Maintenance search comes up empty

April 14, 2005
Technology is everywhere in today's manufacturing world, from the new gadgets on the National Manufacturing Week showroom floor to the training classes on the Internet. Its talented employees, however, that is the key element needed to take full advantage of all the technology available to you.

If you walked the aisles of Chicago’s National Manufacturing Week (NMW) in early March, you might have noticed that the latest and greatest manufacturing tools are bursting with new technology.

If you search the Web for maintenance training programs to teach your employees to use these tools, most pop up with “technology” somewhere in the name.

Technology has become a part of our everyday lives in the maintenance field, as well as a part of our language. It’s supposed to make our lives and work easier, but it oftentimes requires a deeper understanding of math, science and computer skills to be able to interpret the data flowing out of these complex and often expensive work aids.

And the most sophisticated maintenance technology in the world won’t help your facility if you don’t have the right people in place to use it.

This is why the National Association of Manufacturers at NMW introduced a program to recruit young people into manufacturing. Titled “Dream It, Do It,” the program’s leaders have dedicated themselves to forming coalitions with educational, political and business entities, and are launching an advertising campaign aimed at 18- to 26-year-olds, their parents and educators.

One cornerstone of the program is a Web site that features manufacturing careers, and the program’s coordinators are busy establishing partnerships with community colleges, universities and technical schools to boost interest in American manufacturing. It’s being rolled out in Kansas City; Connecticut and Houston are next on the list.

A quick search through www.dreamit-doit.com’s job bank reveals a bevy of job categories, from accountant to winemaker. There’s even a handy “Dream career quiz” button that allows you to match your interests with your education level and spits out a list of careers that would be a good fit. But after a thorough search of the site, it was glaringly apparent that maintenance is not listed anywhere as a career choice.  

What? No maintenance?

How could this important category not be listed on a Web site dedicated to manufacturing careers? It appeared that the organizers of the site are not aware that maintenance is the lubrication that keeps manufacturing going, literally and figuratively. After some more searching, I noticed that there weren’t any maintenance-related sponsors or partners for the program, either.

It was like a giant maintenance black hole. Ironically, it shed a little more light as to why there is a maintenance crisis when it comes to filling those skilled-worker positions. If the field of maintenance doesn’t register in people’s minds as a viable career opportunity, how the heck are candidates going to get trained and into the job openings that are already going vacant?

So I decided to give Phyllis Eisen, vice president of The Manufacturing Institute, which is working with NAM to roll out the Dream It, Do It campaign, a call to ask her how this omission could have occurred.

It was an oversight, she explained. “It was a growing thing that we needed to get up on the Web [quickly]. We tried to find as many exciting careers as we could.”

She asked me to put her in touch with some maintenance professionals to correct the situation. The site’s organizers need maintenance technology job descriptions to enter into the job bank, as well as sponsors and partners to promote the field. 

In a can-do field like maintenance, I know there are at least a handful of companies in the Kansas City area that would be willing to offer up such information. And I am sure there are thousands more willing participants across the country.

If you’re interested, Eisen and the Dream It, Do It campaign want to hear from you. It’s a great opportunity to put a spotlight on maintenance, and to get the field on the minds of young people. All you have to do is send her an e-mail at [email protected].

“It’s an economic development initiative,” Eisen says of the program. She is using her experience as a teacher and having worked in manufacturing for 20 years to head off the offshoring of American manufacturing jobs altogether.

“We have no choice,” she says. “At one point it was just unfortunate” when people began to lose their manufacturing jobs. “Now it’s just scary.”

It’s not your granddaddy’s plant, she adds. Technology has definitely contributed changes. “We need to fill the pipeline. Otherwise we’re in terrible trouble as the baby boomers retire.” And if the manufacturing facilities cash out or ship out, there will be a lot fewer job opportunities for those who are already in the maintenance field.

It’s too early to tell if Dream It, Do It will be able to generate sufficient interest by young people in manufacturing, but it’s another chance for the maintenance industry to make its presence known on a national scale. Why pass up a perfectly good opportunity?

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