Monday, July 18, 2011

Hot Rods and Hand Tools: Where have the skilled trades gone and how do we deal with their absence?

Below is a portion of an article that I will be presenting at the Houston Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Annual Conference. I thought you might enjoy the high points. If you would like the longer more statistic laden version let me know.

Due to the changing economy and American culture, we are seeing a long-term shortage of skilled trades. These skilled trades include the industrial Mechanics, Machinists, and Electricians who have kept American facilities producing the wealth to which we have become accustomed. This has been perpetuated by three compounding circumstances:
·         The common Baby Boomer myth that everyone’s kids have to go to university to be successful and the overall negative cultural bias toward blue collar employment
·         The movement from working on cars and hot rods in the garage with your father to playing video games or working on computers.
·         And most recently, the inevitable Baby Boomer retirement, which has waned due to the economy, but is still a concern in the long run

Below are six elements that you can implement right now that will help to address the skilled trades shortage in your facility. These elements include the use of:
·         Clear documented business processes to ensure a smooth transition, continuous improvement, and employee involvement (which is key to the new generation)
·         Training as both a knowledge and a morale booster (training assessment and implementation)
·         Condition sensing technology (Predictive Maintenance (PdM) Tools) in the realm of maintenance and how they can bring the “cool” back to the skill trades
·         Historical data in your Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) or Enterprise Asset Management Systems (EAM)
·         Mentoring by the retiring generation who are now more open to both data capture and transition of knowledge as they prepare to leave the workforce (this has not been the case in the past)
·         Proactive Reliability (many of the new generation do not want extraordinary overtime and constant reactive firefighting in the facility and instead strive for the more predictable, less stressful world of a proactive reliability culture)

We are seeing many interesting situations and issues come together to create what some are calling the “skills crisis”, but it comes down to how we handle the transition using techniques like the ones above to mitigate the risk associated with the “crisis”. In order for this to be accomplished, facilities should take the time to consider what issues they have and what steps they need to take, and then create a project plan for how they are going to get there. It should contain the who, what, and when and should take into account all other initiatives that could be running in parallel and be using the same resources.  We can have the greatest ideas in the world, but if they are not executed in an effective manner, the results we require will escape us.

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