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Developing and Retaining Future Craft Skills

by Christer Idhammar

Developing and Retaining Future Craft Skills is often mentioned that this is a future crisis; my observations tell me that the crisis is here now and it will be worse in the future.

Here are some facts from a recent survey:

  • 9% of respondents say they can easily find skilled crafts people
  • 65% say they hire and train on-the-job by pairing new employees with their own crafts people
  • 16% say they have a professional and structured training program for crafts people
  • 60%+ of plants will loose over 50% of their skilled crafts people in the next five years

Two comments from respondents:

  • We are currently in the process of reducing our maintenance staff by 50% in the next year. Senior management has determined that our maintenance staff is too expensive so we will contract out as much as we can.
  • Hiring qualified skilled maintenance personnel is a challenge. The training budgets are very hard to "sell" to management.

The respondents saying that they can easily find skilled crafts people are located in areas suffering from recent closings of plants, the people they hire are in the early to mid 50’s age group.

The on-the-job training chosen by 65% of respondents is often referred to as "Follow Joe Training." This means that Joe once upon a time was trained by another Joe. Because he has never received any professional training during his employment, Joe only knows 70% of what he needs to know to do a professional job. Now Charles, a new employee, is paired with Joe to learn to become a crafts person from him. Joe will most probably only teach Charlie 70% of what he knows, the rest is hidden in pride and job security or poor memory. If Charlie retains 70% of what Joe teaches him the theoretical results of this exercise is that Charlie now knows 34.3% of what he needs to know to be professional crafts person. One day Charlie will be the one to introduce a new employee!

Only 16% of respondents say they have a professional training program for new employees. In the last 20 years, many plants have abandoned their apprentice programs as part of short sighted cost savings initiatives. My own observations have found an increased activity to reinstate apprentice programs and pairing training with community colleges; however, most organizations remain ignorant about the shortage of skilled crafts people and I hear statements like, "If we train people here they will leave to take other jobs." Your response to this question should be, "Is it better if you do not train them and they stay?"

Some organizations try to get out of the problem by outsourcing maintenance; I wish someone could tell me where the contractors find their skilled people. A contractor recently told me that they had to sell the contract based on lower labor rates than the plant’s own employees. This doomed them to hire unskilled people at low rates and poor benefits and then train them on the job. One serious problem was that electricians only stayed an average of 18 months, and then they left for permanent and better terms.

Training is not always looked upon as an investment by management. Training budgets are often suffering from cost reductions by managers who suffer from short sighted initiatives from top management.

I would like to know what your organization is doing about developing and retaining future craft skills. Are my observations right? Please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. attn. Christer Idhammar.