Special Report: Manufacturing

Safety net

By Lynn Stanley

Above: AWS supports the Workshops for Warriors program to help veterans prepare for careers in welding.

As strong demand faces off against production challenges, three industry leaders have the vision and the tools to help manufacturers thrive

April 2020 - When the sequel “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” film opened in 2002, fans flocked to theaters around the world to see the “boy who lived” board the Hogwarts Express train at King’s Cross Station, Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. A mysterious elf warns Harry to expect trouble, but the problems he encounters in the form of a cursed diary, a giant basilisk and the “dark lord” prove almost insuperable. That is, until help arrives from an unexpected quarter. Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore explains: “You will find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. The school itself isn’t sentient, it’s the people inside who will always be there to help.”

The mettle of manufacturers also is being tested. Bloomberg calls the skills gap the Great Talent Recession. Goldman economists estimated worker shortages at 4.6 million in February 2022. Deloitte reported that the scarcity of semiconductors over the last two years resulted in lost revenue of more than $500 billion worldwide for suppliers and their customers. In a December earnings call for semi-conductor supplier Broadcom, CEO Hock Tan said his company is “pretty much booked all the way through 2022 and into 2023.” Raw material price hikes and rising energy prices are exacerbating supply chain disruptions and causing transportation costs to balloon. Metalformers and fabricators are balancing growth against a seeming tsunami of obstacles. But the industry has some heavy hitters in its corner—organizations made up of dedicated people who provide help on multiple levels.

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One of FMA’s summer camps—Girls Adventuring in Design, Engineering and Technology (GADgET)—is held at host schools like Northcentral Technical College, Wisconsin.


The Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has more than 850 members. The Independence, Ohio-based association supports North American companies that produce precision metal products using stamping, fabricating, spinning, slide and roll forming technologies along with other value-added processes. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA), located in Elgin, Illinois, marked its 50th anniversary in 2020. The association aids thousands of metal fabricators while working to push progress in the industry. Established in 1919, the American Welding Society (AWS) is a Miami-based non-profit that promotes the science, technology and application of welding, allied joining and cutting processes. Though different, each organization is committed to employee engagement, customer experience and operational excellence—a winning trifecta for metalformers and fabricators.

“Our mission,” says PMA President David Klotz, “is to continue to shape the industry’s environment by helping member companies navigate a volatile terrain toward superior competitiveness and profitability.”

It’s something Klotz knows a lot about. His family co-owned and operated South Bend, Indiana-based Metal Stamping Inc. “I grew up in the industry,” he says. Following the sale of the company’s Troy, Michigan, division, Klotz went to work in sales and sales management for an ERP and MES software company before becoming president of Tebis America, a developer of CAD/CAM software for the tool, die and mold manufacturing market. He was affiliated with PMA for nearly 20 years and succeeded Bill Gaskin as president in 2019. In addition to manufacturers, membership is open to those that build metalforming equipment, provide software and offer other services.

“I’ve been involved with other organizations over the years but I’ve never seen an association where members cross non-traditional lines to engage and really help each other,” Klotz says.  “Our networking groups, for example, give mid- and senior-level executives a protected space and a unique platform for exchanging ideas, comparing experiences and sharing new perspectives. Ultimately they share their lives, too.”

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A student operates a machine during a GADgET summer program held at Richard J. Daley College, Chicago.


PMA has five networking groups, two of which are dedicated to C-suite executive members. Jeff Aznavorian, president of Clips & Clamps Industries, considers his fellow It’s Just Business networking group members trusted friends and savvy advisors. “When we need a kick in the pants, we trust in our group to provide the constructive criticism needed to get us back on track.”

Bill Adler, president and CEO of Stripmatic Products Inc., has been a member of a PMA CEO networking group for more than 20 years. “My group has helped me effectively prepare for the latest government or supplier-instigated programs that will impact my business,” he says. “The plant tours opened my eyes to operations domestically and internationally. I also developed some of the closest personal friendships I’ve made in my life.”

“It’s really amazing,” adds Klotz. “Many times a visitor is also a competitor but they still conduct plant tours and share information. I have never seen this type of synergy before among companies. It is this message of community that I’ve been trying to push the last three years.”

According to Klotz, the association has gained more than 325 new members during his tenure. He cites the attraction of PMA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy team, One Voice, as a reason for rising enrollment. In 2008, PMA teamed up with the National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA) to create One Voice and give the metalforming industry representation on Capitol Hill. The majority of member companies are small to medium-sized family-owned businesses.

“When COVID-19 hit, we surveyed members to identify their most urgent needs, then passed that information on to our D.C. advocacy group,” Klotz says. “Initially, the federal government was just going to provide companies with tax breaks, but our members said, ‘We need cash for payroll and to keep the lights on.’ We also created an education resource to keep members updated by holding weekly webinars.”


In 2021, One Voice successfully lobbied to increase the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan limit to $2 million for manufacturers, extend the Payroll Protection Program application deadline and extend the Employee Retention Tax Credit. On the workforce front, the group worked to pass the National Apprenticeship Act in the U.S. House and cemented an additional $6 billion for registered apprenticeship expansion and $386 million for the Veterans Affairs’ rapid retraining program. On behalf of the association, One Voice also succeeded in suspending potential tariffs on European Union (EU) copper-based alloys for five years, lobbying the White House to negotiate lifting steel tariffs on EU imports; and worked to introduce a U.S. Senate bill to reform the Section 232 tariff process.

PMA member Dan Kendall, president of ABC Metals, said the association’s advocacy efforts allowed his company to get to the right place, in front of the right people at the right time after he received notification of a tariff threat to copper-alloy imports critical to ABC Metals.

“Steel shortages are the biggest issue right now,” says Klotz. “New mills are being built but that’s going to take time. Steel could be a problem throughout the rest of 2022.

“We’re seeing a lot of reshoring activity right now as well. I just talked to a member who is moving production from China back to Ohio because he can source material faster. He also is looking at automation. A lot of our members are investing in robots and other automation technologies due to the labor shortage. Companies will need to continue to add automation and rework some processes so that operations can be managed by fewer employees. Companies have been pushing this for years but now the investment in the equipment and processes must happen.”

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PMA provides a variety of training options with personnel at PMA member companies such as Batesville Tool & Die Inc.


The skills gap is another focus for each association. The PMA Educational Foundation was established in 1996 to help develop a skilled workforce. In 2017, the foundation provided PMA with more than $1 million to establish its METALFORM EDU online, virtual training platform. Thirty-seven tailored courses take employees from the basics to advanced processing technology.

“METALFORM EDU has been a huge success,” says Klotz. “Several larger Tier 1 companies are joining PMA because they are hiring individuals who were never exposed to metalforming processes. They can use METALFORM EDU to rapidly train new personnel.

“The challenge is finding qualified teachers,” he continues. “We are beginning to see more high schools reinstate apprenticeship programs. Member companies also are creating their own apprenticeships. We are putting together a playbook on how to set up an apprenticeship program. And we’re looking at expanding technical training while also pushing for U.S. lawmakers to shine a positive national spotlight on manufacturing careers as a viable option to a four-year college degree.”

Patrick Simon, director of Education and Membership for FMA, and Ed Dernulc, director of FMA’s Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (NBT) Foundation, agree that innovative measures are needed to grow a new labor pool and improve the industry’s image.

Simon, a longtime FMA member with fabrication experience marketing EDM, laser, tool and die and mold making technology, says he liked the leadership exhibited by FMA. Joining the organization’s staff “was a comfortable move for me because I knew all the players. It also gave me the opportunity to pull back the curtain and gain a better understanding of the industry.”

Dernulc spent 22 years in private banking. “I got to work with many manufacturers,” he says. “In 2007, I had an opportunity to get into philanthropy. I spent 11 years in healthcare assisting vulnerable groups. As foundation director with NBT, I am welding my banking and philanthropic experience with the fabrication industry to help both metal fabricators and manufacturers create the next-generation workforce.”


When asked about the toughest challenge job shop owners face, answers typically are the same, says Simon: “Finding, hiring, and retaining qualified people.” Since 2011, this issue has topped The Fabricator’s biannual “What Keeps You Up At Night?” survey of FMA members. In June 2019, 45 percent of surveyed participants listed “availability of skilled workers” as their No. 1 concern.

“I can find a banker and accountant at every corner, but try finding a welder or laser operator,” says Dernulc. “Good luck with that.”

“The fabrication community has been out-marketed by four-year colleges that have helped foster the myth that manufacturing is dark, dangerous and dirty,” Simon adds. “To keep manufacturing thriving in America, the industry needs a growing workforce equipped to keep pace with advances in technology. NBT was created in 1990 to fill the pipeline with skilled workers.”

The foundation’s flagship initiative is its summer manufacturing camps. “When it comes to human resources, I always say there are three options,” says Dernulc. “You can send jobs outside the U.S., you can become more and more automated, or you can invest time in recruiting, training, mentoring and growing your staff. I think if you pick the third option, it will strengthen your organization in the long run.”

In 2005, NBT awarded its first grant to a community college willing to host a camp for sixth- through eighth-grade students as well as marketing support to help promote the camp. Today NBT provides grant funding on a three-year cycle to encourage camp hosts to seek additional sources of financial support. The foundation supplies a five-section entrepreneurship curriculum it developed in partnership with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE). The program is designed to lead a student through the manufacturing process by following a product from its original concept development through design—using CAD software; production—using machines and equipment; and introduction into the marketplace. Local plant tours and guest speakers give participants a real-world experience.

“We want to do more than just fill the pipeline with workers,” says Dernulc. “We want to spark the next generation of entrepreneurs who understand the value of manufacturing.”

“I can’t tell you how many donors to NBT started a venture from the trunk of their car or in their garage and, 25 years later, they have $30 million businesses,” Simon adds. “It’s a ripple effect. If you have strong schools and strong manufacturing, your community will be strong. So will commercial businesses like retail and restaurants. Young adults are also more likely to remain and invest their talents locally if they have good opportunities.”

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An apprentice undergoes training at PMA member company Automation Tool & Die.


In 2016, NBT supported 39 camps. During the pandemic, the foundation adapted its programs to a virtual venue, holding 81 camps in 2020. In 2021 the number of camps grew to 125. This year NBT expects to host 175 camps. In 2019, NBT surpassed $1 million in awarded grants to host schools and manufacturers.

A 2020 impact study conducted by the foundation revealed camps are having a positive impact on both the participants and the hosts. For example, 78 percent of students said they understood how to build a product from start to finish using manufacturing equipment and tools, a 53 percent increase from pre-camp responses. Ninety-five percent of respondents stated they had increased their understanding of how STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses are used in manufacturing careers. Sixty-eight percent of attendees said that they knew the types of manufacturing jobs that were available in their community by the end of camp, an 82 percent increase from pre-camp responses. Seventy-nine percent said they understood the training needed for a future manufacturing career by the end of camp.

Of the hosts that were surveyed, 100 percent reported that the experience helped their school or organization increase visibility and promote a positive image in the community. Seventy percent of manufacturers saw it as a way to collaborate with local middle and high schools and colleges and reach a younger population.

“The whole purpose of our programs is to get people engaged and get them into the industry as quickly as possible,” Dernulc adds.

In addition to the camps, NBT offers scholarships up to $3,500 for students 18 and older who are pursuing degrees that will lead to manufacturing careers.

According to Demulc, FMA’s support isn’t limited to students. Premier members can receive up to five training passes a year valued at $2,500 for incumbent workers and new hires. Businesses and school members can receive up to three passes annually. An individual member can take advantage of one pass per year.

“I think we’re on the right track,” adds Simon. “There are not enough people right now that want to work so an approach such as a job board isn’t enough. Fabricators are adapting with automation but you still need people.”

“It’s a numbers game, no question,” Dernulc agrees. “A lot of kids don’t want to go to college [but] are both smart and good with their hands. We want these young people to know there is support and a career pathway available to them. That’s why we’re trying to reach them at a younger age. And we’re always looking for partners in the community colleges and trade schools to help us expand our programs.”


The AWS Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Welding Society, also understands the numbers game. April marks National Welding Month—an event that celebrates the men and women who make up the industry. From the country’s infrastructure and power grid to skyscrapers, vehicles and everyday items, approximately 70 percent of all manufactured products in the U.S. are welded.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 3 percent growth rate for welding jobs over the next decade, but an empty pipeline and the retirement of baby boomers portend a shortfall of 300,000 welders by 2024.

“We’ve been talking about this since the late 2000s,” says Monica Pfarr, the foundation’s executive director. “We’ve done a disservice to our young people over the last two decades by encouraging all students to pursue a four-year college degree. We got rid of career tech-focused programs. Now we know that not only is there a critical need for people to pursue a trade, there are a large number of individuals who have a talent for working with their hands and don’t aspire to earn a four-year degree. We needed to start growing our labor pool by making programs available to young people while they are still in high school so that they can successfully navigate a path to a future career.”

An engineer by trade, Pfarr spent nearly 13 years with General Motors before joining Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, to oversee non-credit manufacturing-related training.

“It gave me the opportunity to work closely with small to medium-sized manufacturers and understand their pain points in terms of personnel needs,” says Pfarr. “We used that feedback to design programs that could deliver the training needed to upskill existing employees and help companies identify new entry-level workers.”

One day, she recalls, “we had a visit from some representatives of the American Welding Society. They wanted to tour our welding program. The discussion touched on the fact that young people weren’t considering careers in manufacturing, that the trades were considered dead-end jobs. AWS offered me the opportunity to work for the organization and start reversing those misconceptions, specifically for the welding industry.”

Pfarr joined the foundation in 2008 to build a larger, higher skilled, more diverse workforce using a variety of initiatives. The foundation’s website,, helps visitors answer questions about welding careers. The foundation awarded almost $1.7 million in scholarships, $500,000 in grants to welding schools and $140,000 in graduate-level research funding last year.

One way the foundation promotes those opportunities is by taking its show on the road with its AWS Careers in Welding Trailer. The vehicle uses VRTEX 360 virtual reality simulators to give visitors a hands-on welding experience. In 2021, the mobile exhibit made stops at 14 events in 13 different states, including Fabtech in Chicago.

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PMA gives metalformers representation on Capitol Hill with its Washington, D.C.-based advocacy team.


In 2021, the AWS Foundation launched, a site dedicated to sharing accurate welding workforce statistics and projections. The information flow is powered by Emsi labor market data, and the U.S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency lists.

“A large number of students graduate with a degree and then go to work in a field that doesn’t make use of their degree,” says Pfarr. “Understanding the options allows an individual to really evaluate whether or not they need that four-year degree. There are a lot of opportunities for individuals with two-year degrees or specialized training in short-term certificate programs.”

Pfarr is passionate about the foundation’s multi-prong approach to expose people to the possibilities of a career in welding through social media. Digital platforms like the AWS ARCademy YouTube series, Women in Welding virtual conferences and collaboration on Netflix’s “Metal Shop Masters” offer additional portals into the world of welding.

The foundation takes individuals full circle with its website. “At any given time, companies can post jobs to the site,” says Pfarr. “Approximately 89 percent of openings posted on multiple job boards [like Indeed] are also aggregated to the site. And we post key information regarding interviewing tips, how to prepare a resume and other details. It’s a marriage between the job seeker who is looking for an opportunity and the company who is looking to hire a skilled individual.

“Our efforts are focused on reaching a diverse population,” she continues. “We need to fill openings in welding as well as the other skilled trades. That means reaching out to women, veterans and people who are not familiar with welding.”

No magic wand from Ollivanders Shop in Diagon Alley can bridge the skills gap or solve labor shortages, material price hikes and supply chain disruptions. But the dedicated efforts of organizations like PMA, FMA and AWS to partner with the people who make up the nation’s 638,583 manufacturing businesses is proving to be its own kind of magic.  FFJ



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