Two important events happen this time of year. In May, the annual National Apprentice Contest (sponsored by the National Tooling & Machining Association) was held in Pittsburgh. This month, the SkillsUSA Precision Machining Technology Championship takes place in Kansas City, Missouri. These events encourage young people who are training for careers in metalworking and reward those who achieve excellence.
Both events involve scores of volunteers and rely on contributions from supporters in the industry. Everyone who helps deserves gratitude. However, organizers of these events wish they had even more support. They depend on heroics from a relatively small number of individuals—those who do more than their share.
Getting more companies to do their part is one of Paul Huber’s constant themes. Paul is president of the board of directors at the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), the non-profit that develops metalworking skills standards used to certify worker skills and accredit instruction programs. NIMS chairs the SkillsUSA precision machining championship. Paul also runs a company dedicated to Swiss automatic screw machine technology. He understands the skills shortage both as a shop manager and as an “activist” working to bolster training and recruiting efforts.
In a recent letter, he commented on the tendency for many shops “to blame the parents, high school educators and the media for discouraging young people to enter a metalworking [training] program.” He doesn’t deny that these are important factors in the current scarcity of talented young people attracted to or allowed to participate in metalworking training. However, he points out that the industry’s minimal support for recruiting and training is a big problem, too—and it’s one that is solvable.
“Things would be much better if everyone who complains about the lack of skilled labor would get involved to turn things around,” he wrote.
It’s impossible to make specific recommendations, Paul told me in a follow-up phone conversation. There are so many opportunities, he said. In general, he suggested that shops act locally first. Find out what industry organizations are active in the area and join in their recruiting/training efforts. Talk to guidance counselors at local secondary schools and advisory boards of community colleges to be sure they are aware of opportunities in metalworking careers. Invite youth groups to an open house or become a field trip destination.
His main point is simply to do something, to get involved now. Of course, volunteering to help with one of the skills competitions is always an option, too.