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Perspectives on Manufacturing Skill Development – Part 2: Core Competencies Come First

“When we ask people to be jacks of all trades, they wind up truly masters of none,” says ATS's Micah Statler. “We really need to go back and start with that electrical, mechanical, and fluid power training.”

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This is part two of a three part series on manufacturing skill development. Click here for part 1 and part 3.

When it comes to the manufacturing skills gap, it’s oftentimes the most technologically advanced skills that get the most attention and, therefore, the most response. As media and government alike get behind the hot topic of STEM education and promote the latest robotics competitions, it’s occurred to some industry stakeholders that we might be overthinking the issue. Is programming the true face of the skills gap, or is there something a little less complex behind it?

According to Micah Statler, program manager of technical training with ATS, it’s the fundamentals that really need to be addressed first. Says Statler, “Everyone believes that they have a need for really high tech training – like the brand new robots, PLCs and CNCs – things along those lines. But what we find through our own experience is that, before we can build upon those things, the industry really has gaps when it comes to core competencies.”

Masters of None

While this might seem strange, there’s a reason some of these fundamentals – things like electrical, fluid power and mechanical skills – have been sidelined over the years. According to Statler, it’s likely due to the cross functional nature of today’s manufacturing employee. As plants have increasingly tried to cut costs, they ask personnel to don multiple hats, and it’s resulting in some skill deficits in certain areas. “When we ask people to be jacks of all trades, they wind up truly masters of none,” he says. “We really need to go back and start with that electrical, mechanical, and fluid power training.”

From Statler’s perspective, the best remedy is to enlist a third party to serve as a training resource. Advanced Technology Services (ATS) is a manufacturing consulting company based in the Midwest with clients like Caterpillar, Eaton, Ford, etc. and one of the key advantages of an outfit like ATS is simply the fact that they’re an outside entity. “Manufacturers, more often than not, don’t know what they don’t know,” he says, which is why it’s important to start out any training needs assessment with a thorough review. ATS’s assessment tool is designed to take “a 30,000 foot look,” says Statler. “We go through a process where we test, interview (employees) and understand the plant with a clear set of eyes and no blinders; no preconceived notions coming into it.” Once ATS gets a feel for the facility and its employees, they are able to compose individual assessments and development plans, including online curriculum, hands-on training and, sometimes, things like job rotations. For a manufacturer to do this internally, on their own, is a significant challenge, especially when they need to start with some of these foundational skills and work upwards. “It’s very expensive, and very time consuming,” he says. Besides, “it makes the most sense to focus on your core competency, which is manufacturing and marketing and sales of your product – rather than trying to develop a new core competency in training.”

Adding Utilization = Greater Efficiency

In Statler’s mind, there is a core group of really high talent that exists in manufacturing, but they maybe don’t have the confidence to go out and actively pursue self-development on their own. “They’re looking to their company to provide them with a career path that’s going to let them learn those technical skills to go out there and be proficient,” he says. But in the meantime, if companies aren’t being proactive and exploring the required resources necessary to get this process underway, they are essentially creating limitations for not only their workforce, but for the growth of their business as well. In the end it’s creating, according to Statler, “a huge utilization risk due to the bandwidth of the untrained workforce.”

From ATS’s standpoint, the critical solutions lie in its hybrid model, which starts with the overall assessment and branches out from there. An ideal program would identify some pre-requisites needed, so when the employee embarks on hands-on classroom training, he or she can be armed with a foundation so that when they get into the hands-on class, they have the cursory knowledge that allows them to move rapidly through the material. And it’s an action-packed training program, designed to mimic the work being done in a factory. “Typically, our classes are 28 hours, but they’re extremely hands-on and instructor-led. They’re very intimate and everyone is getting the attention they need,” Statler explains. “And we’re actually wiring, plumbing, changing parameters, making electrical and mechanical adjustments… so when they get out on the factory floor, those same industrial components they were using in the classroom are the industrial components they’re seeing on the production line.”

And after all of the classroom time, it’s up to the individuals to ensure their training efforts will offer benefits for the long haul. Says Statler, “We know the assessment is good for identifying the gaps, the training is good for closing it, but it’s really that effort on the floor afterwards that allows that training to stick.”

For more information on ATS SkillPoint, visit

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