By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

Matt Washburn has seen it all in the manufacturing world. Dirty, dingy factories, discarded rags, and disorganized tools. As he came up through the system as a machinist, Washburn picked up some lessons that have impacted his career, and will likely leave a legacy in his company.

Fast forward to today, Washburn has successfully set up an in-house training center at Senior Aerospace AMT in Arlington Washington that has likely helped drive turnover down from 33% in 2014, to under 13% today. His secret? Teaching not only skills-based training for manufacturing (i.e. machining, reading blue prints, etc…), but also soft skills.

At a recent aerospace conference for Aerospace Futures Alliance (AFA), several of the speakers noted how soft skills are lacking in the industry. Soft skills are characterized as communication, showing up on time, and dependability, They are all business critical for future success in Washington’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industry. However, successful mentoring, training and follow-up with new employees also plays a significant part to industry’s success.

Washburn takes it a step further, “While I teach the nuts and bolts of machining, I can also teach ‘the way things should be done.’ Most of the people that come in for training need to learn some basics. Things like keeping a clean work bench; organizing tools; and critical thinking skills.” He noted that being on time and putting away cell phones and ear buds when working with manual equipment are also conversations that he has with employees in the training center.

In his world he thinks of training for soft skills by way of mentoring – which he also teaches. In fact, you might call Washburn a very motivated teacher, leader and trainer. He is invested in the success of his company, and the future generation of manufacturing employees by teaching at Everett Community College, and giving presentations in high schools and even middle schools.

One of the ways that Senior Aerospace AMT is improving retention through training is by using apprentices. In 2009, they signed on with AJAC to gain the ability to place new employees in the machine shop through the four-year precision machining apprenticeship program. The way that it works is people are hired and trained in the company, and some of them will apply, and be accepted into the apprenticeship program as well. For those folks, they attend classes while working as employees of the company. They also enter a growth system through their performance reviews that requires ongoing learning and training. Senior Aerospace AMT also offers apprenticeships with AJAC in the Industrial Maintenance Mechanic and Fabrication programs.

This is one way to increase retention, and to provide a highly skilled workforce for the Tier 1 Boeing supplier. But Washburn also ensures that employees are taught how to set professional boundaries, for example. Team leads, and supervisors go through assessments to ensure that they are following protocol and that learning has occurred for the apprentices and employees.

Does this model work for everyone? Not necessarily Washburn said. Some people may have a poor attitude towards training or the company. Some choose to skill up to a certain level and then stop which tends to slow their professional growth. The reality is, working in manufacturing is not always a good fit for everyone.

However, Washburn said that they are focused on employee development and will move employees into a role where they are comfortable and enjoy what they are doing. Senior Aerospace AMT provides training on the individual skills needed to perform the job, like assembly or CNC machining, but they also make sure to demonstrate expectations around soft skills in the workplace.

Washburn has also taken time to study generational differences so that when he conducts training, he is speaking the language of those in the training. “Finding ways to incorporate technology into training events is huge for the millennial group,” he said.

From his early days in manufacturing, until now, Washburn said that much has changed. Now, companies like Senior Aerospace AMT are clean and brightly lit, professional environments. The training has been greatly improved, and the next level of ensuring the best quality work by happy employees is business critical through soft skills development.