Hiring and Training Practices

Marvin’s own education and vocational history shaped much of the literacy and learning practices at LMNPO. At the same time, Marvin’s experiences also mirror many of the values and experiences we have found to be touted by the maker movement such as distributed expertise, just-in-time learning, leveling up skills, open access to information, and following one’s own interests and passions (Anderson, 2012; Hatch, 2014).

Marvin drove the hiring process, and he described his approach: “I’ve made it a point of hiring career transition people all through my time, because people educated in the formal topic I’m working within are blind to a lot of the aspects of it.” Marvin hired motivated individuals whom he could teach on a just-in-time basis. Because they have little to no previous educational experience in engineering design or fabrication, he could shape them to work in his preferred manner and teach them skills when the need arose in their work. He hoped to find people he thought had “common sense,” regardless of whether they walked in knowing how to use a tool or not. Paul explained Marvin’s hiring practices as an investment, “Marvin [is] always more willing to invest in a staff member for the long term than just getting somebody maybe cheaper that will decide to move on in three months or whatever.” Or, as Marvin explained, “So, these are people who in less than a year have gone from what would normally be minimum wage positions, really, to I am making money on them, to in another year, they will be actually very valuable people.”

Marvin valued the diversity of perspectives among the staff and he invested in their future with the company. He took on the three floor-staff members as interns in apprentice-like positions. Initially, they worked for free or very little pay, and then their pay increased as they learned skills and continued to work for the company. Tim, Noelle, and Jason were all brought on board without formalized experience in fabrication and were being trained in various aspects of production until they were able to be self-sufficient.

It was common for Marvin to hire people within his network, those he felt had potential. There was tension surrounding this, however, as other members of the management team described in their interviews. For instance, Ethan stated, “I have argued for a moratorium on hiring people we know. I have raised my hand and said we should not hire a single person we know for anything.” He explained that with the current rate of production, it was hard for staff members to take the time to train new employees. Ethan did not want to train new employees and reported that this put a strain on management as they spent too much time checking in with people about their training rather than completing work for clients. However, he noted that Tim started as an intern and “pick[ed] stuff up quick.” Ethan explained that Tim learned from experience, as did Noelle.

I think the approach, at the time, we took was right but now we’ve found ourselves in a position where we’ll wait, we have in some cases and we’ll end up wasting time is we have to factor training in versus execution. So, if people have to keep coming up to speed on things in order to get a project done, we basically can’t bill a client for the week it’s going to take us to get someone trained.

In Ethan’s mind, there was a tension between making money immediately versus hiring someone that would take months to train. While Marvin’s view was that learning adds long-term monetary value to the company in shaping an individual new to the field, Ethan (who was in a managerial role) identified the short-term pitfalls of all that attention to learning.

He discussed the nature of bringing in employees from different backgrounds, but posited that his main concern was client satisfaction: “from my perspective, once the client comes in, I want to see their thing get done right and get done on time.” He elaborated:

And if having someone in the shop pick up a new skill to get it done, if it doesn’t impact either of those [done right and on time]. I’m all for it, because it builds the skills of our team and you know, we don’t have to bring someone new in. It’s from a business perspective, it’s a stronger way to approach the project—we use the team we have. We don’t have to spend extra money. They get a skill and we still get the project done.

Despite the tension, and perhaps because there was not much paid work, floor staff spent a good deal of time learning to weld, run the laser cutter and 3D printer, and other tasks.

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