Time to Develop Young Machining Talent

By Lloyd Graff

The most stunning conclusion I reached from the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) Management Update Conference last weekend in Phoenix is that the precision machining operations business is good right now. Whether it was the automotive contingent, the aerospace guys from the coasts, the mixed baggers, the brassers or the ammo and firearms suppliers, the PMPAers were generally happy. What a change from a year ago.

The PMPA’s statistics show the same reflection of business. Sales levels are still off peak levels but profits are solid because of significant gains in productivity. The pruning effect was referred to by almost everybody I talked to. Weak employees have been shed. Processes have been sharpened. Companies are lean and hungry.

Contrary to the idea that nobody is hiring, the folks in Phoenix were looking. What they were seeking is youth and energy. Skills are a plus but they can be developed. We are at a point in the business cycle where you can find smart eager young people who are ok with starting out on the cheap and working their way up.

Dave Knuepfer of DuPage Machined Products outside of Chicago is hiring high school kids as interns hoping one out of three will stick. Ron Bracalente of Bracalente Manufacturing in Trumbauersville, Pa., is hiring engineers out of school for $13 per hour and fast tracking them up the pay scale if they can cut it.

Precision Machining is shedding its old skin coming out of this recession. The focus in Phoenix was not about adding machine capacity, it was about acquiring young talent during one of those rare windows of opportunity.

Question: Are you using this period to acquire young talent?

Richardson Ng, 2nd year Mechanical Technician at Centennial College, watches the sparks fly off a grinder in Precision Machining lab.

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9 thoughts on “Time to Develop Young Machining Talent

  1. Robert

    I have been in the maching trade for over 30 yrs in manual,CNC and Multi-axis. I personally would not recommend this trade to any young person in todays world there is no respect for machinist or toolmakers.

  2. Steve P.

    I think the machine tool trades is an excellent place for young people to learn and earn a living. The respect is personal satisfaction in what you do.

  3. Miles Free

    The key to understanding this is that the shops are looking for TALENT, not drones expecting high pay to compensate for having to work in a factory. Now is a great time to identify talent that will help sustain North American Manufacturing. Our technologies are key to many others, Talented craftspeople are crucial to our industry. If your shop is not one that you would like to see your daughter (or son) work in, you have a problem. The shops you mentioned are great places to work.

  4. sunnyjeff

    I have 30 plus years in the business. Tool & die apprenticeship in high speed stamping and the rest in the university ‘instrument shop’. All of the brilliant machinists are gone. So much knowlege is lost. It’s an interesting business, but you have to love the work. You will never be a millionaire, but you will have job satisfaction. Every day is a new challenge. Try and find that in the service sector.

  5. eric

    Why would any engineer come to work for $13 per hour. Eng can make 50,000 to start and still keep growing from that base. This industry does not earn enough, even in good years to keep truely talented people paid what they can earn in other industries. Great business, interesting but no respect and manf is slowly fading in US.

  6. Tony

    People like Robert, sunnyjeff and eric have obviously haven’t had to many conversations with any somewhat intelligent younger people. And thats the whole problem, its not that younger people have a bad picture of manufacturing or “dont have respect for machinists” Its that they don’t have any picture at all unless their father or someone close to them does it for a living. And all these old guys that think they know something secret and dont want to share it with anyone willing to learn from them. Its not the young crowd or the service industry or the gov although they help, we are destroying ourselves by being to selfish or stingy to share knowledge. Put a damn commercial on tv or something. And quit telling your kids they wont get anywhere unless they go to a major university instead of a tech school, and build some damn tech schools that work with nearby high schools.

  7. Rockford

    You simply have not lived the life of Robert, suunyjeff, and eric. Years ago a machinist was a respected trade. But times have changed so fast. Today an employer demands one person to be a set up man, programmer, cad drafter, machinist, jig and fixture man all rolled into one person. But the compensation is for one position, not five. And then the employer likes to brag about paying a top wage of $15 bucks an hour. Tony its still a free country for now. If you want to enter the machining world, that is certainly your right. And thirty years from now, maybe you will still love it and have no regrets. Or maybe you will understand the phrase “The world of never enough”. I am not bitter. I simply walked away.
    Good luck Tony.

  8. Miles Free

    Well lets look at some real data.

    The median hourly salary for precision machinists working in motor vehicle parts manufacturing was $18.27 (or $38,000 annually) in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The lowest 10 percent of all precision machinists made less than $10.29 an hour (or $21,400 annually), and the highest 10 percent earned more than $25.31 per hour (or $52,640 annually).

    Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations; life, medical, and accident insurance; and retirement plans.
    The way I see it- this salary is achievable with no student loans needed to get to these salary levels. No lost opportunity costs.

    This is publicly available data, The most recent private data just developed by the PMPA is somewhat rosier- Our membership’s median sales are somewhat higher than industry median sales.

    Also the data I quoted above is for shops serving the vehicle parts market, The wage and benefit data for Swiss type and other applications is significantly higher. And hands-on Leadership (Team /Group leaders) are paid a premium over operators according to our survey.


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