A Common Workforce Problem That We Share

Originally titled 'A Common Problem That We Share '

The challenges we face finding writing editors are similar to those you face finding skilled machinists and machine operators.

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Modern machine shops and Modern Machine Shop face similar workforce-development challenges. Simply put, it’s difficult for us (as well as our other Gardner Business Media brands) to find drop-in-place writing editors the same way it’s hard for you to find drop-in-place machinists. That means we have to train them.

The editors here who travel to visit shops and then write about how those shops leverage machining technology have an odd skillset that pairs writing ability with at least a fundamental understanding of machining technology, processes and concepts. This is uncommon because, typically, engineers can’t write and writers sometimes have a hard time picking up the technology.

Therefore, we either have to find a manufacturing-type and teach him or her how to write effectively, or find a quality writer and teach the technology. We’ve had success with both scenarios as exemplified by the two editors I’ve worked with here the longest. Pete Zelinski and I both have mechanical engineering degrees. Mark Albert doesn’t, but, among other helpful traits, he is a natural tinkerer with a genuine interest in learning about how things work.

However, we seem to have more writers approaching us for work than those with extensive knowledge about machining. The former typically have a degree in journalism or English, and already have the chops to write well. What’s unknown is whether they will be able to write well about the unique topics we cover. Here are three traits I’d like to identify in such a prospect. Some of these are similar to the “soft skills” you might be looking for in candidates with no machining experience.

  • Natural curiosity, specifically about how things work. It’d be great to find a tinkerer like Mark who might have taken a watch apart at one point just to see how it works. In lieu of having done things like that, successful MMS writers are genuinely interested in learning about how objects function, and they think what goes on in a machine shop is truly cool.
  • Willingness to research and learn. Although I’ve been writing about manufacturing for 20 years (13 years here at MMS), I don’t claim to be an expert on all things machining. As a result, I’m continuously researching topics ahead of shop visits so I can develop questions that will enable my stories to explain the concept with a sufficient amount of detail. It’s often a process of learning, then teaching.
  • Willingness to admit ignorance. Similarly, there can be times during conversations about a machining concept with shop owners or managers in which they lose me. I have no problem stopping them and asking them to explain again. Pretending as though I understand at that point does me no good and ultimately does the reader of the article I generate no good either.

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