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Orthopaedics' Talent Gap: Working to Fill the Manufacturing Void

The collective brain power and skill set of the individuals within a company make that business successful. The significance of this to orthopaedics is that the industry is experiencing hiring obstacles that hinder company and, ultimately, industry growth.

These obstacles aren't new. In the last decade, their persistence has fostered programs in orthopaedic hubs in an effort to recruit, train and retain the best in our industry, to end the conversation about a lack of qualified candidates once and for all. That charge has spurred collaboration amongst competitors and customers, led to the development of education for future generations and motivated companies to invest in employees through skills and leadership advancement, mentorship programs and team-building exercises.


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Those of you with established careers in orthopaedics have most likely heard of shortages at the machinist and skilled labor levels; those have been among the hardest positions for orthopaedic device and supplier companies to fill. A search of the BONEZONE website provided resources from five years ago for CNC machinists in training. The challenge remains because, in short, a small number of people are entering the trade, and orthopaedic
manufacturers are competing amongst themselves and
against other manufacturing industries to acquire those
trained, skilled workers.


Four Tips to Developing an Apprenticeship Program 

Many device companies and suppliers have created their own apprenticeship programs to fill gaps in employment. The payoff for this investment in resources and people is a well-trained, dedicated employee.

XL Precision Technologies, manufacturer of precision micro-components and subassemblies for the medical device industry, has graduated 15 individuals over the last eight years of its apprenticeship program at its U.K. facility, training CNC programmers, manufacturing and inspection technicians, R&D and quality engineers. The company recently launched an apprenticeship program at its U.S. location, which opened in 2016.

Tom Graham, Managing Director, shared advice from his experiences.

Find a Good Partner
XL Precision Technologies works with local colleges and technical training schools to identify qualified candidates. Educational partners that are invested in the relationship will understand company culture and prime personality traits as well as skills required, Graham says. XL Precision Technologies’ partners visit the company’s facility once a month to assess the apprentices’ and the company’s commitment to and execution of the program. This fuels conversations about what’s working—and what’s not.

Define the Program
These are multi-year investments. XL Precision Technologies’ apprenticeships run from two years for admin support to four years for an R&D engineer. It’s necessary to outline the amount of time that the apprentice will spend in training at his or her college and in working at the company. Additionally, you must know what commitment you seek from the apprentice once he finishes training. XL Precision Technologies requires participants to complete one year in their designated role, upon completion of their college training.

Involve Multiple Employees
Apprentices are being groomed as full-time employees; therefore, they should be fully engaged in company culture. This requires involvement from a range of staff. XL Precision Technologies’ training includes health and safety protocols, risk assessment, company ethos and, of course, job roles and responsibilities. Each apprentice has a mentor dedicated to her training, and department managers ultimately oversee apprentices in their departments.

Remain Flexible
Apprenticeship programs are not scientific experiments, Graham says. Apprentices are typically young and usually making first or new career decisions. They’re human. They may change their minds based on the work or the culture. Graham advises patience, and if an apprentice isn’t a fit because of the type of work, he suggests identifying whether another role within the company is a better match for that individual’s skills and personality. The best programs and people benefit from flexibility and open mindedness.

Large investments are being made to change that. In Warsaw, Indiana, OrthoWorx has worked with Ivy Tech Community College to develop an orthopaedic skills certificate in advanced manufacturing. The program combines efforts with local high school career centers to build enrollment and complete coursework at the Ivy Tech Orthopedic and Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.

In Tennessee, the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council has partnered with local technical schools to align their curricula with the needs of the orthopaedic community, secured funding to build and outfit a training facility to support medical device careers and recently, launched an apprenticeship program for machinists.

In Florida, the Arthrex Manufacturing Apprentice Program provides training and advancement opportunities for the company’s manufacturing employees.

These are just three examples of campaigns initiated by organizations and companies in and outside of the U.S. to attract and educate new employees.

“Our view is that great training programs exist in our area at the secondary and post-secondary levels,” says Brad Bishop, Executive Director of OrthoWorx. “The challenge is to get more students and incumbent workers into those programs and into the manufacturing workforce.”

The next step in the effort is to engage younger students and their parents earlier in the dialogue to eliminate the stigma attached to manufacturing, and to show that orthopaedics is a high-tech industry with room for career advancement.

When we asked a handful of industry folks about the hardest-to-fill positions, machinists topped the list every time. Next was an interesting mix of regulatory, clinical, quality, engineering, supply chain and sales.

(Programs are being launched to continue development in these areas, as well. For example, OrthoWorx worked with Grace College to educate the regulatory and quality professionals who must keep pace with rapidly-changing requirements.)

Each of these positions requires a specialized skill set, just like machinists. We found this next-grouping of positions interesting because of its comprehensiveness.
It emphasizes the challenges companies face while suggesting there is room for career shifts and advancements.

After all, the next great device innovations and supply chain strategies and quality improvements will come from people—they will come from you. What impact can you have with your influence and your resources, however limited or expansive?

Carolyn LaWell is ORTHOWORLD’s Chief Content Officer. She can be reached by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..