these conditions would be totally unaffordable to any employee or employer. Consignment or donations is the only option to get pricing in the affordable range.

    The government is willing to provide grants to community colleges to place some of the needed equipment. Private schools are pretty much shut out from governmental grant opportunities.

    Colleges still do not understand the need for time and competency as it relates to the employees as learners. Colleges are still in the 30 hour course concept regardless of the students ability to master the coursework and have some hands-on activity to reinforce the needed concepts. Competency comes far down the priority list. We need to look at the delivery model to align it with the learner and employer needs.

    As you are aware, I am trying to put together such a facility to meet learner and employer needs in a “just-in-time” fashion but employers have shown no interest in training their own workforce for a cost.

    In short, schools can’t afford it and/or do not understand the complexity of manufacturers needs; businesses have neither the time or financial resources to provide training; equipment manufacturers can’t shoulder the cost of the needed requirements; the government will continue to provide grant opportunities to people who really don’t understand what is needed to be successful; funding opportunities are not available for private concerns who really do have a good understanding of what is needed to get manufacturing back on firm ground.

    Students first considering a career in manufacturing are stopped at the door when they see the out of date condition of vocational training facilities.

    What do you expect?

    The skills gap is real and will only continue to get worse as time slips by. If we are to conquer the massive problems, a lot of minds, attitudes and actions have to be changed.

  2. Hi Miles, I agree and I find way too many entrys telling me that they can only learn with hands on, even in my field, Quality. But it ain’t happening, they do not need to know how a machine works, just that the operator gives our client a product that meets a Standard and Specifications. It sure seems that the rote prussian method is still alive in public schools, private schools, and higher education. I prefer to teach through PPTs, Videos, and Training Manuals. Once those are mastered, then one can watch the operator and garner added knowledge. Hands on training just doesn’t work well. If you ever get a chance, visit Brookfield Ultra-Premium’s threading operation in Brookfield, OH to showcase state of the art CNC threading lathes and share it. They also have a line using earlier machinery for some special projects, but you will not see the manual operation still used in some threading shops.

  3. speakingofprecision says:

    Thanks for the tip Don. And thanks for confirming our suspicions about what really works…

  4. Well stated Miles! I have always treaded lightly with teachers in extolling this concept in machining. Also, your point on teachers teach the way they were taught is so true!

  5. speakingofprecision says:

    Thank you Brian. You have the time in the trenches in this area.

  6. Brett Vickery says:

    I have to agree in that whomever is providing the training should step back and ask themselves, What is needed? To insist on knowledge of manual equipment is not without value, although may not be essential, or even applicable in many situations today. I believe that the insistence on manual training is more a comfort that an individual has an understaning of basic machining. Is it necessary for beginners? I would have to say no. If an individual is trained to operate a CNC machine, they will ultimately gain an understanding and pursue the technology that they are exposed to contingent on their own personal desire.
    Great Point and definitely somthing to consider.

  7. Richard,

    My company is a dealer for engineering equipment for schools; CAD/CAM/CNC and Festo Automation and Mechatronics products. As well as other vendors of Robotics. I worked in Job Placement for a Career & Technical Education Center, 9 years as National Sales for Denford, who makes CAD/CAM/CNC equipment for education and now as President of my own educational reselling organization.

    In some ways you are correct, but there is much more to all of this. All Career Tech programs have industry advisory committees whose duty is to provide industrial relevance to CT programs, whether secondary or post-secondary. Some do well to the programs , some don’t. Often it comes down to dollars. Haas has had a program where they bring in CNC equipment on loan to a school, but reserve the right to take it out if they have a customer who needs that piece of equipment. I think they actually replace it too. We used to sell larger CNC equipment,until Haas came out with a buy 1 get 1 free program for large CNC equipment at schools. Hard to compete. Denford refocused on selling CNC routers, which teaches the basic concepts. Many machining teachers feel that students should know the feel of a manual machine before they move on to CNC. Of course, there are older teachers who are tenured and have no interest in furthering their skills beyond what they know.

    One big problem is that students aren’t signing up for these classes. The math & science requirements (STEM) are scaring them off. Mom’s and Dad’s are telling them that when the economy slows, they will be the first to be laid off and it’s not prestigeous to be a CNC Operator, they should go on to be a lawyer or something else etc. The dirty, dungy, grimy environment still comes to peoples mind, even though we know that is not true. I have been battling this issue for 25 years! Also, on the high school level, counselors try to send their least able student to the Career Centers, because they want to dump them, get them out of the rgular high school. Often, these students are ill prepared to handle students of this caliber. Doing advanced work is tough to do. Sometimes, it is 60-70% of the instructors student base. As one of my old instructors used to say, “It’s hard to make a silk purse out of a sows ear, but we try”. He was a fine teacher too.

    Regular high schools goals are to get every student into college, not a tech schools. Perception is we need more business majors, socialologists, lawyers, etc.

    And sometime industry sends mixed messages. At a Philly area post-secondary school recently, the Job Placement coordinator complained to me (as I was instlaling some additional engineering equipment) that the local employers reviewed their program and said this is good, we need some of your students. When they went to apply for the jobs, they said they didn’t have the skills and preparation they needed. They were not happy students. Other students got turned away by other companies for similar reasons.
    I know this may be one situation, but there are many on both sides.

    I guess the best you can do, if looking for future employees, is to work with your local CT programs (HS & Post-secondary) to insure they are able to get being taught the right skills with the right equipment for your area.

  8. Glenn Kalis says:

    As an old schooler graduate of Vincennes University / tool & die, (mid 80’s) the hands on training has been invaluable. It makes tou apply, and sometimes discover mechanical aptitude that many people may not know exists. Sure, technology in the metal cutting field has escalated exponentially since then, but the fact of the matter remains, operators still need to know the basics! You learn to crawl before you can walk. Who do you want responsible for your most advanced and expensive equipment???

  9. speakingofprecision says:

    Understood Glen. But to answer your question, perhaps I would have wanted the very talented guy or gal who thought that they wanted a career as a CNC precision machinist who have demonstrated skills on math and gaming and virtual reality who was totally turned off by the ancient manual equipment in the shop. Is that a sign of their lack of motivation that they would let that put them off? Perhaps. Perhaps too it is a sign that we are deliberately providing a barrier to getting our best and brightest into the trade by insisting they start out using what they think to be “seriously old school” or “Fred Flintstone” equipment. (They wouldn’t even call it “technology.”)
    Thanks for sharing your thoguhtful point of view.

  10. It is tough to be “old school” these days. I have grown children in their 20’s and I meet many HS/College students. They don’t always think the same way we do. Technology is pushing them even faster than before.

  11. Glenn Kalis says:

    I know, but I have had ME interns in my office with 4.0 grade point averages designing fixtures with CAD software that didn’t know what a tap drill was. Technological education only gets you so far, they need input from the shop floor in order to be competent. Educators need to instill that in them.

  12. Glenn, you have hit on another area. Those ME students probably don’t learn those skills at a University ME program. I hear that from ME Lab Techs all the time that students don’t have those skills. Why you ask? Because they did not go through a secondary or post-secondary Technical Program. They went straight from a regular high school to University. High Schools don’t neccessarily teach those kind of things. Industrial Arts programs have been systematically stripped out of middle & high schools, due to funding and perception issues. A major shame! You need to let high school principals and superintendents this. Universities usually don’t teach skills like that.

    I am being general, there are always exceptions. But this is what I see most of the time.

  13. Josh says:

    I’m with you Glen on the machining in Universities, I have a Biomedical Engineering Degree, and work as a design/Mfg. and Quality Engineer. I went to school and graduated with guys that couldn’t operate a hand drill and I needed to teach them how… in COLLEGE… I showed some how to weld, how to turn, mill… These were engineering seniors across numerous specialties that were clueless.

    When we were working on projects at the university the shop was still out of date (decent shop, 2 manual lathes from the 60’s and 2 bridgeport mills) so too low tech for a number of projects that needed multi-axis NC operations to make properly. However, the shop instructor didn’t want me using the machines and locked me out of the shop on a number of occasions since he didn’t train me… I ran lathes and mills starting when I was 14 years old in high school and started fixing them for the teacher when I was 16, ran CNC’s after high school and I couldn’t run the same 1950 bridgeport the high school had when I was at the university because the instructor didn’t trust me…

    It’s not always a question of the skills, but I’ve seen too many people who feel that the uninitiated are incapable because of their skill set. For example, programming a microprocessor does not gain anyone bonus points on programming a CNC. However, most students programming assembly language simulate dangerous scenarios before risking destroying or crashing a system. The language and skill set may be unusual, but that has nothing to do with the math, thought process, and outcome of a successful program and repeatable part. and lastly G-Code is essentially an assembly language that gets read the same way.. if you can write a program, you can write a program.

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