R. Chuck VerMerris knows that the day is coming when the entire shop floor will be computerized. He wants to be prepared.
"One of the things we're trying to do here is to keep our work force a very competitive one," says VerMerris, president and CEO of Euclid wire manufacturer Radix Wire Co. "You do that about your own technology; in our case, that's a lot of materials and process skills. But, I think, it's common sense.
"Today, there is hardly a competitive work force that is illiterate. Now we're just talking that literacy the extra, obvious step."
VerMerris has seen the changes technology has made in his business.
"I am positive that five years from this afternoon, computerization is going to be ordinary on the shop floor. That's probably conservative," he says. "It may be a lot less than that. There's enough of it around now that you have to think that's what is going to happen. And the speed at which this takes place is mind boggling. I remember when we actually struggled with the decision to have a fax."
To prepare for that next step, VerMerris hired Jo-Michele Rymarczyk, founder and president of jmr On-Site Computer Training, to teach Microsoft Office and basic Internet skills to those employees who volunteered for training.
There is nothing remarkable about hiring a computer trainer. The problem for Radix was that shop employees split 12-hour shifts, one beginning at 5 a.m., the other at 5 p.m. It was too much to ask employees to take classes on a Saturday or at the end of the shift; they were simply too tired, VerMerris says.
The compromise? Employees agreed to come in one hour early, at 4 a.m., to take a two-hour course.
"We are doing this because we think it's a very good, up-to-date employee benefit," he says. "But there's a method to my madness. We know that computerization of the shop floor will come. We are putting in a new ERP system; we integrate it with the manufacturing floor so that some of those people are going to have to be comfortable with the mechanics of using a computer.
"In the meantime, we're just giving them a skill that they can take home."
Rymarczyk sees the early morning accommodation as just the start of a trend. More and more companies are looking to have their employees' computer skills updated. Finding the time is the difficult part, she says. Taking employees away from their regular shifts decreases productivity, and you still have to pay your workers.
But early morning hours don't bother Rymarczyk.
"I like it; I'm an early bird," she says. "It's all about making the student feel comfortable, confident and empowered when using today's technology, no matter what time of day it is."
For VerMerris the messenger is as important as the message.
"She's a charming personality," VerMerris says of Rymarczyk. "She probably knows every one of our employees by first name. We discovered her because she was teaching very basic computer skills in the community."
VerMerris tapped Rymarczyk when the professional staff was computerized about 18 months ago.
"Michele came in and did all that training," he says. "She taught this entire company Microsoft Office products. And the net result was that in less than a year, we've got it. We've got people totally engaged with this thing, even the president who didn't know how to turn it on."
Those days are gone.
"I think this will not stop," he says. "By the time we go through the basic program, I would guess that we'll be starting to exploit this on the shop floor. My first objective is to do something that is good for them. But I know that we will be calling on those skills. For the most part, people have been trained to read and write, and we call upon those skills, Why would computerization be any different? It's just the age we're living in."
How to reach: jmr On-Site Computer Training, (216) 731-3578; Radix Wire Co., (216) 731-9191
Daniel G. Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor of SBN.