As I lied once before on these pages, I tend to avoid getting political in these columns with the exception of the occasional cheap generic shot. But since this is the first column of the new year, it’s that time again when the past year is reviewed and the number crunching begins. 

This goes on in many countries every year and the errors of last year’s predictions are brought forth along with the reasons why they didn’t materialize. The expert making the prediction is rarely at fault of course—it’s those outside influences and factors that are to blame.  

As a political junkie, I find it fascinating to follow the fertilizer trail provided by politicians everywhere who seem to think they can fix anything—if you’ll just vote for them. Usually, what they think they have to fix is a mess created by the last time they fixed something. 

Manufacturers are the frequent target of such schemes with claims being made that the nation suffers from a “productivity gap,” whatever that actually means. Or worse, our woes are all due to a “training deficit.” This problem is often the result of people with twenty or thirty years of experience reaching retirement age and the idea of apprenticeships—oops, mentors—has come off the rails in recent years in the quest for quick fixes. Having done a bit of training over the years, I find this claim, and the fix usually offered, very entertaining. 

The story usually goes like this: Manufacturers are have difficulty getting skilled people, therefore, productivity suffers. The fact that manufacturers are automating as much as possible to reduce the need and costs for skilled people gets overlooked. Not to worry! The experts from government are here to help.

The “fix,” in this case, is a government (read: taxpayer) financed training plan. Simple—now why didn’t you think of that? Perhaps it slipped your mind because you know there is no quick fix like the one being promoted. Only a politician would think a training program lasting six or twelve months can replace years of hands-on experience.

These schemes are often encouraged by technical colleges who will design a program to suit any level of funding they can get. Not to be left out of the quick fix game are companies who think they can train staff for technical functions over a one day seminar. And too many quality auditors think the same way, so we frequently end up with the blind leading the blind and everyone fighting over reality. 

 Yes, there are some computer programmers cooking up routines to save the day but I would think it’s a bit difficult to teach someone punching a keyboard what it feels like to get a good wring between two or more gage blocks or when the instrument they’re clutching has reached a reversal point over a diameter rather than a bit of dirt.

Instrument makers will do their best to instruct users of their devices how to get a reading but they’re teaching “instrument readers” who won’t know what to do when there’s a problem with the numbers because they don’t understand some of the basics involved. 

All is not lost. From time to time I run across colleges and companies that teach the principles of dimensional measurement as well as how to operate the hardware and understand what the numbers mean. If you’re thinking of sending your staff to some seminar, take a look at the actual content detail being offered so they get some understanding of the principles as well as the hardware.

If you’re lucky, get an old hand from the tool room to help in your training program. At least you’ll get experience your computer doesn’t have.

Most important of all, when some blowhard from government starts a crusade to save industry using a “fix” dealing with a subject they haven’t got a clue about—call them on it. If enough people do it, we may have a new year free of technical fairy tales. 

Oh, by the way, have a happy new year friends.