Other Dimensions: Show and Tell or Teach?

October 1, 2003
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Community colleges and technical schools can provide training for workers.

Recently I had the good fortune to enjoy a meal with an association of professionals who teach machine shop and related subjects at the Province of Ontario’s community colleges. As their after-dinner speaker, I restrained from ranting and raving so that I wouldn’t hinder the digestive process. Naturally, I used the opportunity to get up-to-date on the trials and tribulations of the profession, which reaffirmed that I could never do their job.

Budgets rarely keep up with technology, leaving teachers to face quite a dilemma. Everyone expects them to teach everything about a subject in a limited amount of time and often with inadequate resources. How they decide what topics to focus on, I don’t know. Knowing their situation, I encouraged them to teach the usually forgotten basics and principles and let the

whistles-and-bells of modern technology take care of themselves.

Another problem they face is revealed in an old saying, “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” Today’s reality is that the masters are there, but many students are not ready. And, in many cases, if the masters are in an institutional setting, they have to accept whatever comes through the door.

While I do the occasional seminar on measurement topics, I am not a teacher. No caring parent would leave their darlings in my care, as they might not get out alive. Despite this, I am frequently asked to teach. Usually, I’m asked to teach dimensional metrology and, if possible, do so in one day or less—the same problem that teachers face. Oh, to be that clever!

Most companies usually want some basics taught so that folks on the shop floor can do a reasonably good job measuring what they’re making.

The problem with all of this is that the need for training is usually discovered during a quality audit and that often triggers panic attacks and other phenomena. Everybody goes through the drill to get this oversight expunged from the record instead of planning for it. Here is a hint, lower the panic level by having the staff show the auditor they know what they’re doing. Have them measure sample parts. If the results are satisfactory, the auditor’s case is weakened and you should be able to get some time for training your people in a more organized way. Now the question is where?

There are lots of independent folks who train others for a living. Some are good, some are not so good, and of course, some should be barred from classrooms for life. I suggest you look in your own backyard and investigate your local community or technical college. These folks often will tailor a package to suit your needs, hold classes in the evenings or on weekends, or, with sufficient notice, at your plant.

Decide what it is you wish them to do: teach a skill, upgrade existing folks, teach basic principles, etc. Do this by making up a wish list of topics and skills you want various people in your company to be exposed to or taught. Then see what the folks at the community college can do. It’s what they do for a living, but keep in mind that they cannot work miracles and change idiots into Einsteins.

I know this will sound radical, but go to the college and meet with the technical teaching staff. If your experience is anything like mine has been over the years, you’ll find some dedicated people who will do whatever they can to help you. Besides the obvious benefits, you could end up getting first pick of the graduates.

Other possible training sources can be discovered in the pages of this magazine. Each month, Quality carries information about all sorts of organizations that can help you with your training needs. These include the American Society for Quality, the National Conference of Standards Laboratories International, the American National Standards Institute and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, among others.

I trust I’ve been able to give you a ray of hope. Now, if you happen to know someone that can teach me how to program a VCR, my training worries will be over. At least until my programmable 16-CD player with integrated video system, weather-warning monitor, satellite down-link and digital clock/timer arrives.

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