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Adam Day


Companies Struggle to Find Employees With Basic Assembly Skills

A changing world challenges industry

Published: Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 11:26

There was a time, not long ago, when employers could rely on new hires to possess rudimentary knowledge of basic assembly methods, schematic diagrams, and the proper use of hand tools. These skills were the result of individuals who grew up maintaining their cars. Yet that way of life is largely a thing of the past, much to the dismay of employers. The current focus on advanced technologies and high-end skills is crucial and necessary, but you can’t overlook the need for basic skills, such as the ability to install bearings, lubricate machine slides, or align couplings.

Production managers recognize that these skills are the foundation for a company’s economic and technological progress. Whatever advancements occur, basic assembly skills will remain invaluable to manufacturing. Thus, even in the age of technology, it is crucial to consider the importance of basic skills and identify any gaps in your workers’ training so that those needs can be addressed.

Image 1: Tightening a fastener using a wrench and a backup wrench

Building a skilled labor force is a powerful element of economic development. Years of technology advancements have led to sophisticated manufacturing technology and yet basic skills remain as important as ever. Indeed, it’s important to remember that though advanced technologies require highly trained technicians, such technologies also necessitate more fundamental skills that must also be learned and practiced to gain proficiency. For example, though automobiles in this day and age are so advanced that most people can no longer perform routine maintenance, their construction would not be possible without basic assembly skills.

Although designing and configuring automobiles’ sophisticated electronic systems requires highly trained technicians and engineers, the car’s components must still be mounted and its wiring harnesses properly routed to ensure that system failures don’t occur. For complex technologies to continue to evolve, they are dependent on fundamental assembly skills. These can be as basic and as general as understanding the importance of tightening the nut on a bolt and not the bolt’s head. No matter how well a company designs its products, improper assembly will lead to its premature failure once placed in service. So, though these skills are commonly referred to as “basic,” they can’t be taken lightly.

Take a hard look at your organization. Do your employees have the necessary skills to drive your business success forward? It is not uncommon, given the current pool of available workers, for production managers to find themselves with technicians who have advanced technical proficiency, but lack familiarity with the basics, such as how to properly torque the bolt pattern on a machine flange, how to route and connect wiring harnesses, or how to properly install pump systems. The importance of these basic skills can’t be overstated when something as small as a missing or improperly installed O-ring can result in a catastrophic machine failure.

Companies such as Michelin, GE, DuPont, Northrop Grumman, and Hewlett-Packard, which greatly emphasize the technological side of manufacturing, still recognize the need to ensure a supply of workers with basic assembly skills to carry their companies into the future. To that end, many companies are increasingly incorporating assembly training programs into their own training centers, as well as supporting these programs in local educational institutions.

Earlier this year, GE Appliances in Louisville, and Amatrol, a provider of interactive technical learning, donated approximately $150,000 in equipment, curriculum, and training to two local high schools to promote career readiness in the area of manufacturing. GE Appliances CEO and President Chip Blankenship recently said that GE Appliances has added 3,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010 and that finding, training, and keeping production employees is becoming increasingly difficult.

Image 2: From left: GE Appliances CEO Chip Blankenship, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Jefferson County Public School Superintendent Donna Hargens, Jeffersontown High School Principal Matt Kingsley, and Amatrol CEO Paul Perkins during donation ceremony

Indeed, with basic skills training simply not widely available enough, various Fortune 500 company executives have expressed concern about finding enough skilled assembly workers to fill their needs. Whatever advancements the future holds, production facilities will continue to need individuals who have a wide range of basic assembly skills and those individuals will always be indispensable. So, although the kid who learned such skills at home may be a thing of the past, the necessity of those skills is stronger than ever, despite ever-evolving technology.


About The Author

Adam Day’s picture

Adam Day

Adam Day is the content developer at Amatrol, developer of skills-based interactive technical learning systems with real-world components. Day also is a literary critic and an award-winning author of poetry. Day has a master of fine arts degree from New York University, where he was poetry editor for the program’s national literary journal.