Special Reports

Fighting for the future

By Meghan Boyer

Students gain metalworking skills

February 2011- Despite a challenging economy and difficult business conditions, many companies continue to devote resources, time and funds to education and outreach efforts because the need for future workers is too big to ignore. Their efforts can take many forms, yet the end goal for each business is the same: Increase knowledge of and interest in metalworking and manufacturing careers.

The state of employment in U.S. metal fabrication is growing, says Burke Doar, vice president of sales and marketing at Trumpf Inc., Farmington, Conn. "There is a demand for analytical, hard-working, motivated persons with an engineering aptitude," he says. However, the availability of jobs is not always enough to entice new workers to join the industry. "Like any profession, the metalworking industry needs to do a better job of promoting itself as a rewarding industry to devote one’s career," says Doar.

Interest in manufacturing exists among some young people and older adults, according to the October FFJournal article "The Next Generation," which focused on educational institutions and students. Despite this, there is more companies in the industry can do to ensure a steady flow of future workers and to increase the overall number of people who plan to enter metalworking and manufacturing.

Without additional workers entering the industry, many companies will encounter difficulties in the future as the existing workforce retires. The average age of a skilled worker is in the 50s, notes Chuck Gehrisch, president of Roll-Kraft, Mentor, Ohio. "We’ll be in a serious situation in the next 10 years," he says. "If we aren’t developing a succession plan, then we are going to be in serious trouble."

Even now, some businesses are facing challenges locating qualified employees to fill open positions. "Some of the job areas, particularly machinists, seem to be difficult to find," says Milton Weber, director of human resources at Red Bud Industries, Red Bud, Ill. Often, those seeking employment do not have the necessary qualifications or training to fit available positions. The company attracts workers from roughly 30 miles around its headquarters, he says. Red Bud, which is located in a rural community, continues to have to expand the radius in which it searches for workers.

Though a great need exists, outreach can be difficult for companies. The industry overall does not do enough to raise manufacturing career awareness, says Patrick Simon, marketing manager with MC Machinery, Wood Dale, Ill. Outreach and education is only one aspect of a company’s many tasks, which include first and foremost, supporting business activities. "It’s hard for us just as a company on its own to try and have the resources in place to really get out to the technical schools and even to the government and places like that," he says.

Indeed, the industry should do more to promote itself, says Weber. "I think we need to emphasize a little more at the high school level that there are good jobs out there in these trade-type jobs, for example, machinists, electronics people, welders," he says. "There’s a lot of intelligent, hard-working kids out there that like to work with their hands," but they might not be suited for a four-year college degree.

Capture their interest
Industry businesses use a variety of tactics to reach out, choosing their methods based on available resources, time and funds because no single "correct" strategy exists. The important aspect of every method is to present young people with information in ways that will excite them and get them thinking about manufacturing in new ways.

Orange County Choppers and the Discovery Channel reality series that documents its motorcycle fabrications, "American Chopper," has been very good for the industry, says Greg Chambers, director of corporate compliance for Oberg Industries, Freeport, Pa. "The shows like that on TV where people are making things, that’s the best thing that’s ever happened for manufacturing" because young people can see not only what they are interested in but also how to make it, he says. "It’s a tie-in. What young kid doesn’t like rims or fancy wheels or bikes?"

Ultimately, young people today learn differently than their predecessors. "They are learning by podcast, by e-learning, by games, by activity," says Christopher Lorio, director of customer training with Hypertherm Inc., Hanover, N.H. In developing a content kit to help educators teach students about plasma cutting, the company considered the different ways people learn. "A lot of the learning in this box is actually putting your hand on products or consumables and using the system to learn how to do it that way. We try to keep it as interactive as possible," he says.

Indeed, companies need to find ways to gain younger generations’ attention, says Jason Schmidt, senior customer training instructor with The Lincoln Electric Co., Cleveland. The company’s Vrtex 360 virtual reality welding training technology is similar to a video game, "so it attracted students not only to compete against each other to get a welding score but also to learn a trade at the same time. It’s something that allows us to attract the younger generation," he says. Lincoln Electric demonstrates the device at trade shows and student organizations, such as 4-H groups. "We’ve had kids five to seven years old be able to weld with this. They get a kick out of it," says Schmidt. The company works hard to relate to young people and also participates in creating educational DVDs and comic books that discuss welding.

Partnering with local student groups and schools for different projects also can be effective. Jet Edge Inc., St. Michael, Minn., is participating in its local high school’s SuperMileage car build project. Students will be touring the Jet Edge facility and using waterjets to create some parts for their car, says Jude Lague, Jet Edge president. "They also will have the opportunity to meet with some of our staff so they can learn about the many rewarding career opportunities in manufacturing, from sales and marketing to engineering, fabricating and much more. Our staff will discuss their day-to-day responsibilities as well as the education and experience required for their position," he says.

Gehrisch sees student projects as an opportunity to create a "farm system" similar to professional sports teams that develop athletes. "We are trying to develop people," he says. Roll-Kraft is part of the Alliance for Working Together, an organization that promotes careers in manufacturing by showing students, parents and teachers what modern manufacturing facilities are like.

Manufacturing companies associated with AWT are involved in a Robobots program. Each company is sponsoring a high school and working with between eight and 12 students to design and build their own robots. "We are going to have the kids actually work on the machines to make the parts so they can learn about the manufacturing process from design to completion," says Gehrisch.

Reach out
Large or small, every opportunity to interact with young people can be beneficial, and efforts such as facility tours have the possibility to create a large impact.

Red Bud’s local high school administrators and board of education received a facility tour, which emphasized industrial arts jobs and the need for workers from the community. They were receptive to the message and afterwards decided to reinstate an industrial arts program at the high school, says Weber. The program, which is in its second year, had been absent from the school for eight years. While it will be many years before the students in the high school program are ready for careers in manufacturing, the program "will get them thinking about if this is an area for them...and maybe we won’t be searching so hard for that machinist" in the future, he says.

Weber also travels to schools to give classroom presentations, and the company offers manufacturing-related scholarships to students. "We even go down to the grade school levels to tell them that they need to start thinking some time about what they are going to do," he says. "We’re making aware with people in the community what we have available here."

Student facility tours help demonstrate modern manufacturing and "they are almost always surprised at how bright, clean, modern and neat our manufacturing facilities are," says Doar. "As a result of our tours, we’ve had students express an interest in pursuing a career in manufacturing, and many of them have gone on to do just that." Trumpf also offers internships for young people to gain practical experience.

Trade shows that have student days also offer opportunities to promote manufacturing careers directly to young people. "That’s an opportunity for each one of us that are in the industry to spend two to three minutes of our time explaining to them what’s going on, and maybe it perks their interest and gets them excited and interested in doing something like that," says Simon. He cautions against ignoring trade show opportunities to speak with students. "Everyone has to realize that those guys are our future," he says.

Direct to schools
Building partnerships with schools and educators also can help companies secure future workers, notes Melanie Kaplan, human resources director at Bystronic Inc., Hauppauge, N.Y. "We have started to forge relationships with colleges that some of our employees have attended and try to establish networks," she says. "Something has to be done to entice and excite them and to look at this as a great career opportunity."

Amada America Inc., Buena Park, Calif., promotes education in part by working with community colleges, says Nick Ostrowski, general manager of marketing. "When possible, we donate the equipment and the tooling they need in order to educate their students."

In addition to donating items, some companies provide equipment discounts to schools and educators. Part of Thermadyne’s strategy is to provide discount incentives to schools to help them get the products they need to teach students, says Joe Mueller, vice president, Americas, marketing, at the St. Louis-based company. Thermadyne is working on launching its Carry the Torch program, which will help recruit and teach future welders. The program includes a marketing campaign that features real-life welding students.

Hypertherm’s school program focuses on helping teachers educate students about plasma cutting technology. "There isn’t really a consistent way educators teach their students about plasma and how to apply it in the workplace," and some teachers rely on information they find online to teach students, says Lorio. "Unlike welding, every teacher was teaching something different and using different materials, and it was very frustrating for the educators, and they felt it was incomplete."

A plasma-focused curriculum the company sells to schools contains a comprehensive facilitator guide for the teacher, student guides and materials, plasma torches and consumables for multiple activities, DVDs and an e-learning module, says Lorio. Educators also can receive an equipment discount. "We wanted to bring it all together into one package for teaching to make it more effective for both the educators and students," he says, noting development of the program required roughly one year. Educators have purchased roughly 200 plasma curriculums since its launch in early 2009.

Once people have entered the industry, the education shouldn’t stop, notes Kaplan. New employees need not only an orientation regarding the company but also an overview of the equipment, she says. Bystronic sends workers into the field with mentors and also has an in-house training program to help its employees continue to advance their careers, says Kaplan. "Offering formal training classes internally" enables workers to have a career path within the organization, she says.

Ultimately, the industry is fighting a perception problem, and it’s up to everyone to work to change it, because the industry lacks a suitable venue to reach a wider audience, says Ostrowski. "Unfortunately, the perception for most young people unfamiliar with the industry is that we are an industry of veritable blacksmith shops fashioning crude implements through manual processes," he says. "It’s our job, Amada’s job, the actual manufacturer’s job, everybody’s job, to change that perception." FFJ


Company Profiles





Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters



Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.



Mazak Optonics Corp.


Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.




TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
Steelmax Tools LLC


Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems


MTS Sensors



Bradbury Group


Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Burghardt + Schmidt Group Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc. Rolleri USA


Butech Bliss UFP Industrial


Alliance Steel
Red Bud Industries




Tishken Advanced Gauging Technologies Automec Inc. BLM Group



MC Machinery Systems Inc. Prudential Stainless & Alloys
Mayfran International Cincinnati Inc. SafanDarley



LVD Strippit


Barton International
ATI Industrial Automation Scotchman Industries Inc. Hougen Manufacturing Flow International Corporation
Lissmac Corp. Trilogy Machinery Inc.


Jet Edge Waterjet Systems


Behringer Saws Inc. Omax Corp.
SuperMax Tools FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. Cosen Saws


Timesavers MetalForming Inc. DoALL Sawing American Weldquip



HE&M Saw Strong Hand Tools
Beckwood Press Co. Titan Tool Supply Inc. Savage Saws T. J. Snow Company