A Headhunter’s View of the Machinist Job Market

Today’s Machining World Archive: July/August 2009, Vol. 5, Issue 06

Lloyd Graff Interviews Tom Medvec

LG: Have you ever seen a hiring climate like this?
Never. I hear things from the employers’ perspective and they’re very reluctant to make hiring decisions and are extremely selective.

LG: In an economy like this, would you say that the job candidates available are better, worse or about the same as in “normal times”?
I would say that the candidate base is below average. Every once in a while you see organizations that will be forced to lay off what I refer to as a franchise player. Companies working through this type of economy typically lay off their second string.

LG: In bad times, are the franchise players more cautious about leaving what they know?
The biggest problem right now is fi nding the absolute stellar candidates. Most of them are pretty hunkered down. Folks might want to take a job out of state, but because of the nature of the housing market it’s very diffi cult for these individuals to make career moves. [No one] wants to be last in the organization in this type of economy, so individuals are looking at [work] from a different perspective: “I’m glad to have a job. I’m glad I’m not laid off. It’s not the perfect job, but I’m going to stay here and not take the risk of being last in and fi rst to get laid off.”

LG: So what if somebody comes to you aggressively looking for a job, what do you tell them?
The advice we give depends on the type of position they’re looking for. There are certain jobs that just don’t exist anymore. For instance, in the last several months there have been very limited supervisory and non value-added positions. Meaning a lot of the companies hiring want what I call “doers”—people making components and operating the machines. Companies are adding machinists or engineers by necessity. They don’t want the extra overhead of bringing on some of the non value-added operations managers. I think the thought process is that there are individuals in the company [already] that can step in and guide and direct some of the machinists without raising the headcount.

LG: What do you see as far as organized labor is concerned? Do you think that union activism is going to become more or less of an issue going forward?
I can tell you that it comes up more when discussing jobs with machining candidates. I have found that even up in Michigan there are a lot of individuals who are very reluctant to work in a union shop. I think the thought process is that these folks have lost their jobs or been laid off and feel the union really hasn’t done a whole lot [to help them].

LG: Is it harder to place someone who’s been in a union than somebody who hasn’t been?
Absolutely. Especially when they’re coming out of some of the unions like the UAW that serve the automotive industry. I think these individuals enter the workforce with an automatic stereotype. I think many of the union employees—good, bad or indifferent—have entered the workforce and gotten quite a reality check. I recruited some individuals out of Michigan who were employed in the UAW, working for Delphi running screw machines for $27.50 an hour, which is well above average for an Acme setup operator, even in some of the better companies. What we saw is that many of those UAW employees ran the same parts for a number of years. If a machine went down, they called maintenance. If there was a tooling issue, they called engineering. Consequently, I think many of those union employees never really developed the skills they needed to compete in today’s workforce. Out in the non-union shops, their value really drops because many of the non-union employees, especially the ones that work for contract shops, know the equipment intimately. They think through how they’re going to tool and process and are creative in problem solving. It’s not unusual for an individual in a non-union shop to repair his or her own machine. They have mastered their trade. It was very diffi cult for a lot of the union employees to [learn] how to do that because in many cases, by union rules, they weren’t allowed to touch the machine on a repair issue.

LG: What markets are working?
TM: I think there is a lot of new technology that’s being developed and we’re seeing new markets open up. Where we’ve lost some of the automotive, hydraulics or fl uid power, we’ve seen some new markets open up in aerospace, power generation and metals. There have been a lot of medical startups in the last few years. Many of these companies are doing quite well through this recession, and there’s a handful that have done some regular hirings. One of the positives is that I’m seeing some fantastic benefi ts out there—some of these medical OEMs offer an above-average benefi t package.

LG: What would you tell someone who calls you and says, “my company just closed. I was a foreman and I’m looking to stay in the industry. I’ve got 50 years experience in the field and I’m willing to move.”
TM: I think I would tell that individual that that’s probably one of the better moves that they could make right now. What I’m seeing is that jobs are very spread out. I think most industries have been affected by this recession, so a candidate has to be open and go where the work is.

LG: What does a bad resumé look like?
TM: Sometimes certain attributes and job functions that are commonly looked for are not on the resumé, or sometimes they’re very vague. Sometimes they have a lot more experience than they demonstrate and sometimes they actually highlight too much experience.

LG: I talk to people in the machining industry and they say, “Hire for attitude and then train,” yet you are implying that’s a bunch of baloney, that people hire for skills and worry about attitude later.
I think right now a hiring decision is based on who brings the most value, who can come in running and be proficient and quick. I find in most interview situations, people have a different demeanor, the attitude doesn’t come through as strong. But overall, when you’re talking about the skilled trades like machinists they’re basically hired on: Do they know the machine, and can they come in running? There isn’t much in the way of training going on in manufacturing right now. As a matter of fact, the searches that I’m working on at this point have been extremely pinpointed.

LG: Are people hiring for creativity, ingenuity and innovation, or are they hiring for basic skill sets?
I would say they’re hiring that basic skill set. I think the majority of companies out there are in survival mode.

LG: When automotive bounces back, where are the workers going to come from?
That’s a good question. I think many of them are not going to fi nd employment until this turns around. The market in Michigan is so incredibly bad that many of these UAW workers are probably going to be sitting unemployed six months from now.

LG: Are the workers going to come back, or will they say, “I’ve had enough automotive, forget about it. I’m going to Wyoming. I’m going to get into heating and air conditioning. I’m going to install solar panels. I don’t want anything to do with automotive.”
Ultimately, I think they’re going to come right back to automotive. I think the biggest reason is there are not enough opportunities out there in electricity, HVAC, plumbing or other professional trades.

LG: Do you think that in three years you will be placing people more in solar, wind and natural gas extraction than automotive?
That could certainly become a market we serve. I don’t think the individuals who are working in automotive areas like Detroit and Cleveland are going to be able to transition into some of these other industries [easily]. Most employers are reluctant to bring those individuals on because of lack of experience in their industries. Exceptions are companies that may pay a professional engineer who’s designed bearings for the automotive industry and can design bearings for the power generation industry. The automotive industry will lose those types of individuals. But very few of the machinists, supervisors and maintenance folks are going to have that opportunity. Retraining is not going to pay enough. I see that quite frequently with a lot of the training that the state and federal government provides. For instance with the NAFTA, if you lose your job because your company is going down to Mexico or overseas, you’re eligible for government training. Unfortunately, a lot of government training does not lead to a respectable income so people can support their families. An individual might go through government retraining and not fi nd a position at all, or only fi nd a daytime $10 or $11 an hour position. I find that a lot of individuals who have gone through government, state and local training never actually go into the field because many of the skilled trades that they’re being trained in or retrained in are not the hot markets. I think that there are a lot of companies in our industry that would love to see a number of people retrained on Swiss Turn CNCs because that’s a hot market. But there’s no training where people can come in and learn to run a Star, Citizen, Tsugami or one of the other sliding headstock brands.

LG: Thank you so much, Tom.

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5 thoughts on “A Headhunter’s View of the Machinist Job Market

  1. Steve Rose

    We will Train your people in operator set up and Programming on your Swiss machines.
    We combine both “hands on” and intensive class room work.
    We have (5) Citizen machines that we use for our “hands on” at the machine.

    We have calls all the time form companies looking for skilled people.
    These companies all want to hire a superstar!

    The only problem is all the superstars have good jobs and who want to relocate in todays market.

    My reply to these companies is “Train your own People”

  2. farid

    i am machinist tecnician and in work with machins boring and mill and lathe is a masterly worker i would better life i realey move to outside

  3. Jason Lesnock

    As a C.N.C machinist of 12 years. Anyone looking into the Machinst feild run for your lives. I have done this since I was 17 years old beliveing hard work will pay off in the end. Well not in this feild I now make 17.50. That is the tippy top of my feild ill never see 60K nor air conditioning. I’m expected to work at all times. No sick pay . No future at all just makeing parts and pushing the cycle start button. My brother inlaw is a manager for lowes and just hit 80K so his kids get to go to college. I make ballast control valves for subs. My kids will see trade school. Or maybe the army. . . . Go on welfare before you select machining as your trade.

  4. Shawn

    @Jason Lesnock, sounds like you work for a shit company. With 12 years experiences as a CNC machinist, here in Texas you can make upwards of the high 20’s low 30s an hour.

  5. Mark Gale

    @ Jason Lesnock, Shawn could be right, or it could be as you said, you push cycle start buttons or in other words you’re a button pusher, not a machinist.
    Our machinists do work in a climate controlled shop and do make good money. But not our cycle start button pushers, which we have few. We like all of our people to be self sufficient.


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