Mexico -- as the rest of the developed world - is experiencing a shortage of engineers and other skilled labor with production experience.
"I have interviewed several general managers of successful businesses within the maquilas, and universally they comment that there is a lack of skilled/trained workers," said Paul Cappelli, director of global development for Ducommun Inc., a Southern California company that produces highly complex electronic systems for aerospace customers. "The successful businesses have relied on internal training programs to satisfy their needs for qualified operators."
And that's exactly what Ducommun is doing. Through its relationship with The Offshore Group, Ducommun is expanding its current operations in the Group's Roca Fuerte Industrial Park. With an expected completion of April 2012, the new space will add 40,000 square feet. Part of the expansion plan is extensive internal training for up to 12 weeks per employee.
The Offshore Group and the Economic Development Council are working to improve skilled labor in Mexico in other ways.
"We are in the process of establishing the Sonora Institute for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, which will dispense a series of programs to support our industry, such as conventional and CNC machining, sheet metal, structural assembly, composites, tooling, and more," Gautrin Bravo said. "The SIAAM will open its first workshops and classrooms in 2012."
Additionally, The Offshore Group has three training initiatives for which it is working in cooperation with the state government, local public schools and universities, and its client base.
According to Armando Lee, general manager for Offshore Group's Mexican subsidiary, Maquilas Tetakawi, S.A. de C.V., the company created a manufacturing-technology training center, where it can train on a variety of skills such as CNC machining, plastic injection, metrology, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. Open courses are offered for client employees and customized training is developed as requested by clients. In most cases, the Sonora state government provides financial support.
Another initiative started in 2010 and offers teenagers attending public technical schools the opportunity to apprentice at client companies. The program runs for two years and includes four days of hands-on education at a manufacturing site each week and one day of classroom instruction. About 100 students are enrolled, and indications are that the program will be highly successful. Already, one company has offered a scholarship to study engineering to one of the students.
Another program, Metromatematicas, addresses skilled labor needs on a deeper level. The Offshore Group is paying for public school teachers to be trained on how to teach applied mathematics. (Traditionally, only math theory has been taught.) The company also lobbied the regional governor to support the program and won his agreement to supply public money to build applied math laboratories at schools. The labs will include modern production equipment that is used in aerospace and other industries.
"We wanted to give something back to the community, and we decided the best way to do this is through contributing to the education of future generations," Lee said. "This effort is long term."
While skilled-labor training takes time and money, companies invested in aerospace manufacturing in Sonora, Mexico, have determined it's worth the effort. The Ducommun plant is not even a profit center, but the metal and composite bonded aerospace flight control components produced there have enabled the company to win key contracts and fulfill profitability goals.
"The initial phase of our expansion played a key role in winning an extended-period contract with a major customer," Cappelli said. "The win was based on a cost basis that was made possible through the use of an offshore manufacturing facility."
Additionally, the product has been delivered directly to the customer for the last 22 months at 100 percent quality and 100 percent on-time to customer requirements, Cappelli said.
"Our Guaymas [Sonora] facility has been fully trained and incorporates lean manufacturing principles into all functions, which fully supports our profitable growth initiative."