The Tooler’s Dilemma

By Ted Dieck | Recruiter’s View - Employment Scene | Jan 25, 2022

The American worker used to be proud of his country and proud of his company.  What was good for General Motors was good for America.  

It took real effort to destroy that dynamic.  

We broke the trust, lost the people, and very nearly eliminated their knowledge.  

Now, U.S. manufacturers are limping back from spreading jobs, money, and technology overseas.  There is no American workforce to support demand.  And increasing that demand won’t make things any better. 

The greatest saving grace is the pride and dignity the Old Guard passed down to younger generations.  These are the people who just might recall the proper way to get things done. 

God help us. 

I got an email from Mark.  He’s a long time friend, from my recruiting days in Tool & Die. 

Most people have no idea what Tool & Die means.  That’s understandable.  Forty years ago, there was a concerted effort to push those jobs overseas.  In exchange for minimal pay, we became profoundly ignorant of our own manufacturing principles. 

For now, I’ll just put it this way…  When you open a can of tuna with one finger, you can thank a Tooler for the 3-inch pop top that just magically works.  Oh, and thank him, too, for the draws in the bottom of the can that add strength.  That way, your 6-ounce can of tuna doesn’t have to weigh more like a pound. 

Expensive Mistakes 

Shortly after we sent die design and development to Mexico and China, a little cottage industry started to grow, here in the US.  It specialized in repairing crap dies coming back from foreign suppliers.  

It was high-precision, quick turnaround, and very expensive. 

Computer Errors 

Poor work and pricey repairs had a sting, so the manufacturers turned to computers.  (I think, for the wrong reasons.)

The next time Toolers shared plans with me, they came with little giggles.  Computer Aided Design made it possible to generate insanely complicated, unbelievably intricate, multi-stage procedures… that would never work. 

What was missing was a fundamental understanding of the metals, themselves.  Strength calculations that had been done by hand for a hundred years were abandoned. 

With no appreciation of the problem, or any awareness of centuries-old solutions, designers were limited to doing work that was clever— but severely flawed. 

Guess What Happened To Education? 

There are schools for Tool & Die Makers, you know.  It’s amazing to me that there are any left, after the outsourcing attack. 

But, there they are, teaching practices that make the old-school guys cringe. 

Toolers embody a mix of ancient discipline; high-tech power; and personal artistry that is unique to each person.  It’s a deeply mental game in a totally hands-on world. 

You can’t learn to be a Tool Maker by watching videos. 

Tradition Prevails

It looks like the trade is still resilient.  Here’s why…

Remember my buddy Mark?  The Tooler who sent me an email? 

He’s terribly concerned about poor quality education.  Computer stuff is OK, he says, but you need to know the fundamentals.
Then, the fundamentals could be better supported with new technologies.

And this is where, perhaps inadvertently, he demonstrates the true source of an education.
It isn’t taught to you.
You absorb it. 

He spoke of his father.  And his father’s father.  They were both Tool & Die Makers.  I can guarantee you, they owned their own tools.  And their kids handled those tools and tried them out before they could even name them. 

Mark got his son started in the trade.  Of course, he became a Tool & Die Maker.
Better yet, he’ll also be teaching,
re-instilling the fundamentals back into the trade.  

Four generations of dedication made that possible.  

Recruiter’s View 

After years of harsh treatment, I’m pleased to see strong Americans available and willing to rebuild their disciplines.

The Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) reports that a high percentage of U.S. manufacturers are likely/extremely likely to bring production home.  If they actually do that, job opportunities will surely increase. 

We’re going to need all the help we can get.