I was chatting with a colleague recently, a well-known supplier of precision measuring instruments. I noted, sarcastically, that his company was promoting a half-day training seminar on calibration and best of all—it was free! Having done a few seminars on specific topics within the dimensional calibration field, I know there is a demand for such training especially if it’s free, or very low cost, and only takes half a day to complete.

Seminars such as this can be quite helpful to those unfamiliar with the process, but it depends on what you mean by ‘training.’ Usually such efforts are directed to how you use some of the more popular instruments supplied by the trainer’s company. When it comes to calibration however, things get a lot more complicated and a half-day seminar will be just enough time to indicate all the subjects that need to be covered to get a feel for what the subject is all about. Then the real training can begin.

 The one thing such seminars do not provide that is critical to all measurement is experience through which many in the field learn the details that count, especially technical details regarding the item being measured or calibrated and the limitations of the equipment or process. But that takes time and requires a lot of on-the-job training by someone who actually knows the subject well i.e., someone who’s been there and done that for a while.

There’s an app for many things these days but so far, I’ve not seen one that matches lessons learned through experience although many keep trying.

In days gone by, one didn’t get into the inspection department or a calibration laboratory until serving their time in the machining functions so when it came to advanced training for measurement, the ‘student’ already had many of the basics mastered.

This doesn’t happen so much today because automation and computers have taken over a lot of those machining basics. Too often a new hire for the inspection department only has experience with computers and/or quality systems, not the knowledge and skills required to get the measurements the computers can work with. Some companies quickly recognize this and begin the search for ‘training’ to bring the newbies up to speed—and many believe a few one-day seminars can do this.

It’s even worse when government gets involved—what isn’t? In promising to fix skilled labor shortages the politicians throw money for re-training at the problem with the same attitude. Such spending programs are usually of short, fixed duration designed to make the politicians appear to be doing something. Often, they are aided and abetted by technical schools that will set up a program to suit the dollars and time frame available per student rather than the amount of technical content required to do the job.

Europe seems to be ahead of us on such matters with apprenticeship programs aimed at doing the complete job but they require a long-term approach to do the job which is one of the major drawbacks.

It has been my experience that the old timers in this field are more than willing to teach someone who is interested in the field they have worked in for most of their lives. That’s how I learned what little I know about the subject. My mentors included folks in the U.S., England and to a lesser extent, Europe where I worked on the shop floor or in their labs.

What’s the answer for today’s training needs? I wish I knew, but can only suggest that some changes to the existing system are required from everyone involved otherwise we’ll be plagued with instrument readers generating numbers the meaning of which few really understand.