More and more technical schools are finding it difficult to attract
newcomers to their manufacturing-related courses. Shrinking class sizes, of
course, will place your entire manufacturing program in jeopardy. No school can
maintain a program if no one registers for its classes. And we know of more
than one school that has eliminated its manufacturing program due to dwindling
Most technical schools and community colleges cater to industry that is
within a short distance (up to fifty miles or so) from the school. And
unfortunately, your manufacturing program/s may be at the mercy of the health
of local industry. If local industry is thriving, your classes are probably
full. But if companies in your area are struggling, so may be your
manufacturing programs. While your school can probably weather a short-term
lull, it will be more difficult to keep your manufacturing program together if
the down-turn continues for an extended period.
Get to know the manufacturers in your area
While there are schools that serve a national employer base, most technical
schools (including community colleges that have manufacturing courses) must
cater first and foremost to local industry. For these schools, satisfying local
industry will be of paramount importance. Its pretty simple. Those
schools that serve the needs of local industry will thrive. Those that
dont will eventually fail.
How well youre satisfying your local industry is pretty easy to
determine. Schools that satisfy local industry will have excellent placement
ratios for graduating students (probably over 90%). There will be a waiting
list for companies anxious to hire the people the school graduates. This makes
it relatively easy to attract new students since students will be secure in the
knowledge that theyll be able to find a job after graduation.
If you're truly serving the needs of local industry, companies will be
sending their employees to your classes or better yet
theyll be contracting you to conduct courses on their own premises. And
there is no better endorsement for a local technical school's program than
having a large percentage of the manufacturers it serves sending people to the
Admittedly, there are other factors that contribute to the success of any
manufacturing-related curriculum not the least of which is the number
and status of companies in your schools area. Unfortunately, some
instructors can count on one hand the number of major manufacturing companies
their school serves. And, of course, the local business climate will have a lot
to do with whether or not companies are interested in providing training to
their employees or whether they will be hiring when your students
Whos in your area?
Technical instructors should be very well versed with the manufacturing
companies in the region served by their school. Products being produced,
processes being performed, and location of customers served by local companies
are among the general things you should know.
You should also get to know the people in key positions. Whos the
manager of Human Resources? Who manages the Manufacturing Engineering
department? Who is the plant manager? While you may be hesitant to contact
companies to meet and get to know these people, you may be surprised at how
receptive they are once you work up the nerve to contact them. Progressive
managers are always looking for ways to train their personnel.
Remember, most manufacturing companies are constantly struggling to hire and
keep qualified people. Theyve probably attempted their own in-plant
training programs with limited success. When an instructor from the local
technical college calls to see if the school can help, most manufacturing
people will jump at the opportunity to expand their training resources.
What skills are required?
Interested instructors will strive to determine what their students will be
doing once they graduate and begin working in a local company. Only with this
knowledge can an instructor prepare an appropriate curriculum. As you talk to
key people in local manufacturing companies, find out what they require.
Additionally, find out what problems they are currently having when it comes to
the proficiency of their work force.
Be prepared for some criticism
People working in local companies have probably had some previous experience
with your school. Maybe theyve hired some of your graduates. Maybe
theyve attended some of your classes. Or maybe they know people that
have. Its likely that they have some pre-conceived notions about what
your school does. And it may not be all good. Be sure that the people you talk
to understand that the whole point of your visit is to gain an understanding of
what the company expects of employees so you can better accommodate these
Dont ignore small companies
While your biggest potential for new students may come from larger
companies, remember that most larger companies have a series of local suppliers
(commonly called contract shops or job shops). The people working in these
smaller companies often need more training than people working in larger
companies especially when it comes to actually working with CNC
machines. So if you can serve the needs of smaller companies, its likely
that youll have no trouble doing so for larger companies. Additionally,
having success with a small company in your area may be a way to get your foot
in the door to the larger companies this company supplies. Dont forget
people in small companies have the best contacts in larger companies.
Truly your best potential for new students comes from local industry.
Get out and meet them!
Find ways to help local industry thrive
You must not consider this beyond the scope of what you can do as a
technical school instructor. Think about how your school can enhance a
company's chances for success. When it comes to manufacturing training, and
especially courses relative to CNC, many technical schools do little more than
(very) basic training. While basic CNC training is very important to your local
industry, consider offering classes that are aimed at a higher level of CNC
Expand your offerings to include more experienced manufacturing people.
Manufacturing people are always looking for ways to improve the productivity of
their manufacturing processes. If you can offer courses to help them achieve
this goal, you may find your new offerings to be flooded with students! So not
only will you be helping local industry to thrive, you'll be gaining a whole
new group of potential students. This is a win-win situation if there ever was
Here are a two specific examples of courses we think your local industry
will find particularly interesting. Note that we offer
teaching curriculums for each of
them. These curriculums include instructor's materials (To The Instructor
Manual and PowerPoint slide presentations) and student materials (Course
manual). But don't limit your potential. Find out what your local industry
needs and develop courses to cater to these needs.
Setup reduction for CNC --- You'll never meet a manufacturing person
that doesn't want to minimize the amount of time it takes to get machines ready
to run production. We define setup time as the time it takes from machining
the last workpiece in the most recent production run to making the first good
workpiece (efficiently) in the next production run. Truly, the entire time
a machine is down between production runs must be considered as setup. In this
course, you'll first present the principles of setup reduction. These
principles can be applied to any form of production equipment. Next, you'll
present specific techniques that can be applied to reduce setup time for CNC
machining centers and turning centers in the approximate order setups are made.
Click here to see more information
about this curriculum.
Cycle time reduction for CNC --- In similar fashion, all
manufacturing people want to shorten the time it takes to complete a production
run. Our definition of cycle time is the entire time it takes to complete a
production run divided by how many good workpieces have been produced.
Anything that adds to the length of time it takes to complete a production run
must be considered part of cycle time. In this course, you'll first present the
principles of cycle time reduction. These principles are quite similar to those
related to setup reduction, with some subtle differences. Next, you'll present
specific techniques that can be applied to reduce cycle time for CNC machining
centers and turning centers, including techniques related to workpiece
load/unload, reducing program execution time, reducing tool maintenance time,
and streamlining other tasks an operator must perform during a production run..
Click here to see more
information about this curriculum.
Recruit instructors from local industry
If you haven't already, look for experienced manufacturing people in your
area to teach some of your manufacturing-related courses (on a part-time
basis). You yourself may be one of these people. While you will, of course,
need to approve course content, this is a sure-fire way to ensure that your
courses will suit the needs of local manufacturers. It is also a great way to
ensure that some of your graduates will get placed. I know of more than one
manufacturing person that teaches part-time for their local technical college
so they can get first pick of graduating students.
Work closely with local high schools
We cannot overstress the need for a technical school to cater to local
industry. This should be your first and primary concern. If you're not serving
the needs of local industry, you won't be able to place your graduates - and
your program/s won't be around for long. Convincing the manufacturers in your
area to take advantage of your school's training facilities should be at the
heart of any recruiting you do. Ideally, the majority of your student base will
be coming from local industry. Only with this objective achieved, should you
begin recruiting from other sources.
Assuming you can place your graduates, your program will, of course, need
students. One obvious place to find them is the local high schools in your
area. Look first for high schools that have vocational programs. In many
regional school districts, there is one central "vo-tech" high school
that provides the vocational training for the region. This kind of school
commonly has a metals program in which students are introduced to
metal-working. The students in this program will make excellent candidates for
your manufacturing program/s.
Note that many technical high schools provide excellent basic industrial
training. Indeed, you may find that these students are hired by local
manufacturers right after high school - so you may be competing with the high
schools in your area! This is yet another reason why you must work closely with
local industry. It's likely that these entry-level employees will still need
quite a bit of training in order to become proficient. Companies are probably
providing some kind of (costly) on-the-job training to bring new-hires up to
speed. With an understanding of what local companies need, your program/s can
help bridge this gap.
While the "vo-tech" type high school may provide your best source
for candidates, get to know the guidance counsellors for all of the high
schools in your area. A guidance counselor cannot, of course, guide potential
students to your program if they don't know it is available.
Think outside the box
Technical schools have traditionally offered certificate and degree programs
that require students to take a full load of courses. If your manufacturing
program is struggling, try not to stick with traditional thinking. If you
haven't already, consider open-in/open-out registration that allows students to
attend classes on a more flexible schedule. Incorporate more self-study and
on-line courses in your curriculum. And in general, make it as easy as possible
for students to participate in your offerings.
Your school may already offer some form of in-plant training (commonly
related to what some schools call "business education services"). If
you don't currently offer this kind of training, especially for classes related
to basic manufacturing skills like blueprint reading and shop math, you're
probably missing out on a great deal of training business.
Another potential revenue generator to consider is to hold 1- 2- or 3-day
seminars on selected topics. You (obviously) have the needed classroom
facilities. You have the potential attendee base of local companies. Pick a hot
topic (like setup reduction, lean manufacturing, geometric dimensioning and
tolerancing, rapid prototyping, etc.) and prepare the needed course materials.
Or contract an industry expert to make the presentation.
So you think your program isn't in trouble?
Even if your school's manufacturing program is pretty well attended, don't
be too quick to think that all is well. Again, you're at the mercy of your
local industry. Today's high-flying manufacturer may be tomorrow's victim of
recession. Do your best to maintain contact with all of the manufacturers in
your area, regardless of whether they're currently sending people to your
Do you have a newsletter?
One great way stay in contact is to publish a periodical newsletter. It
really doesn't take that much effort, especially if you limit the number of
times you publish per year. I recommend a quarterly newsletter. Be sure to
include topics of interest to manufacturing people, not just your school's
class schedule (though you will want to let people know about your upcoming
classes). Send your newsletter to key people in manufacturing companies (Human
resources people, plant managers, engineering managers, etc.) as well as all of
the high school guidance counsellors in your area.
You may, for example, pull some excerpts from your training materials (as
long as you don't infringe on copyrights). It doesn't have to be long - a few
pages per issue will suffice. Just get your school's name in front of local
manufacturing people on a regular basis. Remind them that you're still around
and ready to serve their training needs.
If your school sends out a general mailing, don't count on it to help with
your manufacturing classes. For the best results, this newsletter should be
written specifically for people in manufacturing, addressing topics that
they'll find helpful and interesting.