By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

Manufacturing is currently a mix of old school and new technologies. While many still adhere to the adage of manufacturing being a mix of hands-on aptitude and attention to detail, there’s been a tremendous shift in skills needed.

Soft skills

Matt Washburn of Senior Aerospace often speaks to the importance of soft skills in manufacturing:

  • Positive attitude
  • Ability to put aside a cell phone, and its distractions, while working
  • Being on-time, following through with tasks
  • Ability to keep a clean work area

Computer and information technology skills

Allison Budvarson, COO of Out of the Box Manufacturing, does look for employees with soft skills such as dependability, a send of urgency, and a desire to grow. But they are also seeking, “good computer skills as we have a paperless documentation system and utilize several different software platforms on a daily basis. A good mechanical aptitude usually helps out as well. Because so much of what we do is new or different, we need creative thinkers who like to solve problems and work in teams to get the job done,” she said.

Robotics and machine repair skills

Jason Boatwright, project director – TechHire MechaWA Grant, Center of Excellence for Aerospace & Advanced Manufacturing, talks to a lot of employers and colleges about skills demand. One area that he hears about is, “There is a trend is toward more sophistication and autonomy in manufacturing systems. There is a demand for more on the programming side in working with automation.” He said, “When robots tell you what’s wrong with them, a programmer needs to understand how to fix it.”

“The machines are smart in so many ways, they know when repairs are needed,” he added. Through Mechatronics training, he said that a student would get the basics of how to repair the robot. “I see more training needed as these machines advance in technology.”

Boatwright along with a team of community and technical colleges and employer partners are working to ensure that employees and prospective employees can skill-up in local programs. Some of the critical areas of skills development are:

  • Programming
  • Understanding the dynamics of mechanical, electrical and pneumatics coming together in a single machine
  • Understanding the automation process
  • Understanding of developing technologies within advanced manufacturing
  • Continuing to work on skills development

Boatwright noted that while manufacturing companies are embracing technology and automation – the machines are becoming more sophisticated all the time. He said that continual training is critical.

Entrepreneurial skills

The ability to see the big picture of a business is important. Entrepreneurs are people who are aware of every function of the business from sales to hiring, from production to delivery. People who can understand the facets of the business can be an asset. Allison Budvarson, co-owner of Out of the Box Manufacturing said, “We mainly look for strong soft skills and train the rest; dependability, a sense of urgency, a desire to learn and grow.”

Teamwork

As our manufacturing markets become more competitive it is imperative to the successful business to build strong teams.  Each member of an effective team will bring a unique set of skills and experiences to the group.  As these attributes meld together, a properly managed team can reach goals unobtainable without this partnership.  Teamwork is one of the most important attributes of an employee.

Wes Yandt

Engineering Manager, Multifab, Inc.