Every year at the SPI MoldmakersDivision conference, many of thefaces are different, but one concern remains the same. It has to do with the graying of America's mold makers and where the next generation will come from. At the group's recent joint meeting in Phoenix, Bob Putnam of LeominsterDie Service echoed the voices of the others when he said that three of his 18 mold makers are nearly ready for retirement, and he doesn't know where he will find replacements.
Mold making is in the top third of the best-paying jobs in the country. College graduates can expect to earn an average of $38,000 annually during their lifetime; mold makers can average $56,000.
Yet, young men and women are not flocking to our community colleges, trade schools or to the mold makers themselves begging to get into the field. Why? There are several reasons according to the mold makers I spoke with at the conference.
No. 1, the toughest group to sell on the value of an apprenticeship program is the mold-making industry itself. As strange as that seems, those who should be the most concerned seem to have the most apathy.
There are a dozen excuses. ``I don't have the time to train.'' ``I spend a lot of money training them and they leave for another shop that offers them 50 cents an hour more.''
Many in the group agreed that there is too much focus on the short term -getting this mold built today - and not enough on the long term.
Apprenticeship programs are not something that a shop can dabble in now and then. To be successful, there must be total, long-term commitment to an ongoing program. As one mold maker said, ``It takes vision and foresight on the part of the company owner to make an apprenticeship program work.''
Second, too many parents feel that for their children to be successful they must go to college. This myth is costing U.S. business and industry millions of dollars in lost talent. Many college graduates find that they cannot get a position in their field, and resort to waiting tables or flipping burgers.
Mold making offers an average annual salary of $16,000 for apprentices, plus the promise of a job upon completion. And 59 percent of apprentices finish their programs, compared with 27 percent of students who actually finish college.
Members of the education system will buy into the program if it's presented to them. That's been proven. To attract students, they need to know that mold making is more than just a job. It's a career path that demands creativity, computer skills and technical and scientific knowledge.
Why an apprenticeship program? Bill Kushmaul of Tech Mold Inc. in Tempe, Ariz., said it best: ``Successful shops got successful because of a good apprenticeship program.''
It's time to stop bemoaning the graying of America's mold makers and start bringing a new generation into the fold. It's the only way your shops and the industry in this country will survive.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent in Phoenix.