5 Ways to Mitigate the Lack of Skilled Machinists

March 29, 2021

Author: Paul Van Metre

I don’t know a single CNC machine shop that has an easy time hiring machinists, and would say they have enough well-qualified candidates. The fact is that there is more demand than supply, with not enough young people coming into the industry to fill the positions that are needed by machine shops today. On one hand, it’s great news in general, that the demand for machinists is strong. Onshoring seems to be a longer-term trend now and the demand for machined parts in North America is strong, which is fantastic. The shadow side is that it’s tough to find machinists and most shops feel that pain, which inhibits their ability to grow at the pace they could theoretically if hiring was not a problem. Because this problem isn’t going away anytime soon, it comes down to the effort of each shop to tackle this issue themselves. When creative thought is put into the issue, many things can be done to mitigate the problem of not being able to hire qualified machinists whenever a shop wants to. Let’s discuss some of the things that our shop did, and what I’ve seen at the hundreds of shops that we serve.

1.Get Involved with Trade Schools in Your Area

Every state has trade schools or even high schools with machining programs that are constantly teaching basic machining and programming skills to new students. These are a great source of new hires on an ongoing basis. Every year they will graduate a cohort of students who are eager to get into the machining trade and are like sponges looking to learn (and without any bad habits yet!). The quality of the programs vary from school to school, but the great news is that you can get involved in the program and help to make it better, and also making it more likely that you can hire the cream of the crop each year. It’s undeniably a win-win situation. Ways to get involved vary from donating materials, tools, or even old machine tools, to offering tours of your shop as a field trip for the students, to even getting a seat on the advisory board of the program. You might even sponsor a competition to provide some real-world experience and get your name in front of all the students. The more engaged you are, the more your company will benefit from the collaboration. When we ran our shop, we had 2 employees on the advisory board all the time. We donated used but still totally good cutting tools, raw materials, and advised on how they could make their program more current to serve the needs of shops like ours. And we often hired recent graduates – the best and brightest ones too! It is certainly a formula that works.

2. Develop a Robust Training Program for your Own Staff

Whether you’re hiring recent trade school graduates or employees with more experience in the trade, you’ll need to provide more training on an ongoing basis to make the most of your employees. We’d suggest starting with well-defined job titles, with detailed roles and responsibilities, and pay ranges that go along with those titles. Once the basic framework is in place, you can outline what skills and proficiency ratings (try a simple 1-4 system, from basic knowledge to expert) are needed to be considered trained in each position. From there, you can define a set of training topics to teach those skills. Once that is all in place, it should be possible for a new hire to see exactly what they would need to do to get the training they need to progress up to the higher levels of responsibility and pay in the company. Creating videos is a great way to provide the basics for each training that employees can watch on their own time. Identifying who in your company can provide training beyond the basics, will help to spread the load of doing this work. There are also programs like ToolingU.com and NIMS that can be used to provide training to employees. With that and training from software and tooling vendors, along with YouTube, there is almost limitless content that is free or inexpensive to help develop the skills of your team. By providing these segments of training, you’ll be less dependent on finding employees who already have the skills needed for the job. You can focus on hiring people who are a great cultural fit for your company and train the skills you need them to have.

3. Let the World Know You have an Awesome Company to Work For

Just like you should always be selling your services to new prospective clients, you should always be selling your company to prospective employees. Build a fun team webpage that highlights your amazing team members, events, volunteer work, benefits, work environment, and more. Most companies call their employees their greatest asset, so shout it from the rooftops to attract more people like them. You’ll stand out from the crowd and be able to recruit more easily.

4. Build a Genuinely Amazing Culture

To have a great website page about it, you actually need to have a great culture! A culture that is focused on the growth and success of your team and your customers. One where people feel safe, supported, respected, understood, and I’d go as far as say, loved. It’s essential to build a company culture like that. Build systems people will love, like training sessions, frequent one-on-one meetings, offer tuition reimbursement, consider profit sharing, open-book management, free food and drinks at work, or whatever else will thrill your employees. The machining industry is relatively small in most regions, and word will get out about your work culture. Machinists know other machinists who work at other shops. When they rave to their buddies about how much they love your company, you’ll find yourself with qualified machinists knocking on your door.

5. Invest in Technology and Systems to Mitigate the Risk of Less Skilled Staff

It would be great if you could hire an unlimited number of highly skilled and experienced machinists that could set up any job, troubleshoot any problem, and make perfect parts, quickly, every day, but that world doesn’t exist. You need to be able to successfully run your shop with a variety of skilled staff, some with medium skills, and many without a lot of skill and experience (yet). This reality relies on systems and technology to get work done and allows a wider variety of employees to successfully execute jobs on budget. This often comes down to eliminating tribal knowledge, providing really clear visual work instructions, easy-to-follow checklists, and other initiatives to allow less-skilled workers to be successful. By doing so, it’s very possible to dramatically mitigate the reality that you can’t find enough skilled and experienced machinists.

How Can ProShop Help?

Some of the ideas listed above will need to come from good old-fashioned ingenuity and hard work. Software can’t help you build a great culture all by itself. But there are several things our clients are doing to dramatically improve their success in this area, and ProShop is central to many of those things.

ProShop’s modules for Company Positions, Training, Tasks, and others can help to provide a great foundation for structuring a training program in your company, onboarding employees smoothly, and helping them get up to speed more quickly. (One notable client hired a completely inexperienced person from Kentucky Fried Chicken, and had them setting up 5 axis mills within 6 months, using the features in ProShop to make it possible.) And in fact, our QMS Flying Start Package even comes with a library of positions, training topics, and more which can be the foundation of your training program.

ProShop has many features to just make life easier for all employees, who can focus more on the work they love, and less on the clerical paperwork. They won’t need to keep multiple systems updated, deal with lost paper travelers, frustrating tribal knowledge, and more. Many of our clients report that life is much better with ProShop, and general employee and customer friction, crankiness, stress, and fire fighting is much reduced, improving the overall mood in the company. There are also a few features focused on continuous improvement so that people can effectively share their good ideas and see them implemented to improve the process. People genuinely love seeing their ideas help the company improve!

Lack of skilled machinists is a reality we all live with, and it’s not going to improve anytime soon. But with some creativity, hard work, and smart decisions, you can significantly minimize the impact it has on your company, and possibly even make this formula your secret weapon for success in scaling your shop and achieving your business goals.

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