Custom is as custom does
- Created: 2017-12-04
One shop’s training approach for its custom metal fabrication workforce
by Steve Guisgond, general manager, Ci Metal Fabrication
Workforce education and training can improve performance, productivity and retention. An employee’s education and training level are important not only during the hiring stages, but throughout their career. Learning the necessary skills for performing a job is always enhanced by on-the-job instruction and real-world experience. Hands-on training led by an experienced, knowledgeable expert in the field can serve as an effective method for closing the skills gap in the industrial workforce.
Custom metal fabrication is an intricate and delicate process that requires experience and considerable attention to detail. As with many specific trades, metal fabrication takes time to learn, and learning the methods of working with various metals is offered through vocational schools and certificate programs. Theory and tactical knowledge is important, but the complexities of custom metal fabrication can only be learned when applied through practice and training.
Mike Speed, a 37-year veteran of Ci Metal’s workforce, welding a customized cone section.
Taking this less traditional route is Ci Metal Fabrication, a subsidiary of MHS Legacy Group, located in Meridian, Miss. With 50 years in business, the company has extensive experience working with the power generation, pulp and paper, chemical and automotive industries. It is a leader in industrial custom metal fabrication that utilizes highly skilled craftsmen while meeting precise specifications in presswork, power forming, welding, cutting, shearing and more.
Ci Metal relies on its veteran craftsmen to train and prepare the next generation of metal fabricators. Its team of knowledgeable craftsmen individually average more than 30 years of industry experience.
Highly valued and respected for their wealth of industry knowledge, the veterans train the incoming workforce on the art of reading, translating and understanding a customer’s design and blueprints in order to develop the best route for production. An experienced employee is teamed up with a less experienced employee to walk them throughout the sequence build-process of more complex projects. The veteran assists the new employee until the project is completed.
Another component to Ci Metal’s multi-layer training approach is cross training. Employees are aggressively cross trained in all aspects and positions of custom metal fabrication. It is common for fabrication shops to employ single-specialty workers. In other words, a shop may only have a welder that welds, a painter that only paints and a fitter that only fits.
Ci Metal wants a “jack of all trades” workforce. Taking the time to cross train each employee allows the flexibility to get more done efficiently. This is also one of the reasons why the company is known in the industry for always completing projects ahead of schedule.
By cross training each employee, Ci Metal is able to move them from one station to another based on the needs of the project. If a shop only has three welders but the project calls for six, three fitters can move into the welding position for the extra required manpower.
Cross training is not only beneficial for the company, but it’s also beneficial for the employee. A cross-trained employee becomes more experienced and valuable. Additionally, the employee is more engaged within the company. In the manufacturing industry, having an engaged workforce can mean the difference between completing jobs efficiently and failing to meet production goals. Cross training employees helps to prevent tasks from becoming dull and tedious by allowing employees to move from one task to another when it’s needed.
Steve Pickard (left), a 42-year vet, and Jason Williams, a 23-year vet, operating Ci Metal’s high-definition plasma cutting table.
Challenges of training
Due to the complexity of custom metal fabrication, the main challenge in training is always the same: teaching how to dissect and understand the steps involved in a custom fabrication process. Not only does the less-experienced employee have to understand the complexities of the blueprints and drawings, they have to have a strong familiarity with the types of metals or materials, understand safety data sheets, and know the tensile strength and hardness of each type of a metal to determine the correct technique to use. Over time, these techniques become natural.
In an effort to not only create a learning opportunity for the new employees, Ci Metal follows steps to ensure the efficient completion of a project.
Ci Metal starts with a pre-job kickoff meeting that typically includes the estimator, project manager and shop lead. The meeting entails everything from ordering materials to identifying the proper sequence build that will yield the highest quality outcome in the most efficient way.
Custom metal fabrication is one of the most skill-intensive jobs. Ci Metal blends technology with traditional fabrication techniques that can only be executed through a skilled handcrafted process. The team at Ci Metal believes the key to producing high-quality fabrication is through a hands-on, custom approach.
Fabrication shops today rely on turnkey machines in which schematics are fed to a computer for the mass production of metal products, reducing the need for human effort. Therefore, the younger generation relying on the use of machines can be a challenge, but Ci Metal focuses on utilizing its highly trained craftsmen for teaching the next generation about the added value of taking a more traditional approach.
Joe Boyd (left), with more than 40 years at Ci Metal, mentors Marvin Gale, with three years of experience, on how to lay out and power form a cone section to proper dimensions and tolerances.
All new employees are required to attend and complete a full day of Ci Metal’s Standard Training and Orientation Program (STOP). STOP is a complete and detailed rundown of the company’s policy and safe work procedures. All employees complete the safety program when hired and continue to receive updated safety training throughout their tenure with Ci Metal.
Ci Metal’s commitment to safety is more than just a statement; it’s backed up by performance. Ci Metal’s current experience modification rate is 0.60 in an industry where the average is 1.00. The experience modification rate is a number used by insurance companies to gauge past cost of injuries and future chances of risk.
Empowered to stop unsafe work conditions, Ci Metal’s employees understand the need to do each work task in a safe manner while ensuring their co-workers do the same. The Ci Metal safety program is designed to adapt to the various products and equipment used within the industry.
As older generations transition out of the workplace, knowledge sharing is an area that is especially important for employees and employers. Ci Metal recognizes that knowledge sharing and training is an excellent way to ensure the traditional approach to custom metal fabrication is passed down from generation to generation. Ci Metal’s approach to placing veteran craftsmen in mentoring and supervising positions is an effective strategy that allows employees of different generations to work together and learn from one another.
Each generation brings its own set of skills, but custom metal fabrication is a skill that is best learned through a hands-on approach facilitated by experienced, knowledgeable experts in the industry. As the tremendous wealth of knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, the skillful team of craftsmen at Ci Metal continues to grow. The company’s foundation of family, commitment to education, experience and professionalism will continue to ensure the custom metal fabricator is a nationally recognized leader in the industry.