It's been over a year since the column with this title appeared in Modern Machine Shop (January 1999). In it, I addressed how we can change the perceptions of the general public about manufacturing and encourage young people to enter this field. I was amazed at the response to the column. And since the original article ran in the magazine, it has also been posted on the MMS Web site (www.mmsonline.com), and I continue to receive comments about this column by e-mail.
While I will not repeat the entire article here (again, you can read it in its entirety on the Web site), I made the very basic assumption that this field is worth entering in the first place. I proposed that there is much potential for people working in manufacturing, and specifically with CNC machine tools. I then offered some suggestions related to how you can participate in motivating people to enter this field.
It seems that this column touched some nerves. While many of the comments I have received are positive, the overwhelming majority of comments are negative. Here are just a few scattered examples of what has been said. It's not pretty.
"...If one of my kids comes home and tells me they found a job in a machine shop, I'll hit them between the eyes with a 2 by 4..."
"...A person can make more money driving a truck for UPS than they can working in a machine shop ..."
"If you are sure you want to sucker some poor saps into this trade, the Machines Advisory Committees should hook up with some of the hobby machinist magazines—they're read by want-to-be machinists ..." "...A lot of machine shop work is mind numbing. No real skill is required, and a company can hire people at minimum wage ..."
Suffice it to say that this is but a small representation of countless comments that I've received that parallel these. Note that most comments were made anonymous, so I don't know the positions of people making them. It may be presumed that many are being made by people who have experience working in manufacturing. And it's obvious that these are people who have entered the field and find it undesirable.
My first reaction was to respond with something like, "If you don't like what you're doing, why are you doing it?" In all occupations, if you are not satisfied with your position, you should get "inspirationally dissatisfied" and do something to change your situation. Schools are filled with people who have found their initial field of endeavor to be unsatisfactory—and they're doing something about it.
As I continued thinking, however, it occurred to me that I've received a great number of these negative comments. If this general feeling is as wide-spread as I'm beginning to fear, and if every person that is dissatisfied quit, how many people would be left to man our machines?
As you consider your own manufacturing facility, how many of your people feel this way? If it's more than a few, what is causing this feeling?
Over the past 25 years, I've been in a lot of machine shops and manufacturing companies. I've worked with people at all levels of manufacturing. While I don't have any sure-fire answers, I've seen a direct correspondence between the company's profitability and worker benefits (no rocket science here). While it's not universal, those companies that are most profitable tend to attract the best workers—and can afford to keep them happy with adequate pay, benefits and raises.
On the other hand, companies that haven't adequately addressed these changes (or worse, have done nothing to respond to them) are having major problems staying profitable. And in turn, they are facing the biggest challenges when it comes to keeping their workforce satisfied. Aside from having the lowest wages and smallest benefits, they're actually expecting their workforce to work harder and longer in a feeble attempt to respond. But they're fighting a losing battle.
I can understand why a person working for a starving company would have very negative feelings about manufacturing. And I could only recommend that they get inspirationally dissatisfied and do something about it. But before giving up on manufacturing, I would urge them to consider working for one of the thriving companies.
It saddens me that so many of the responses to this issue are so negative. While I freely admit that there are undesirable companies (I've been in many of them), I still believe that manufacturing can be a very rewarding career.