By Tim Heston, Senior Editor
Everyone talks about the trouble finding skilled labor. More often now, though, I don’t hear about the need for technical aptitude or
training, though both are still important. Instead,
I hear about how managers have trouble finding
So what is a “good” person for a fab shop, exactly? At the very least, a good worker shows up at the
plant and cares about doing a good job, right?
Well, maybe it’s not that simple.
During a software event in Nashville organized
by Epicor earlier this year, former General Electric
CEO Jack Welch spoke about this topic, and he split
workers into four types: those who excel at their
jobs and get along with others (promote these people); those who struggle but get along (help these
people); those who struggle and don’t get along (let
these people go); and, finally, those who excel and
don’t get along with others.
Dealing with the first three is relatively straightforward. But what about the last type, the excellent performers who basically are just a pain to work with?
They show up for work, and they care about doing
a good job, but they don’t make life easy for others.
Not surprisingly, Welch suggested that those people really don’t have a place in a successful organization. They may bring short-term benefit to the
table, but they’ll also cause long-term pain.
Two stories in this issue—one about Chicago
Metal Rolled Products (CMRP) and another about
Lithonia, Ga.-based Southern Metalcraft Inc. (SMI)—
show how critical getting along can be, and they
also show it’s not as straightforward as it seems.
The phrase “working well with others” doesn’t really apply. No one works well with everybody. It’s
about finding a good match. The managers at CMRP
and SMI certainly have done just that.
How did these companies find these people? For
sure, luck has something to do with it, but it doesn’t
always happen entirely by chance. More than 25
years ago, an inspector at a tank fabricator knew
the owner at SMI. He also knew Tim Kennedy, the
tank fabricator’s lead press brake operator. When
the tank fabricator was going out of business, the
inspector suggested Kennedy reach out to SMI.
Kennedy certainly was qualified to run a press
brake, but there was something more. The inspec-
tor thought Kennedy and SMI’s owner would get
along. He was right. After more than a quarter-cen-
tury at SMI, Kennedy will be retiring next year. What
will he miss? “Well, the people, of course,” he said.
“They’re really like family.”
You can teach skills. But if employees never get
along, all the technical experience in the world may
not make a difference.
When manufacturers talk about the challenges
of finding good people, they may really be opining about the lack of community in manufacturing.
With good community, you have a better chance
of finding engaged people who get along well and
enjoy each other’s company. Put those people together for more than 40 hours a week, year after
year, and you get a family. They don’t get along all
the time, but they certainly have a connection—one
that prevents them from leaving for a few cents
more an hour.
So what exactly is a good community? I don’t
think anyone really knows, but one thing’s for sure:
Developing one can’t happen in isolation.
Tom Neppl knows this very well. As president
of Springs Fabrication, an industrial fabricator in
Colorado Springs, Colo., Neppl doesn’t spend all
his time visiting customers (which are across the
U.S.) or at the office. He’s out and about, meeting
people and promoting the manufacturing business.
In 2012 he became chair of the Colorado Regional
Business Alliance, the first time a manufacturer has
held that position. And last year he helped launch
the Southern Colorado Manufacturing Expo (www.
socomexpo.com), an event geared toward students
and the community at large.
“We pulled it off and it was successful,” Neppl
said. “Our measure was, if the schools felt it was
worthwhile, it was a success, and we did get a posi-
tive response. All these kids really haven’t been ex-
posed to a career in manufacturing, because of the
reduction of vocational training in the schools. They
don’t know how high-tech manufacturing is.”
But Springs Fabrication did have the room. Start-
ing in August of this year, the company rented (for
a nominal fee) a portion of its facility—including a
group of welding booths and a classroom—to the
school. Students are still taught by teachers from
the community college, but they drive to Springs
Fabrication to take their classes.
“We give tours to students too,” Neppl said.
“That’s the whole idea of it. It’s one thing to learn
how to weld; it’s another thing to learn how it’s ap-
plied in the real world.”
The best thing about this isn’t the welding knowl-
edge being taught, though that’s of course impor-
tant. Instead, it’s the connection this program builds
with the community at large.
Neppl isn’t alone in his efforts. Various programs
exist that attempt to spread the manufacturing
story, like manufacturing camps sponsored by the
Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs® Foundation ( www.nuts
andboltsfoundation.org). Promoting STEM and vocational education is important. But we also need
to build those human connections that create a
healthy manufacturing community.
When knowledgeable people enjoy working with
each other, great things can happen.
Read more from Tim Heston at www.thefabricator.com/author/tim-heston
Can’t we all just get along?
That may be a big part of the skilled-labor crisis
If employees never get along,
all the technical experience
in the world may not
make a difference.