TUCSON, ARIZ. — To bring talent into the labor pool, mold makers need to boost their discipline's credibility and create baccalaureate degree programs, according to an industry leader.
The industry is ``at a nascent stage of solving'' the segment's shortage of ``trainable, educatable people,'' Matthew B. Coffey said, blaming society's attitudes for the problem. Coffey is president and chief operating officer of the 2,750-member National Tooling & Machining Association in Fort Washington, Md.
As parents and as businesses, ``we decided in this country to turn education over to professionals'' and set the baccalaureate degree as a measurement of a person's success in life, he said. As a result, the United States lacks ``a major apprentice program that is not European in origin,'' and federal training money goes to college-educated workers. Mold makers and their ilk get disdain, he said.
U.S. institutions in 1997 granted 1.2 million baccalaureate degrees, Coffey said.
``According to the U.S. Department of Education, 630,000 of those people found work.''
He wonders what happened to the others, each ``potentially $100,000 in debt from student loans and [with] no employment.''
In contrast, Coffey said a company may spend an average of $204,000 to educate a person as a mold maker, counting the time of a lead man, supervisor or journeyman and the cost of related training.
Building credibility is a key.
``We as individuals haven't seized opportunities to give talks,'' he said. ``Employees need to talk to families'' and reach school groups to spread the word about the profession.
Tool and die makers recently were listed among 12 categories of workers least likely to be laid off in the future. Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. drew the list from government statistics, and The Futurist magazine of the World Future Society of Bethesda, Md., published the list in its March issue. Other ``least likely to be laid off'' categories included various engineering disciplines, computer-related operatives and financial and information-technology specialists.
Creating baccalaureate degrees for toolmakers is important, Coffey said.
``We are working on many fronts to make that happen,'' he said.
For example, NTMA University will be accredited and offer courses via the Internet after the emerging program goes ``through a gestation period.''
In a parallel effort, he said the National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc. of Vienna, Va., obtained support from the Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors for reciprocal recognition of occupational credentials of programs using NIMS' industry-developed skill standards.
Next, state school superintendents in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin can apply for program certification or spend some money adjusting states' standards in metalworking arts or skills, Coffey said.
Already, eight NTMA members own and operate schools, and 35 chapters have agreements with community colleges and use its textbooks, he said.
NTMA is ``pushing community colleges to provide credit,'' he said, but more is needed.
``I can push at the national level. You need to push at the local level. ... If society is saying the only way to succeed is to have the credential, let's set it up to have credential.''
Coffey spoke Feb. 20 in Tucson at the annual conference of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Molders and Moldmakers divisions. SPI is based in Washington.