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Finding Set-up/Operator Trainees

  Many had predicted that as the baby boomers grew closer to retirement, there would be a shortage of young workers to take their place.  Today, many manufacturers, not just fastener manufacturers see this problem as their biggest challenge in the years to come.  It seems that the advent of the computer and the exodus of many manufacturing plants to places like China and Mexico have led to a youth that has no interest in manufacturing jobs, particularly ones that require getting your hands dirty!  The youth of today are heavily influenced in their career choices by their parents who don’t see a career in manufacturing as a viable option for their kids.

  Because the labour pool is so small, one needs to become very good at assessing potential.  I have tried several things over the years and although it is very early to tell, I believe that I have stumbled onto something that I think will help us moving forward.  We have had a written mechanical aptitude test that we have been playing with for years now but it hasn’t really proven to be the best indicator of potential.  I have toyed with producing a training video that I believe may be very helpful once you have found the best possible candidate for training.  Our problem in the past has been spending 3 months trying to train someone finally to decide that they just aren’t going to cut it.  We usually start the training with some whiteboard discussions on how a cold header works and a brief explanation of the machine and the process.  Then we would pick our best set-up guy and do shadowing for weeks on end.  This is not totally ineffective, again, if you have the right trainee.  But it does place a heavy strain on your best operator.  And, it requires that your best operator is a very good communicator (not always the case) and very good coach (not always the case) and a very good judge of potential (not always the case).

  I guess what I am getting at is that we need to find out very early on if we have a good candidate.   How do we do that?  Recently, out of necessity, I have had to put on my shop coat and return to the shop floor to train some new candidates.  My production manager had been screening resume’s and picked out three guys for me to train at the same time.  I arrived to work ready to go and before we even started we were down to two.  My production manager had called all three the night before to confirm their start time the next day when one of them decided that he couldn’t make it for 8:00 am “could he come in for 10:00?” he asked.  To which, wisely, my guy replied “I don’t think this is going to work out”.  And then there were two!

  We started out my usual way with a whiteboard description of the machine and process.  That was approximately 45 minutes.  We then went right to the floor.  We were fortunate in that we had a machine that had just finished a production run and needed change over.  We reviewed the workings of the machine observing the things we talked about in classroom and then went straight to work.  I alternated them through simple tasks as we cleaned the machine and removed tools cleaning them and placing them in the tool package box.  I would stop them after each task and offer suggestions on more efficient or effective procedures such as replacing the wrench back on the shadow board rather than laying it in front of you on the machine.  As time went on, I rapidly got a sense of each individual’s ability to retain information, process advice, and even their ability to handle a wrench.  By the end of the first day we had removed all of the tools of a two die three blow machine and put the new dies in and quill and cutter and aligned and re-aligned the quill and cutter 4 times.  I already new that I had one good candidate and one that was not so good.  I gave the not so good candidate one more day to show me that he was capable of retaining and understanding instructions and by the third day we were down to one good candidate.

  To me, the key exercise of the assessment was the alignment of the quill and cutter.  This exercise while simple showed me whether the candidate understood simple mechanical alignment which is the primary task of any cold header set-up whether it be alignment of the quill and cutter, the fingers to the die, or the punches to the dies.

My challenge now, and I will keep you posted on future blogs is to create a fixture that mimics the quill and cutter alignment exercise.  If we can use this for a mechanical test at interview, we can eliminate that 2-day window that it took me to rule out the initial candidate.  It also eliminates the time and money spent on orientation and setting the individual up as a new employee.

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Tim Brennan
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December 11, 2017
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