Fighting the maintenance crisis with summer vacation

Sept. 5, 2008
Contribiting Editor Joel Leonard says this summer was great for discovering more ways to fight the maintenance crisis.

Just for fun, I attended the Southeast Threshers Reunion in Denton, N.C., during the week of the fourth of July. They had thousands of modern and antique tractors, many manufactured in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At this event, 91-year-old Willard Moore demonstrated a 1916 steam shovel. This coal-fired shovel operates with four steam engines. Thousands of visitors clamored to see this contraption spew out coal smoke and pick up large chunks of dirt and move it with ease. Willard hosts his own exhibition each year, called YesterYear in Motion. This year it will be held in Jamestown, N.C., on Sept. 27.

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It was great fun, but what is going to happen to our country if the next generation of “Willards” is not developed?

After seeing an interview on the local NBC affiliate, I met with Aaron Parsons, a 19-year-old, and learned that there is hope for tomorrow. This young man has been restoring antique tractors for more than a decade. His father used to let him carry firewood to the boiler. Each year, his dad would allow him to do more, and now Aaron knows as much as many of the masters. He has a phenomenal career ahead of him.

This summer I also had the opportunity to interview nine participants of the Youthbuild HVAC program in Lake County, Ill. These young men and women weren’t fortunate enough to have their fathers around to educate them and they resorted to life on the streets of Chicago. Several were in work release programs and one was homeless before he got involved in this remarkable program.

Watching them show me how they custom-built a furnace by wiring, brazing the tubing and assembling the HVAC components was a true marvel to witness. With the social training and real-world guidance that leader Quentin Whitehead provided, they now have a second chance to contribute to society. One Youthbuild graduate said his HVAC training was essential in preparing him for his job in customer service at a Grainger store, and that he is now pursuing his college degree.

On July 14, I keynoted the BioManufacturing Conference in Blue Bell, Pa., and spoke to numerous educators and research business leaders. I attended a session by an MIT professor about the history of the biotech industry, and then presented my session on the importance of maintenance to biotech. Although they’re brilliant in biotechnology, most were completely clueless about manufacturing challenges and issues related to maintenance. Several educators are now seeking assistance in developing curricula to address this major skills gap.

Later in the month, I went to Philadelphia and heard Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania and chairman of the National Governors Association, passionately plead for the country to upgrade our infrastructure and develop technical talent.

Want to join me this fall at a conference and support the fight for maintenance training? Here is my itinerary:

Meanwhile, I hope that you will visit and view the growing volume of content specifically developed to fight the maintenance crisis.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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