Barry Butters of Precision Plus Speaks at the 2015 PMPA National Technical Conference in Columbus, OH
Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training at Precision Plus in Elkhorn, WI spoke to a wide audience during the 2015 Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) National Technical Conference, which took place on April 19-21, 2015, in Columbus, OH. His presentation centered on Precision Plus’ active plan to help close the skills gap in manufacturing.
PMPA’s 54th Annual National Technical Conference focused on technical innovation, quality advancements and shop management, offering attendees a variety of seminars on subjects needed to meet today’s precision manufacturing challenges.
In addition to Butters, six other members of the Precision Plus Team attended the conference: Mike Brown, John McConville and Sam Kirkland, Machinists, Terry Mumper, Engineer, Dale Wittlieff, Director of Quality and Continuous Improvement, and Bill Wells, Sales and Engineering Manager.
On Monday, April 20th, during a session entitled, “How to Deal with the Skilled Training Issue,” Butters shared Precision Plus’ “13-Step Playbook for Workforce Development,” currently used by the company, in an effort to close the manufacturing skills gap.
In his presentation, Butters talked about Precision Plus, its plan to double its capacity, and the absence of qualified employees to operate machines that do the work that used to be done by people in the past. He also addressed the overall perception of manufacturing based on “what it was then,” and the lack of information of “what it is now.” Whereas in the past, a high school student who may not be doing great in school would have been a prime candidate to go into manufacturing, today’s industry requires individuals who have high technical and math skills as well as strong soft skills.
In a 2012 News Magazine 60 Minutes interview, Professor Peter Cappelli of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, stated that even as late as a generation ago, manufacturing companies had training and apprenticeship programs in place, but over the last few decades that responsibility shifted primarily to technical colleges. As technology advanced, the curricula offered by technical colleges drifted away from the actual skills needed for professionals in manufacturing. Cappelli suggested that manufacturers needed to be involved in the training of prospective employees in one way or another.
After listening to this segment, Mike Reader, president of Precision Plus decided to get involved. “What’s the return on investment on doing nothing?” Reader asked.
Butters used Precision Plus’ “13-Step Playbook for Workforce Development” slideshow presentation to showcase the initiatives taken by Mike Reader and Precision Plus over the last two and a half years to get involved and become a catalyst. These efforts included hiring Butters, an educator, to help deploy the playbook. In 2013, Reader had organized a Manufacturing Career Panel at a local high school, which was attended by more than one hundred area students. When students asked about internship availability, Reader knew something had to be done.
Today, Precision Plus offers a summer internship program for young people typically becoming mechanical engineers, as well as a school-year apprenticeship program for students interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing.
Both programs expose students to all aspects of manufacturing and have been designed on a rotating department basis. In addition, students go on tours and attend tradeshows, among other activities. Parent involvement is key, as they must tour the facility before their child is accepted into either program.
In addition, Precision Plus is involved with local schools at all levels, from elementary through college. The company is a member of several career and technical education (CTE) committees, has brought more than 90 teachers, counselors and career coaches through the facility, and has welcomed students on field trips. In addition, Barry Butters has traveled to schools and has addressed students at all levels. Precision Plus also offers a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering design and development (EDD) class, taught by Butters in the Precision Plus classroom to local high school students.
Having community support is crucial, so the public at large is regularly invited to tour the plant and learn about today’s manufacturing. Precision Plus has also reached out to vendors and customers to help enrich the experience, and has brought manufacturing industry awareness to local, state and national legislators, having had high ranking public officials across party lines tour the plant and engage in conversation, in an effort to find common ground and talk about workforce issues.
Butters information was well received and followed by many favorable comments, as per this letter from Monte Guitar, PMPA’s director of technical programs.