In a scene from the recent movie “The Gladiator,” a former Roman general finds himself in the Colosseum with a small band of men armed with swords and shields who are about to be sacrificed in a re-enactment of the Battle of Carthage. The general tells his comrades, “I don’t know what’s about to happen, but I know we’ll be better off if we face it together than if we try to fight alone.” This reminds me of a quote ascribed to Benjamin Franklin during the colonial debate on the Declaration of Independence: “If we don’t hang together, we’ll all hang separately.” The lesson is clear: in times of crisis, find a common cause and work together to overcome obstacles.
The Colosseum scene contains many elements symbolic of the situation faced by NTMA members and other small manufacturers in the 21st Century. They find themselves in an unfamiliar, hostile environment surrounded by a howling, blood thirsty mob (including large corporate customers). Unknown enemies lurk behind gates surrounding the arena or suddenly appear from trap doors in the stadium floor. On foot, with only meager weapons, these warriors face chariot-mounted opponents. Potential allies often don’t speak the same language. Meanwhile, high government officials view the spectacle with disinterested amusement from luxury seats, intervening only to render judgment on the fate of the vanquished. And I haven’t even considered the lions and tigers and bears . . . oh my! Overly dramatic? Maybe; but no one denies the world of manufacturing is a dangerous place, especially for small companies.
How do we respond? Frankly, our industry has been slow to recognize the advantages of working together. Culturally ingrained independence and unwritten rules of competition often prevent cooperation for the common good. This is true of our trade and professional associations as well as individual companies. But there are signs of significant change.
Several contributors to this column have recently described the importance of skill standards for training. In 1994, NTMA and five other associations formed the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), which has successfully developed a system of standards for 23 precision metalworking occupations. The common cause is the need for a tool that clearly defines the industry benchmark for educators and trainers to use in developing programs.
Starting with IMTS 1998, these associations and other partners worked to create the IMTS Student Summit program. The common cause is to use the technology exhibits and expertise of tool shows as an ongoing resource for educators to impact student career decisions.
A natural outgrowth of these activities has been the formation of a loose alliance called the Metalworking Association Partnership to attack the common problem of finding and training skilled people for our industry. The common cause is to create a unified message and share resources and techniques that will increase our visibility in a highly competitive career marketplace.
This approach will allow the IMTS Student Summit to evolve toward a more continuous connection with instructors and students. For example, I recall a conversation with a math instructor in the student lounge area last September. In about 15 minutes he suggested a half dozen classroom activities that could be useful extensions of the IMTS experience. The same ideas can be applied to science, social studies and communications classes that will touch students who are currently outside our sphere of influence.
What will allow this collaboration? The same Internet technology that is driving change in the business sector will. Associations and educators can form cyberspace learning communities to work together.
So what can an individual do?
- Find out what your local trade association or professional society is doing to work with schools, and offer to help.
- Connect with Skills USA/VICA and support the local and state programs.
- Visit the Student Summit Web site to keep informed (www.imts.org).
- Help make your company facility accessible to school groups.
- Call the high school or middle school and offer to participate in career day activities or classroom visits.
- Start or expand an internship program for students at your company.
And remember the lesson from the Colosseum...our best chance to prevail in uncertain times is to work together.