Developing A Qualified Maintenance, Repair Or Service Team

Companies are finding it difficult to attract qualified technicians for manufacturing technology OEM and customer maintenance, repair and service functions. The shortage can be attributed to many factors—not enough young people pursuing careers in manufacturing technology-related fields, changing technology that results in endless training requirements and general misperceptions about manufacturing in general.

Columns From: 12/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop,

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Companies are finding it difficult to attract qualified technicians for manufacturing technology OEM and customer maintenance, repair and service functions. The shortage can be attributed to many factors—not enough young people pursuing careers in manufacturing technology-related fields, changing technology that results in endless training requirements and general misperceptions about manufacturing in general.

A young person who has put forth the effort to receive the needed training, has a NIMS level II or level III credential and has accepted the challenges of servicing today's high-tech machines is a hot commodity in the current market place. Many shops find it difficult to attract qualified individuals and often resort to stealing them from OEMs or other companies with similar equipment. Time and effort is being expended in trying to figure out how to attract qualified individuals. You may find the key and attract some good technicians, but you still have to worry about the other companies trying to recruit (steal) them away from you.

An alternative is to train your own workers. If more companies would begin training maintenance, repair and service technicians, the problem would eventually solve itself. Training takes time, but many companies have found that the best way to find new technicians is to hire community or technical college students who want to gain work experience. These companies then have the opportunity to train the students to meet the industry's basic skill and knowledge requirements for maintenance, repair and service. These Skill Standards are available from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) www.nims-skills.org.

Companies have options for conducting such training. They can conduct the training in-house, using existing skilled workforce as trainers and mentors; they can partner with local educators, vendors and OEMs; or they can establish a formal apprenticeship program that fully develops journeyman-level technicians.

Recruiting individuals into training programs or apprenticeships is usually easier than attracting and retaining fully competent workers. It may also be less expensive in the long run, because trainee wages typically start at a fraction of journeyman wages. Another advantage is that you have the entire training period (typically 4 years for a machine repair apprenticeship) to develop company loyalties.

I find that the students best suited for machine repair come out of high school or community/technical college automotive, truck, small engine, marine or aircraft mechanic courses. Few schools offer manufacturing production machinery repair programs, so the mechanic courses currently offered in your community are your best bet. You will still need to actively recruit, because the transportation industry is also promoting career opportunities to these students.

I would suggest that companies considering (or already conducting) machine repair or service training use the NIMS skills standards as a benchmark for assuring that all the basics are included in the training plan. NIMS also offers credentials at two levels for your trainees (or existing workers) to attain. A NIMS credential is recognition that an individual's competencies have been validated against a set of industry-written requirements.

Companies interested in having their machine maintenance, repair or service workers receive credentials should obtain a Credentialing Achievement Record (CAR) from NIMS. This is a logbook approach to documenting performance requirements on the job. The individual's supervisor, trainer or mentor signs off on the CAR indicating satisfactory performance of each requirement. When all requirements are met, the CARs are submitted to NIMS for review. Then, a credentialing exam is scheduled. A passing score yields the NIMS credential. The CARs are easily incorporated into formal apprenticeship programs, and the credentials complement (but do not replace) journeyman status.

Retaining your highly skilled team of machine maintenance, repair and service workers is another concern. It is important that companies make technicians' work as interesting as possible. In today's marketplace, one thing that helps retention of technicians is opportunities for continued education and training in the latest technology that they are or will be working on. A pleasant working environment and competitive wages are next on their list. The trick, of course, is to create an environment where technicians want to stay—even if a slightly better offer comes along.

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