If Not That, Then What?

Faced with a manufacturing talent pool that’s ankle-deep at best, shops must place greater emphasis on one’s personality when evaluating potential new hires.


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Stop the presses: Shops are finding it difficult to find skilled workers.

No kidding, right?

We face somewhat comparable challenges here at Modern Machine Shop when looking for new editors to bring on board. In general, candidates either have a wealth of manufacturing knowledge and limited writing ability, or they are strong wordsmiths who don’t know much about what takes place on a shop floor. We’ve had successes hiring both types of editors, though, finding degreed mechanical engineers who can stitch words together nicely as well as English majors possessing a knack for readily picking up on machining technologies.

For candidates with strong writing backgrounds, we consider personality very closely. We try to identify traits that suggest the person has the motivation to learn about manufacturing and can appreciate what advanced shops are able to accomplish day-in and day-out. In particular, we try to get a sense as to whether the person not only feels there’s something cool about precision machining, but possesses an inherent drive to discover more.

The situation in which we consider the writer/non-manufacturing type is one that today’s machining businesses can relate to. That’s because they must do the same. But what qualities should you look for in potential new hires with limited or no machining experience? Sometimes hints emerge from hearing how situations at school or previous jobs were handled. With that in mind, here are some questions to consider:

• Does machining seem neat? Find an intricate workpiece your shop has machined and put it in front of prospects. What questions do they ask about how it was created? Take them out to the shop floor to see one of your most complex machines in action. Do they marvel a bit about what that piece of equipment is able to do?

• Is there a desire to learn? It’s encouraging when prospects find machining to be interesting. It’s equally important, however, that they demonstrate a zeal to find out more about the processes and technologies being applied. During an interview or plant tour, do they ask the types of questions that lead you believe they are truly motivated to learn more?

• Is there evidence of creative thinking? Answers to problems that arise in a shop are not always intuitive. Can the prospects cite some clever solutions they have previously used to solve dilemmas?

• Do they have a variety of interests? Shopfloor employees who can operate multiple machines are generally more valuable than those who can’t. People who have demonstrated a willingness to take on various duties at previous jobs are likely to be interested in cross-training to develop the skills to work with various pieces of equipment.

• Are they proud of their previous accomplishments? Sincere pride can be detected in people’s facial expressions and body movement as they relive special achievements. Imagine how down the line they might recount the first time they turned a block of metal into a complex part.