This Ain’t No Job for a Temp
The machinery marketing manager was nervous. Even though the industrial sales company he worked for had started out just selling metalworking machinery, it had grown to include other divisions, and one of those divisions was now in charge of the reception area of the shared facility. To minimize disruptions to workflow, the manager of that division had switched to hiring workers through a temporary agency when the receptionist was out, rather than have one of their fulltime employees leave their post to man the desk and the phones for the day as was previously done.
A temp worker was once again at the desk, and when her brief phone training had been completed, the machinery marketer went up to introduce himself. “Here’s a booklet showing the different kinds of machines we sell and service in our division. Please look through it so you’ll recognize the terms if anyone asks.” Later in the day he was in an adjacent hallway when the sound of the temp’s voice reached him: “Iron worker? No, we don’t do that here.”
He rushed to her desk just as she was hanging up. “I think they wanted an iron worker’s union,” she explained as he was opening the brochure to point out the selection of machines known as ironworkers that the company had a large supply of in-stock. Sadly, there was no number available on the phone system’s ID so that they could call the potential customer back.
He went back to his office shaking his head. Whatever money had been saved by hiring a temp was likely lost dozens of times over by turning away a potential sale. The metalworking industry was no place for temps, he told himself, even at reception.
As important as it is for employees at a fabrication machinery dealership to have industry-specific knowledge, it is critical for workers out in fab shops themselves to possess the comprehension and skills required to perform their duties to their fullest. This is as true of fab machine operators as it is for hands-on metalworkers. In the realm of metal fabrication, skilled operators play a vital role in ensuring the efficient and precise operation of machines like press brakes, plate rolls, and fiber lasers. Hiring the right metal fabrication machine operator is crucial for the success of a shop’s manufacturing processes.
If Possible, Promote from Within
The first step in hiring a machine operator for your fab shop is to consider not hiring one. The best source of people to fill vital roles within your organization is your organization. If you can promote from within for skilled positions like that of a press brake operator, you could be saving thousands of dollars over having to acquaint a new hire with company policies, corporate culture, and customer preferences.
Once any new machine arrives on the shop floor, start cross training employees other than the primary operator in how to run it. With a well-trained staff ready to fill in for one another, you have a base of potential employees ready to step up whenever a need arises, whether it be an unplanned absence or a worker’s departure from the company.
Metalworking is more than a skill—it is an art. As employees train one another in their own areas of expertise, they also have the privilege of imparting the tricks they’ve learned and the knacks they’ve mastered over the years. They can convey a sense for understanding the very metal itself, in seeing how one workpiece might differ ever so slightly from a similar one. Having a vested interest in seeing a fellow employee succeed will help convey better training than any course, video, or manual could.
Factors When Hiring a Fabrication Machine Operator
If you must hire an operator from outside your company, begin by clearly defining the job requirements for the position. Identify the specific tasks, responsibilities, and skills needed for the role, including the type of control that is used. Consider if there will be additional machines that the operator will be working with, besides the specific one they will be hired to run. Clearly outlining these requirements will help attract candidates with relevant experience.
The essential factors to consider when hiring a metal fabrication machine operator include:
- Technical Expertise. Technical proficiency is a fundamental requirement for an operator. Look for individuals with experience operating specific machines relevant to your operations. Ask candidates about their familiarity with different types of controls and their ability to interpret technical drawings or blueprints. Seek candidates who possess a solid understanding of various metalworking processes, including cutting, welding, bending, and machining.
- Experience and Training. Prior experience in a metal fabrication environment is not just desirable, it is indispensable. Look for candidates who are first and foremost fabricators with hands-on experience in a shop environment and know how metal reacts when it is rolled or bent. Primarily consider those applicants who have received formal training in metal fabrication or have completed apprenticeships. Confirm that they have operated similar machinery in the past. Experience and training indicate a potential employee’s ability to handle equipment safely, troubleshoot issues, and maintain machinery.
- Safety Consciousness. Safety should always be a top priority in metal fabrication. A competent machine operator should demonstrate a strong commitment to safety protocols. Inquire about a candidate’s knowledge of safety procedures, their adherence to safety regulations, and their understanding of personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. Look for individuals who have a track record of maintaining a safe work environment.
- Attention to Detail and Quality. Metal fabrication involves intricate processes that require meticulous attention to detail. A skilled machine operator must have a keen eye for quality, ensuring that finished products meet specifications and tolerances. During the hiring process, evaluate a candidate’s ability to maintain accuracy and precision in their work. Inquire about their experience in quality control and their knowledge of measuring instruments used in metal fabrication.
- Problem-Solving Skills. Machine operators often encounter technical issues or unexpected challenges. Seek candidates who possess strong problem-solving skills and can troubleshoot common machine problems independently. Ask candidates about their experience in resolving machine-related issues and their ability to minimize downtime during equipment malfunctions.
- Communication and Teamwork. Effective communication is vital for smooth operations and collaboration within the metal fabrication environment. Look for candidates who can communicate clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing. Assess their ability to work well within a team, as metal fabrication often involves coordination with other departments or colleagues.
Before making a final hiring decision, conduct thorough reference checks to verify a candidate’s previous work experience and performance. Contact their previous employers to gather insights into their work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. Additionally, consider conducting background checks to ensure the candidate’s suitability for the role.
Thanks to advances in both modern control software and the machines themselves, producing quality parts from metal is easier now than in bygone days, but it still requires a skilled and engaged operator to guide the work.
By conducting thorough evaluations of qualified candidates, you can increase the chances of hiring a capable and reliable operator who will contribute to the success of your metal fabrication business. It is always worth devoting the necessary time and effort throughout the hiring process to yield quality long-term returns on your personnel investments.