Our Competitive Advantage

(Its education)

Today’s foundry industry has recognized that it is in a global economy. In order to compete in a global economy, educating our employees will allow our industry to lead in foundry technology, and not merely to stay “competitive.”

Leadership is key to our future in global metalcasting. Unlocking our educational programs will support the demand for applying leading-edge technology, meeting current and future government regulations, and producing castings better, faster, and cheaper than our competitors.

Education is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Now that we realize that education and training is key to competing globally, we must look at the training needs that will be required for the foundry industry to succeed. Like so many other industries, the foundry industry has taken advantage of the many technological tools that are available. These technological tools require people that have higher levels of education and training. Currently the foundry industry has difficulty obtaining workers in all areas.

With this in mind, let’s consider the work force that will be available to the foundry industry in the next few years. A number of authors and writers that have reviewed the concept of the “2010 workforce,” and one key point that is discussed by many of these authors is that the “baby boomers” are retiring. This will leave a significant skills-gap in the workforce.

To fill the shortage of foundry personnel and the skill-gap that has developed, a number of statistical sources are available to understand these changes; Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau, studies by Labor Unions, and others. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the number of workers in skilled jobs was only 20% of the workforce in 1950, but has grown to 65% in 2000. In addition, from the many studies evaluated it is safe to conclude that much of the workforce available to the foundry industry will come by way of immigration (with limited English speaking skills), by increases of women, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, and others in the workforce.

Education and training have to be designed to meet the needs of the current foundry personnel, and of the employees that will be hired in the future. The educational and training requirements of our current employees must be considered first. Today’s foundry employees need to use applications and programs that were unheard of a few years ago. For example; casting design and simulation programs have become an integral part of the casting design process. To complete in today’s global foundry market, a casting supplier must have the capability to access and use all of the modern tools available to meet customer expectations. When applying training methods and techniques (for both current and future foundry personnel) a number of tools can be used. This includes the application of multiple languages, colors and pictures, measurement parameters (metric and English) that will allow the changing workforce to be successful at completing the required tasks.

Consider the educational and training requirements on the foundry floor. Many foundries now operate robots in the cleaning room, automatic core setters in the molding area, compactability sand controllers, automated pouring, and many other mechanical devices that allow the operation to produce high-quality castings that meet customer requirements. The managers may well ask, “Where can we get employees to support the needs of the metalcasting industry?” Most foundries develop their employees internally though education and training. Others recruit from the outside, including recent university graduates, or from associated industries, and even from other countries.

There are other issues concerning the workforce of the future that should be recognized and addressed. This includes the concepts of having employees that are capable of completing multiple assignments within a metalcasting operation, while at the same time having selected employees that also are specialized in a specific area of expertise: environmental regulatory requirements, quality assurance, and others. An example of an employee that is used in many areas of the foundry operation is a maintenance technician. These individuals are required to be able to work with computers for inventory control; to have mechanical skills for equipment repairs; to understand safety systems and procedures (e.g., lockout-tagout programs, among others); to support environmental staffs; as well as to contribute in various other support efforts. In contrast, foundries also require personnel with very specific, trained specialties, such as metallurgy, government regulatory compliance, computer programming (CAD/CAM, casting modeling, and others), to name only a few. This type of diversity requires a lot of education and training.

The foundry industry must ask: How do we make this happen? First and foremost, the industry must support the foundry programs in the universities, support the educational programs at the professional associations, and make use of the information that is available in trade journals and through the suppliers to the industry.

One of the most effective methods of support to the universities is through the Foundry Education Foundation (FEF). This valuable organization will be a primary source of educated and trained employees for the future. Next, we must support the educational programs offered by the professional associations (Cast Metals Institute from the American Foundry Society, North American Die Casting Assn., and others). These groups have organized multiple training tools such as on-line computer programs, lecture programs (at their headquarters and “in-house” at foundries), laboratory/hands-on presentations at universities and with video/DVD programs. Also, industry trade journals are an excellent source of articles that are written by experts on processes, programs, material application, and future needs of the foundry industry.

Future foundry operations and metalcasting technology will require a workforce that is more skilled. Today’s foundry industry realizes that there is a skills-gap currently, and that this gap is growing. Education and training are required to fill this is. In addition, the workforce is changing. Adapting to the changes in the workforce will allow the education and training programs to succeed. Because the globalization of the industry is underway and irreversible, it is time for the metalcasting industry to use the strengths of this future workforce and give those new workers the education and training necessary for them to succeed.

Vic LaFay is the current past chairman of the Cast Metals Institute. He says, “As the vice-president of Research and Technical Development for the Hill and Griffith Co., I realize that education is critical to the success of our industry and our future.” Contact him at by e-mail, or at tel.1-800-543-0425.

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