Dr. Temple Grandin 

The meat industry needs people who can build and maintain equipment. Recently I was driving in the Midwest and saw a billboard advertisement for industrial mechanics for a large meat packer. Another plant engineer told me on the phone that they are having a difficult time finding good millwrights to build new equipment and work on plant renovation projects.

One of the reasons this shortage is occurring is that the older maintenance people are retiring and not enough qualified young people are available to replace them. A major cause of this shortage is that many high schools no longer offer classes in skilled trades such as welding, auto mechanics and other trades. Students need exposure to different careers in order to develop an interest. They are not going to get interested in mechanics or welding if they are never exposed to it.

Design and drafting

Another skilled trade that is needed is people who can do really good design drafting. In the 1980s and 1990s, I worked with extremely talented drafting designers who could design and invent new equipment. Many of these people are now retired and the quality of drawings I have received from many different companies is getting worse and worse.

Many of these drawings were drawn by a person who has never built anything and they have never drawn by hand. The person doing the drafting took a computer drafting class but they don’t understand how lines on a drawing represent structure. One drawing was a pig handling system where all the gates had been left out. The other was an “as-built” drawing of an existing beef cattle handling system. When an “as-built” is drawn, the draftsman measures an existing structure and draws it on the floor plan. This drawing had cattle walking through concrete walls. The person who drew this needs to be exposed to the reality out in the plant and see how the lines on his drawing relate to the actual structure.

When I learned drafting, the first step I learned was how to read a drawing. To learn this, I walked around in a plant with the floor plan until I could relate every line on the drawing to an actual structure such as walls, doors, support columns or major pieces of equipment. I had to learn that a circle on the drawing was a tank. The people who drew the two terrible drawings could greatly improve their skills by taking their drawings and walking around the plant with them. They also need to get involved with building actual structures.

There are many students in today’s high schools who think differently and they could become really good designers. Somebody needs to show them there are many interesting jobs in mechanics, welding and design at a large packing plant. As I stated previously, students get interested in things they get exposed to. Plant managers need to reach out and make sure their local high school continues to offer classes such as FFA, welding, mechanics and drafting.