In the middle of an internship at Swissline Precision Manufacturing Inc., Bill Johnson of Central Falls is learning not only about how to be a machinist, but how to pay attention to subtleties in the metals he works with there.
How tools interact with softer materials like copper and harder materials like steel is one type of knowledge Johnson, 38, is beginning to understand, he said, and it’s a form of institutional knowledge passed down by the employees he’s worked with that he says makes him feel more adept on the job.
“I’ve learned how to spot the small nuances about how the metal changes its appearance as the tool is starting to dull,” he said. “It’s intriguing. It’s a learning experience for sure. I’ve been enjoying the time learning how to properly measure parts and making sure I keep my eyes on multiple machines, making sure they stay running.”
Job shadowing with a team of workers allows interns like Johnson to absorb not only the skills associated with on-the-job training, but the kind of deeper, institutional knowledge that experienced workers can impart.
Dave Chenevert, president of the Cumberland-based manufacturing firm, cares deeply about passing on such knowledge. Twenty percent of his 60-person workforce is expected to retire in the next 10 years.
“People on the job 10 or 20 years know how tools react and that’s the type of institutional knowledge we need to transfer to interns,” Chenevert said. “It’s not something you’re going to read in a book.”
Johnson is reading books too, as part of the class and lab work he does through the Shipbuilding/Marine and Advanced Manufacturing Institute, or SAMI, program. The machinist course is 300 hours of classes and labs, while the concurrent internship is separate, said Fred Santaniello, account executive for the Center of Technology and Industry at the New England Institute of Technology.