How Good Are Your CAM Skills? A National Test Will Find Out
Ilan Mester posted on July 09, 2015 |
With the help of Autodesk, NIMS is creating nationwide credentials for machinists that will be heavy...
Think you can cut it? The NIMS CAM test will find out.
Think you can cut it? The NIMS CAM test will find out.

Standardization is a key component in many engineering sectors, including manufacturing. However, that’s not the case yet when it comes to CAM standards and credentials. Autodesk and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) are trying to change that.


James Wall, executive director, NIMS.

James Wall, executive director, NIMS.

“Companies in technologically advanced industries are becoming much more reliant on the use of information technology and automation through CAM software to develop high value-added products and materials,” says James Wall, executive director of NIMS, which has been doing its part to credential individuals and accredit manufacturing training and educational programs since 1995. “In the next decade, nearly a million jobs will require the technical skills needed to operate CAM software.”


That will lead to about a 100,000-worker shortfall, according to Wall. There’s currently a shortage of workers with CAM skills needed today in the United States. “The industry is really starting to wake up and realize that they really need people, and they need a lot more people,” he says.


Importance of Credentials

NIMS already offers a number of credentials for traditional manufacturing jobs and skills, such as milling, machine assembly and quality control. The organization lists 52 traditional skills that it certifies. However, the organization realized there was a need for CAM credentialing as well.


“Certainly, almost all manufacturing is mainly done digitally now. CNC is important in certain realms and there are not nearly enough CNC technicians,” Wall says, adding that most technicians these days need to have an understanding of CAM software.


When it comes to the manufacturing world, there are still a majority of employees who are not credentialed. However, a significant portion of new workers entering the industry straight from high school or post-secondary institutions are realizing the need for credentials and are seeking them.


Credentialed Machinists Going Up

“The whole concept of industry credentials has been growing exponentially,” says Wall. “We measure ourselves by the number of certifications that are issued each year. Three years ago we saw a 68 percent increase in credentials nationally. Last year we were thirty-six percent above the previous year. Currently we’re ahead of last year’s numbers, so our credentialing numbers are growing at an increasing rate.”


He adds, “Currently, there are over 1,000 NIMS network organizations across the country involved in credentialing individuals. The vast majority of them are schools — either secondary or post-secondary schools. But there’s also an increasing number of [companies] who want to certify their workers. There’s been a real palpable shift in terms of the interest of the industry in establishing or re-establishing formal apprenticeship programs. We’ve really seen an uptick in industry interest and demand for these programs and industry credentials.”


In 2014, NIMS issued 18,947 credentials to more than 8,000 individuals. This trend is likely to continue as more manufacturing workers retire and are replaced by a new workforce.


Aging Workforce and Retirement

Decades of manufacturing jobs going overseas has led to a decrease in the number of young people entering manufacturing in the United States. Also, older machinist are retiring, and with them goes valuable manufacturing experience and knowledge.


“When you look at the workforce, over 50 percent of the workers are over 45 years old,” says Wall. “Twenty-five percent are over 55 years old. The age of the workforce alone is an issue. Coming out of the past recession, we know that anecdotally there’s been quite a few people that could have retired age-wise, but chose to keep working because of the financial uncertainties. There’s kind of a backlog of people that are going to be leaving now that the markets have recovered and retirements are looking better.”


Enter Autodesk

So where does Autodesk come in? “Partnering with NIMS in the development of industry-recognized CAM standards and credentials is the next step in our commitment to preparing the future generation of skilled CAM programmers, designers, and engineers,” says George Abraham, Autodesk’s director of industry and learning strategy.


In June 2015, Autodesk recruited industry leaders from prominent companies, including Google, NASA, Haas Automation, Sandia National Laboratory, and Monkey Likes Shiny, among others, to start working on the credentials at its offices in San Francisco. A release date for the CAM test has yet to be announced.


Autodesk, a company historically known for CAD software, seeks to establish itself as a major CAM software vendor. It acquired HSMWorks and Delcam, and it has created a showcase manufacturing facility in downtown San Francisco.


“Autodesk has really made a huge commitment to support education,” says Wall. “They’re making all of their software products available for free to education at all levels, so that’s a huge commitment on their part. And they also have really expanded their product line to include a number of CAM software offerings. They recognize it would be beneficial if there were national standards and a credentialing system for individuals who are doing CAM design and development work.”


Wall is quick to point out that NIMS is developing a standard and credentialing system that can be adopted by the entire CAD industry — not just Autodesk users. “The standards and credentials apply across the industry, not just for Autodesk software,” he explains. “Autodesk is looking at what’s good for the industry as a whole.”


Test Is Theory and Performance

Receiving NIMS credentials means successfully taking a test of both theory and performance. The CAM credentialing process will be no different. NIMS relies on industry experts to supply the basis for both parts.


About NIMS

The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) was formed in 1995 by the metalworking trade associations that saw the need to develop and maintain a globally competitive American workforce. More than 6,000 metalworking companies are members of NIMS. NIMS operates under rigorous and highly disciplined processes as the only developer of American National Standards for the nation’s metalworking industry accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).


Do you think standardization is a good idea for the CAM industry? Let us know by commenting below. For more information on this new partnership, click here.


Autodesk has sponsored this article. They have provided no editorial input other than verification of the technical facts. All opinions are mine. —Ilan Mester

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