We are well into February, and it is hard to believe it has been more than 6 weeks since I last posted. It is not for a lack of news to share, but it has been a challenge to find time to write about it.
Today, the biggest news to share is that Precision Plus has received AS9100:2016 certification just this past week. https://www.preplus.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/ISO9001_2015_AS9100_2016-QMS-Cert.pdf. This is our first time receiving this certification, and it is in addition to our ISO 9001:2015 upgrade we received in Q3 of last year. This accomplishment does not come easily, but through the efforts of our team members, Precision Plus is now Aerospace certified. Kudos to every team member who helped in achieving this goal. Together with our ITAR and DDTC registrations, we are equipped to provide quality products and services to the top aerospace and defense contractors.
In my previous posting, many of you will recall me speaking of our national trade association, the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA). Two weeks ago at the PMPA National Update Conference, as the current president, I announced a strategic engagement with our long-time business partner, Gardner Business Media (GBM). GBM has managed the Precision Machine Technology Show (PMTS) under a management services agreement (MSA) for our association since we launched it back in 2001. Since then and through combined efforts, this has grown into a nationally recognized machine tool show, owned by the PMPA and managed by GBM. The PMPA board and staff and GBM will be working together over the next six months to develop a new MSA to lead our association deep into the 21st century. Stay tuned for more developments and explore the upcoming national events at the PMPA website www.pmpa.org and www.pmts.com. For further information on how we will continue to work “Better Together,” check out the PMPA Speaking of Precision Blog: https://pmpaspeakingofprecision.com/2019/02/18/change-for-the-better-better-together/
Tariffs, trade, turmoil. What can I say about all this? We live in an era of constant change, and there are many things we cannot control, but that does not mean we cannot influence the direction. For many years, I did not wish to get involved in the national debate over government policy or direction. However, the economic events of 2008/2009 changed my mindset, and I decided it was my responsibility as an American to be part of the conversation. I feel encouraged to be part of the solution to this mess we call politics today.
Last week, I joined a small group of fellow PMPA members in Washington DC, to meet with elected officials. Our goal was to educate them on the reality of tariffs, trade wars, and the need for a national initiative to redevelop our 21st century workforce. Regarding the current tariffs on steel, stainless steel, and aluminum, we are requesting an immediate end to this policy that hurts both our manufacturers and consumers. It is a tax on all of us, not the offending parties that is borne by someone in the supply chain, or end consumer. The monies collected are sent to the general fund, without being tagged or targeted for anything specific. In our opinion, there needs be a better solution to this problem that has been in the making for over 50 years, and by the way, quotas are even worse. We all agree we need a level playing field for international trade, but our domestic steel and aluminum mills have failed to reinvest in technology and training, leaving them far behind the other international mills. Part of this is a product of our regulatory and environmental burdens, coupled with our tax code. All of these factors have incented foreign, and not domestic, investment for decades.
We have all heard much about the skills gap, and some of us are also familiar with the bigger issue the body gap – the lack of those available or willing to work. We discussed with our congressional and senate representatives the need for stronger industry and education collaboration to develop meaningful curriculum and career exploration opportunities for technical fields, not just the traditional four-year path. For far too long, the stigma of working in manufacturing or the trades has cast a dark shadow on these career paths. Let us not forget about the “hammock”; we need to incent people to work and not sit on the sidelines. There is dignity in working with your hands, creating things that improve lives and make a difference every day. We need to change the perception of these careers, so we can attract the best and brightest of this next generation. Only through engagement and effort will we begin to move the needle. The problem is national, but the solutions are local, and are only realized through honest conversation and engagement within our communities. We are also requesting comprehensive reform of our outdated immigration policy. Our economic engine will stall out for lack of fuel. We need people to fill all the vacant positions, fueling that engine. In some cases, there is a shortage of skilled talent, but often, it is simply a lack of those willing to work and be trained for higher level positions. We need a national immigration policy that welcomes the best, brightest and eager to work, to our wonderful country. For those able but unwilling to work and contribute, I suggest we send them to another country to discover how good we have it here in America.
Speaking of moving the needle, I am proud to say our team efforts to collaborate with our local schools – including K-12, technical, and four-year colleges – are paying dividends. Elkhorn Area School District (EASD) and the local high school are doing great things. With the full support of the community, school board, administration and faculty, they are truly making a difference for our young adults. By focusing on STEM curriculum, such as Project Lead the Way (PLTW), and combining these principles with the hands-on programming in woodworking, welding, machining and automotive technologies, they are bringing the two sides of the school together to make things. It was just over two years ago that they overhauled the technical programming and reintroduced welding and machining to the high school. Just as important as the space and equipment, was the hiring of an instructor that could inspire greatness from these students. Mike Thomas stepped in from local industry to fill that need.
I am excited to report that in this third year of the program, EASD will see more than 300 high school students take either welding or machining classes. Many of these students will receive dual credits for their work, allowing them to receive technical college credits at nearby Gateway Technical College (GTC). Together with EASD, GTC, and Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), we are working to provide students with multiple pathways to rewarding technical careers.
Training is a primary focus for us in 2019, and I am proud to say we try to make this part of our daily efforts. We sent five team members, including myself, to the PMPA Update Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. There we heard from several motivational speakers and fellow industry experts on team building, leadership, knowledge transfer, and culture. Brent Roberson of Fathom, Inc. and Shawn Rhodes of Shoshin Consulting shared with us many tools to improve our team performance, while Daniel Sharkey lead us through a best practice session on contracts and supply chain strategies. Steven Kline, Jr. of Gardner Business Media and Miles Free of PMPA spoke about the benchmarking tools available through the Top Shops survey. Last but not least, Brian Beaulieu of ITR shared the latest economic trends and insight to help us best position ourselves for the future.
Tomorrow and the rest of the year, we will focus on culture, teamwork, accountability and training. You will read more on this in our next writing, but now let me turn to other news and dive into the more distant opportunity/threat.
Going Deep. Opportunity or threat? It is what you make it.
We hear every day in the news about all the current events that surround us. We are constantly submersed in news of shootings, trade talks, tariffs, and the inability of our government to address the challenges we face in this age of deeply divided politics. Yet, we seldom hear any conversation about the broader trends and the long-term implications of our failure to address our fundamental challenges of demographics, skyrocketing health care costs, entitlements, inflation, and our national debt that just passed 22 trillion dollars. I’m not wanting to sound negative, but we need to have an honest conversation about what our failure to address these issues will do to our economy…and our children. We are so wrapped up in the present, it’s difficult for us to look ahead.
Brian Beaulieu of ITR has been preaching about this for the past four or five years, and up until this year, he has suggested that we have the ability to stave off a massive DEPRESSION that lurks on the horizon. However, he is losing faith – as am I – in our government’s willingness to acknowledge the growing problem or to take measures to mitigate the depth of the resulting downturn. Keep in mind, the PMPA and I have been following ITR for close to 20 years. They were one of the few that had warned us about the 2008/2009 recession, about two or three years ahead of it, and yet we did not listen. For these reasons, I feel compelled to share Brian’s slide, hoping it will start a conversation.
As a country, we continue to fight over the immediate issues, while we fail to recognize the more distant threats. For those of us who have been around a bit longer, 11 years or so goes by quickly. Better to address our fiscal issues now, than to continue to kick the can down the street, as we have done for too long. Negative topics are never fun, nor are the solutions easy, but we have all allowed this to happen, and therefore we must be active participants in the quest for the solution. Please join me to elevate this to a broader audience that we may address our problems and make a better future for our children. Remember, ignoring the problem never solves it.
My last thought is for all of us to make time to celebrate life with family, friends and your fellow teammates. Spring is around the corner and together with our health, we have much to celebrate.
Mike Reader, President