Where are All the Tinkerers?
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Lapossy brothers, Ken and Ron, who grew up as admitted “tinkerers” and eventually took over the family business, Imperial Die & Mfg. Co., in Cleveland, OH. Their survival story, supplying stampings and stamping dies to a diverse customer base, includes recent investment in a second new/used CNC vertical-machining center. The article will appear in next month’s issue of MetalForming, which, by the way, marks the 25th anniversary of our name change from Metal Stamping magazine to MetalForming. Look for a special editorial package in July to mark that significant anniversary.
Talking with the Lapossys, I was reminded of the challenge lying ahead to keep the U.S. manufacturing train on track. Metalforming plants are becoming stocked more and more with relatively new employees. Often, they are being hired because they appear to be reasonably intelligent and hardworking, even if their technical/manufacturing skill base is lacking. That’s a far cry from the days when kids grew up tinkering with electronics and building go-karts, as did the Lapossy brothers. The previous generation entered the manufacturing workforce with mad manual skills and dexterity, and enjoyed experimenting with and repairing machine parts—the definition of “tinkering.” The next generation of U.S. skilled labor comprises tech-savvy youngsters comfortable around computing devices of all kinds, but not so much with machinery.
As these newly minted metalforming professionals move into our facilities, it’s critical that we take them under our collective wing and get them up to speed. Quickly. Ensuring such development in real life, in real time, under the pressures of production requires close, sincere attention from managers, as well as from our seasoned and skilled incumbent workers. As noted by the first of two contributing writers to this issue’s Human Capital column (page 16), HR executives rate their success in hiring new employees at about one “excellent hire” in four tries. That’s a tough batting average to work with. So, when you do hit a homerun you’d better focus on nurturing and developing that prospect into a future Hall-of-Famer.
Such nurturing, we learn from our second Human Capital columnist, Derek Irvine, comes via the right mix of constructive criticism (or feedback) combined with recognition and praise for a job well done. Irvine’s message: Negative feedback (another term for constructive criticism) resets direction—a necessity as we train so many newbies in all things metalforming. However, Irvine notes that while such feedback moves workers into learning mode, it will not motivate them. Referencing research described in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog, Irvine says that praise is what “inspires employees to continue doing what they’re doing well, and to do it with more vigor and creativity.”
Countering the survey referenced by HBR is Inc. magazine business writer Geoffrey James, who recently penned a column titled, “How to Criticize Employees: 6 Rules.” James argues that constructive criticism (or feedback) provides the “kick in the butt” that may be required when employee behavior must be altered.Note: The research described by HBR provides the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio. Take a guess what that ratio should be, then turn to page 17 and compare answers.
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