It’s been nearly 15 years since Dave Rittmeyer finished his five-year patternmaking apprenticeship with Hoosier Pattern Inc., Decatur, Ind. Progressing from apprentice to shop supervisor to his current position as customer care additive manufacturing manager, he has seen changes in patternmaking and the metalcasting industry as a whole. One troubling trend: the number of patternmakers has decreased.
Whether due to consolidation within the metalcasting industry or shifting economic conditions, many metalcasters and pattern shops are having trouble finding qualified, capable individuals. To combat this growing concern, Rittmeyer was a founding member of the Adams Wells Manufacturing Alliance. The group brings together manufacturers, educators and community leaders in the Decatur area for monthly meetings to work toward improving technical training for skilled trades at the high school level.
“There are many great careers and opportunities available in pattern shops and even machine shops, but we haven’t done the best job of promoting ourselves and recruiting future employees,” Rittmeyer said. “Hoosier Pattern has now taken an active role in promoting ourselves to the local high schools and our prospective employees to show them the opportunities that are offered to them if they take a career path with us.”
In addition to the community outreach, Rittmeyer is involved with Hoosier’s apprenticeship program, of which he was the first graduate a decade and a half ago. The 10,000-hour, 36-credit hour program allows students to rotate through all phases of the pattern shop. An apprentice will cycle through the machining area, benching and rigging department, quality control/assurance and programming and design.
The goal is to produce a fully capable, well-rounded individual. Hoosier has four apprentices at a time, ensuring each receives proper training and instruction. Additionally, three potential apprentices are on the wait list. The industry has a long way to go in marketing itself to the next generation of skilled workers, but Rittmeyer’s experience, both as an apprentice and now as a mentor, shows that metalcasting can attract talent.
“Manufacturing isn’t a dirty, grimy job that nobody wants,” Rittmeyer said. “It’s highly skilled with lots of technology, like 3-D printing, CNC equipment and CAD. It’s cool stuff. We’re telling these high school kids that manufacturing in America is alive, it’s well, and it’s a great opportunity. We want to get the brightest. We want the best running a CNC mill or programming a sand printer that’s going to produce $14,000 of scrap in a single night if programmed improperly.”