Innovation through Education

Gear manufacturers are realizing that ongoing education can revitalize employee morale and encourage innovative thinking.

Columns From: 7/29/2014 Modern Machine Shop, , from Modern Machine Shop Magazine

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Russ Willcutt

Modern Machine Shop Magazine

Just as a recent college graduate needs real-world experience in order to reach his or her full potential, longtime employees can benefit from a return to the classroom. Whatever form that “classroom” takes—seminars, on-site training, webinars, online coursework, etc.—revisiting the basic principles of gear design and manufacture, as well as staying abreast of the latest technologies and processes, provides a healthy return on investment. In fact, continuing education can be seen as the lubricant that keeps the mind running like a well-kept machine.

During a recent visit to a gear manufacturing shop, the owner mentioned that he’d started a program a few years back that involved sending all of his employees through a basic gear design course. Although there may have been a little grumbling from the seasoned veterans at first, they quickly realized the value of the experience, especially when they didn’t score as highly as they’d expected on their entrance exams. Some received surprisingly low scores, in fact, but after working their way through the course they all aced the final exam. 

Three immediate benefits spring to mind.

The first, of course, is the opportunity to bolster your knowledge and to correct any mistaken assumptions that have accumulated over the years. No matter what line of work you’re in, it’s natural for your frame of mind to become elevated as you gain experience. That’s the very definition of expertise, of course, which is valuable, but you can also trip yourself up by beginning to ignore the smaller, simpler things. It’s been said that if you take care of the little things, the big things stand a better chance of being successful.

Another advantage has to do with our “mental circuitry,” if you will. Left unchallenged, anyone can fall into an intellectual rut, and being required to explain and even question your reasoning in a given situation can be quite a revelation. Pausing occasionally to examine your professional building blocks will ensure that your knowledge base remains firm. That and acquiring fresh skills will create new “circuitry,” allowing you to make connections you may have overlooked in the past. 

Also consider the positive effect on your company’s overall attitude that comes from including everyone in the educational process. The message that you’re sending to your employees is that they matter, and the more each employee knows about the other’s work, the better. We all understand the importance of open communication, and a person is in a position to be more patient and supportive when gaining insight into the challenges a coworker faces. 

Again, we’re all susceptible to establishing certain patterns of thought, perhaps to the exclusion of developing new approaches, so it can be enlightening to discuss your work with those involved in other areas of the operation. 

These benefits alone make a convincing argument in favor of continuing education, and learning about new equipment, technologies and processes truly turns this into a winning proposition for everyone involved. 

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