An Idea Worth Stealing

by Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent


Lowbrow Customs is a Cleveland-based maker of custom motorcycles and parts. They’ve made some innovative accessories and amazing builds, garnering a reputation that’s worldwide.

But it’s what they’re doing in our hometown of Cleveland that has us stoked.


On their website and YouTube channel, they’ve recently announced a scholarship program through the Tri-C Advanced Technology Training Center (which Sonnhalter is also proud to support). The two $2,500 scholarships will help at-need students pursue careers in manufacturing. The goal? To show people that there’s more to higher education than a four-year degree. That they can find an exciting and rewarding career, and that they can join a long tradition of high-quality, American manufacturing. And that by doing this, as my Grandfather always said, “A rising tide will lift all boats.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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Using the Gender Gap to Close the Skills Gap

As the focus on the skills gap has grown, so have efforts to draw women into these well-paying, career-path jobs. Along with technology and training advancements, so are the opportunities and accessibility to these previously “men only” careers.

It’s taken root in elementary schools, where “Girls in STEM” efforts have seen expanded class offerings. No longer is it “Girls in Home Ec, Boys in Shop” as even local media have noted. ( ).

Manufacturers have taken note too, with Lincoln Electric launching a line of women’s welding gear with Jessie Combs.

Increasingly, training centers themselves are targeting women, as this recently developed infographic called “Breaking the Status Quo,” from RSI, The Refrigeration School shows: (click image to enlarge)



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Industry Trade Association Addresses the Skills Gap Issue

Today’s guest blog post comes from Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA). More and more industry trade groups are organizing to address the skills gap, and PMPA has certainly been in the lead of that effort. Just last year they launched MFG, an online one-year certification and job training course for its members that allows companies big and small to have a consistent, accredited training program.

Here is the post, which also appeared in Production Machining.

Training the Next Generation: The Need for Professional Development

Establish a training program that identifies the necessary requirements to be fulfilled.

Professional development and staff training are important to the success of every shop. Professional development ensures employees maintain appropriate certifications, knowledge, safety and ethics in the professional environment. The goal of professional development is to have a qualified staff. Qualified employees have the skills needed to deliver the highest quality of service to our customers. This can be accomplished by establishing training programs, workshops and ongoing educational opportunities. This benefits the company as a whole by improving productivity, culture and customer loyalty while helping employees achieve their highest and best performance.

Establish a Training Program

Establish a training program that identifies the necessary requirements to be fulfilled. Safety training, technical competency and performance techniques are all possible deliverables. By providing this kind of training, the company can feel comfortable knowing they have improved staff knowledge leading to improved performance from their employees. Better performance means improved safety, quality and customer satisfaction. Training improves competency, so it improves performance and trust. Improved trust improves teamwork. Everybody wins. Why would you choose not to establish a training program?

Administer the Training Program

Identifying training needs is the first step. Administering a program to provide the training, testing that it has been effectively learned, and tracking training accomplishments are the next steps. Any course materials should be accredited to recognized national standards such as National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS), of which PMPA is a founding member, or the Department of Labor Apprenticeship. Implement the training through your people, or rely on a provider of training that can assure the accreditation of the material and also monitor the completion of each training course by each learner. Training can be provided by a face-to-face demonstration of skills on the job by mentors in the shop, while other materials can be provided via an online forum. The online materials and the students’ progress are tracked through the online portal.

Evaluate the Effectiveness of Training

In order to ensure that the training is helping the trainees and the organizations reach their goals, a means to evaluate its effectiveness needs to take place. This can be done by managers or by a professional development committee. Feedback from trainees, their team leads and data from the online portal can help the team further refine their training offerings and methodology. Assessing trainee performance is just as important as identifying passing scores on quizzes and tests. Most employees will pass the coursework, but feedback will help the company refine the training to clarify materials that seem unclear or difficult to master, as well as develop a plan to ensure that each employee has multiple opportunities to meet the requirements of the standard.

Evaluate the Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Program

It is not enough to evaluate the training. It is just as important to evaluate the efficiency, effectiveness and impact that the training provided had on the employees and its impact on the company’s overall performance. Less downtime? Shorter setup times? More independent decision making on the shop floor? Better team-work as trained employees become more trusted employees? What do these mean in terms of uptime, operational fulfillment and bottom line profitability?

What is the Cost of Training?

Better yet, what is the cost of not training? What is the benefit of having qualified personnel, a qualified program and a qualified and aligned team? What is the value of having a standard work of best practices in your shop? How can you get to standard work and best practices without some training means to create that knowledge throughout your shop? Which of your performers could not benefit from some additional training?

How important is funding? Funding is what it takes to bridge the gap between your company’s current performance and your aspiration to be the highest performing shop serving your customers. Appropriate funding is necessary to ensure that training is effective, authoritative and appropriate. Without funding, inappropriate training or lack of training may result in misinformation, some staff remaining uninformed and possibly working dangerously because they have not been trained to recognize unsafe practices.

Overcoming Our Shared Challenges

The challenges we share revolve around the ability to remain consistent in the approach to training and developing personnel. They can be overcome by establishing, administering and evaluating the training that we provide, as well as our program that provides it. Planning, persistence and teamwork are keys to getting this done. When an individual is trained, they feel comfortable with information and guidelines, and thus, become successful as they positively impact those with whom they work.

There is no doubt that all our companies need and can benefit from professional development. There are many resources that will help an individual to grow and develop both professionally and personally. All companies claim to have the ability to communicate, document and provide instruction on the skill sets needed. If we are to achieve our desired professional development outcomes, we must be a savvy shopper and keep our eye on the goal.





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What’s Holding US Manufacturing Back?

Today we have a post from Andrea Olsen. Andrea started her career in the tech start-up world, and has brought much of that innovative thinking to her work as the CEO of Prag’madik, an operational strategy consultancy, specializing in the industrial and manufacturing markets.

What’s Holding US Manufacturing Back?

There has been an ongoing national conversation about bringing manufacturing back to the United States. The government, states, educators, and organizations have been pushing a resurgence through, addressing many of the roadblocks facing these organizations, including: lack of skilled labor, decreased sales, advancing lean manufacturing, integrating additive manufacturing, robotics, IoT and Big Data.

The middle-market manufacturers – primarily in the Midwest, in the range of $50-$500m in revenues, employing 10-800 people – face a unique set of challenges. While the advancement of things like 3D printing and robotics will undoubtedly change the manufacturing landscape, these manufacturers face much more basic challenges to compete – and more accurately – survive the next 3-5 years.

This isn’t about the “skills gap,” or “robots taking jobs,” or “offshoring” or even “regulation burdens.” Those challenges are further downstream for these manufacturers. Today’s issues are much more fundamental. The advancements in digital technologies, communications platforms, and simply the Internet, have dramatically impacted business operations and overall competitiveness. The “blocking-and-tackling” of things like: embracing change, utilizing technology platforms, digitizing information and fostering an innovative culture, are the true essentials for US middle-manufacturing growth. Here’s a short list of those essentials: (more…)

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The Culture Threat

Today we have a post from Andrea Olsen. Andrea started her career in the tech start-up world, and brought much of that innovative thinking to her work as the CEO of Prag’madik, an operational strategy consultancy, specializing in the industrial and manufacturing markets.

The Culture Threat

“I want you to find a bold and innovative way to do everything exactly the same way it’s been done for 25 years.”

Organizational culture is an amorphous thing. It is incredibly hard to define, and virtually impossible to measure. Leaders try to influence and shape organizational culture through a variety of tactics, from incentives and perks, to team building activities. Yet, more often than not, the “culture” seems to remain the same. The most frequently asked questions are “why” and “how do we fix it”?

The traditional definition of organizational culture is “a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations”. These assumptions, values, and beliefs don’t arise simply because they are outlined in a mission statement, or reiterated ad nauseum during company meetings. Culture is shaped by behaviors – particularly of organizational leaders – which don’t singularly exist within one’s title.

Manufacturers have voiced their concerns with organizational culture. Many we have surveyed have complained about lack of employee drive, proactive innovation, problem-solving abilities, and communication. (more…)

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