Focus On Knowledge, Not Just Skills

"Knowledge" is the context that equips an employee to respond to new challenges.


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With steadily fewer people receiving formal schooling in the machinist trade, machining businesses are increasingly training employees themselves—informally. A new hire that is capable, reliable and committed can often be taught how to perform various machining-related tasks that the shop requires.

Ryan Pohl has seen this training succeed, but he says this focus on “tasks” tends to make this informal, internal training so limiting.

Mr. Pohl is an instructor with Expert Technical Training, a business developed by a Grand Rapids mold maker that offers Internet-based training related to CNC machining. He says that unskilled employees lack more than just skills. They also lack knowledge. Knowledge is what allows skills to expand quickly through experience on the job. Knowledge is also much more difficult for an organization such as a small machine shop to teach, because skills are more directly focused on the particular task at hand.

Machining “knowledge” consists of a range of general, contextual information. Examples might include the meaning of cutting speed, the role of the toolholder, the purpose of a cutting tool coating and so on. This is the gap that Expert Technical aims to fill. It teaches foundational CNC machining knowledge (and tests students on their mastery of this knowledge) through modules delivered via the Internet.

“Knowledge,” in short, is the big-picture understanding that allows a given skill to make sense. Knowledge is not necessarily needed to perform a single task, but it does influence how quickly an employee can assimiliate new tasks and respond to new challenges. Mastering a task may answer an immediate need, but developing knowledge affects the speed and extent to which the employee can grow to deliver greater value to the employer.