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6:00 am
March 1, 2005
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Warning: Vocational Classes Fall Out of Favor

How can we continue to ignore the decline of one of the fundamentals of our society: Manufacturing generates wealth? Since 1999, the percentage of U. S. gross domestic product attributed to manufacturing has slid from 16 percent to 14 percent. Manufacturing’s share of the national income was 29 percent in 1950 and declined to 15 percent in 2000.

Manufacturing job loss has been devastating. In an equipment-intensive operation reliable equipment is a “money machine;” unreliable equipment is a “money pit” that cannot last. The lack of job- and equipment-specific skills and knowledge in today’s manufacturing workplace is reaching alarming levels.

The public vocational-technical training infrastructure is but a figment of its former grandeur. Here’s what others are saying:

• “Companies repeat mistake of cutting investment in workers.” (USA Today: The Forum, Nov. 4, 2003)

• “Vocational classes fall out of favor.” (Fox News, Sept. 22, 2004)

• “Going, Going, Gone? Recent Trends in Technology Teacher Education Programs.” (Journal of Technical Education, Spring 1997)

• “Education Overlooked in Jobs Debate: New Skills Sets Key to Success.” (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, July 2004)

• “Finding fewer and fewer competent workers, manufacturers can control their own destiny and close the skills gap by developing training programs that leverage newer learning technologies.” (Managing Automation Magazine, December 2004)

• “The only way in which the U. S. can remain competitive over the long term with the low-wage, high-skills countries such as China is to make aggressive use of innovation, technology, and workforce education and training to achieve higher rates of productivity growth and lower unit labor costs.” (National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing report, November 2003)

• “Installation, maintenance and repair occupations will add 776,000 jobs, growing by 13.6 percent between 2002 and 2012. In addition, replacements will be needed for over 1 million jobs. Auto service technicians, mechanics, general maintenance and repair workers will account for more than 40 percent of the jobs.” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2004-2005 Edition)

Now is the time for fast, focused, and sustainable gains in productivity and cost reductions by improving equipment reliability. For those of us in maintenance that means working with the rest of the organization to identify and eliminate the causes of equipment downtime (planned and unplanned), improve equipment efficiency, and eliminate defects while lowering maintenance and operating costs of the business’s single largest investment—equipment and facilities.

How? By first focusing on the most critical, constraint, high-maintenance cost, high downtime equipment where big ROIs can be had—revenue generated, resources freed-up, productivity increased, and costs reduced.

How? Identify the causes of equipment performance and reliability problems. Look for signs that equipment-specific skills and knowledge gaps or highly inefficient work practices contribute to the problems. The lack of proper operations and maintenance skills and knowledge can result in serious, chronic equipment problems no matter how good your planning and scheduling, PM and PdM processes, CMMS and work orders, no matter how well your MRO parts and supplies are maintained.

Without a robust vocational-technical education and training infrastructure in the U. S., with vocational education falling out of favor, with fewer and fewer young people being encouraged to learn a skill and pursue a career in manufacturing, it is only a matter of time before we lose our manufacturing capability in the U. S. Your company, your plant, your leadership, and your fellow employees can make a difference now.

Train and qualify your employees at all levels to be able to address equipment-specific issues right the first time. Focus your training and qualification efforts on the core skills and equipment-specific skills required to keep your most critical equipment running like it’s supposed to run, first time, every time. If you don’t know how or don’t have the time, ask for help from professional industrial educators and trainers.

People with the right skills and knowledge using proven best practices can keep equipment reliable, lowering costs and improving competitive position. The time is now!—Robert M. Williamson, Strategic Work Systems


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