CA skills gap exists in many manufacturing sectors, including the spring industry. This gap exists in most countries today as manufacturing careers are viewed unfavorably by the majority of school children when they select subjects they wish to study at the end of their school career, or when applying for university.
For many years now, jobs in information technology (IT) and the service sector, in clean warm offices, have attracted a larger proportion of the able students. Jobs in engineering and manufacturing require a longer period of education with what is potentially seen as a “dirty job” at the end of it. Plus, the pay rates for engineers can be poor in comparison with those in banking, insurance and IT, or even the public sector.
The same underlying thinking also exists for students for whom an apprenticeship is the right career option. Learning the skills required for spring manufacturing, particularly spring coiling (hot or cold),requires more application than other options available to today’s graduates. In western countries, employment in manufacturing is reduced each year, and good news stories from this sector are few and far between, which further deters people from selecting a manufacturing career. Even in developing countries, such as India, where employment in manufacturing has increased, employment in IT is seen as the way forward, and people often end up in manufacturing when they are unable to get a career in their preferred option of IT. Manufacturing has, historically, been the primary
driver of wealth and growth, and, as such, requires the best employees.
All too often schools discourage students from considering careers in engineering and other manufacturing-related subjects by not offering the subjects needed to pursue those options. This is particularly true when the preferred career choice doesn’t meet the classical gender role model, so girls are often persuaded not to study the scientific subjects required for engineering. The majority of students follow their school’s advice, and join the ranks of people with qualifications not useful for manufacturing. Only a handful will go against their school’s advice and pursue the career they want.
So the question arises, “How to close this skills gap?” A quick Internet search gives rise to a myriad of different answers to this question with no clear consensus evident. For training in the craft skills required for spring manufacturing, very few possibilities exist outside the workplace. A spring coiler is almost certain to learn the required skills from more experienced colleagues on the shop floor, with some guidance from managers.
For managers, technicians, salesmen and office staff who require an understanding of the whole process route possibilities for spring manufacture, but without the hands-on practical aspects of machine setting, etc., there are a few providers of training courses around the world. IST is one such provider, offering training in material selection, spring manufacturing theory, spring design (basic and more advanced), and spring failure and prevention. The photograph shown on the previous page is a recent multi-client course given by IST in Mumbai, India in November 2012, attended by delegates from four different springmaking companies who utilize springs in their products.
These courses can be given almost anywhere in the world, and may be tailored to the specific needs of individual clients. In IST’s opinion, these training courses are the best resource available for closing the skills gap for the spring manufacturing sector. Few companies can promise this type of training when recruiting new staff.
The point of this cautionary tale is that the skills gap is likely to be a significant factor when a spring manufacturer is trying to recruit new staff due to growth or to replace retiring employees. Craft training resources are scarce, but global training in spring technology for managers and technicians is available.
Mark Hayes is technical advisor to the Institute of Spring Technology (IST) in Sheffield, England. He is also the principal trainer for the spring training courses that the Institute offers globally. Readers are encouraged to contact IST with comments about this cautionary tale, and with subjects that they would like to be addressed in future tales, by email firstname.lastname@example.org.