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Should I train an employee software or sub out?

TLS Member

I run a small 5 employee custom shop. I'm getting more and more work stacked up and I myself seem to be my companies biggest bottleneck. Mainly drawings and project management is where my time is going. My lead fabricator is moving out of state soon and I'm going to experience a real loss in productivity that will take some time to get back. I'm a little overwhelmed to say the least, oh and I have a 5 month old at home.
Recently a couple of young CAD/Revit designers that I know have left their jobs and are open to freelancing. I'm considering hiring them to take some of the shop drawing burden off me and possibly give me the chance to get on the shop floor while I get things back up to speed. Problem is they are architecture school grads, not cabinet makers. One of my current employees has the aptitude to learn the software I use, mainly Mozaik to Sketchup and shops done in Layout. Mozaik for the CNC and generating cut-Iists. I suppose what I'm asking is, do I teach a cabinet maker software or someone proficient in software cabinetmaking?
A coupe of builders I work with, some with architecture degrees themselves tell me I should just sub out drawings. I try to explain that the biggest problem with that is needing someone that knows millwork/cabinetmaking. Does anyone have experience with this. I feel like training the current employee is the way to go. He can be unloading a delivery and assembling casework one minute and working on drawings the next. In other words, versatility. The other option would be to sub the drawings to the young guys with little millwork knowledge, but essentially a pay as you go situation. The advantage there is it frees up my fabricator, and me. The hourly for both situations is pretty much the same. I'm not sure after some training who will work faster. I've worked with the young arch school grads before (their former employer is a steady client) and I think they are very professional and engaged. They want to learn. My employee that I'm considering teaching has been with me a long time, I think he would enjoy a change and some new responsibilities, but he tends to get a little too lost in the details and lacks some decision making confidence. I'm concerned he may spin out a bit too much in shop drawings, which in turn means asking me a lot of questions. I'm trying to free up more time, not make more work for myself. Any thoughts or experiences you'd like to share?

2/14/21       #2: Should I train an employee software ...
pat s gilbert

This is one of the most common questions on the WW

IIRC the consensus was it is easier to train a cabinetmaker CAD. Apparently, contrary to public perception, there is something to know about cabinetmaking.

I have done it both ways when I subbed it out, I was doing mostly store fixtures, which did not require as much understanding. When I have done it in house one guy bounced before I got any ROI, the other was a skilled draftsman and a degreed engineer who also bounced before I got much ROI of the 3 subbing it out was the better way to go.

But with the right guy I would go with training him in house architectural students are not going be around for long IMO

In any case you are doing the right thing in replacing yourself

2/15/21       #3: Should I train an employee software ...
David Y Member

I perfectly fit the description of your in-house employee option. I learned cabinetry from the ground up in a small shop, eventually moving into the design and engineering end of the operation. With a deep understanding of how we build and install cabinets I am able to design and engineer in a way that makes it easier for the people in the shop and at the jobsite. When the workload requires, I can still go out on the floor to work. IMHO It would seem the best ROI would be to elevated the employee you have to do drawings and, if necessary, bring in another person to learn the cabinet building. I'd say it's easier to teach cabinet building than to educate a drafter on the best ways to do your drawings. Good luck.

2/15/21       #4: Should I train an employee software ...
Mark B Member

One option I have considered for the in-house employee option that you fear will get lost in the detail is to get have the conversation with them regarding the issues and concerns. If they are eager to give it a shot set them up with some initial work with the caveat that they will do a percentage of it during their work day and initially a larger percentage they will work to refine at home on their own time. If they want the reward of a change of pace/some additional compensation, and they want to commit to the task and present you with exactly what they've seen coming into the shop in a timely manner, they will likely be willing to work as many of the kinks out on their own time as possible. The ol' skin in the game thing. You show me that you can get up to speed quickly and your not going to be sitting at the screen for hours for a project that should take minutes, and you get the work.

2/15/21       #5: Should I train an employee software ...
james e mcgrew  Member

Website: mcgrewwoodwork.com


"Always Inspect what You expect"

2/15/21       #6: Should I train an employee software ...
pat s gilbert

"To manage it you have to measure it"

At a shop I worked at a million years ago, workers on the floor all wanted to get into the office to do detailing . As often as not they would comment they wanted back on the shop floor.

2/15/21       #7: Should I train an employee software ...
rich c.

Don't take the time to train a cabinet maker. I'm a little confused why you think you need a cabinet maker to enter numbers. Don't you have all your standard practices and methods in your software?

2/16/21       #8: Should I train an employee software ...
Harold Pomeroy

I was in this situation decades ago.
I worked in a custom millwork shop. The owner brought in a guy who knew something about computers, but had no aptitude for turning rough lumber into money in the bank.The experiment lasted a year. I realizerd it was taking the designer more time to draw stuff than it was for me to build it, and the drawings did not provide the information the shop needed.

I bought a computer and AutoCad LT. In three months Icould draw the most basic stuff. In six months I was able to draw the millwork for a restaurant in New York City.

Most importantly , I understood what the guys in the shop needed on the plans, and I was also able to catch and solve design problems as I drew stuff.

The people I know that really draw what they are building seem to learn only enough to draw what they are building, and pick up more as they need it. With custom products, it seems to be easier to learn how to draw something than it is to learn how to build something. Bringing that building experience and design sense to a new tool will empower the employee to make the business run better.

Knowing little things like not putting 1 1/2" screws into wood that is 1 1/2" thick is hard to pass on via GitHub.

2/16/21       #9: Should I train an employee software ...
TLS Member

To Rich C.
I do have some things standardized, but much of what we do is custom and always a little different. We also do some commercial interiors, restaurants mostly. They always need a good bit of figuring out, the architects/designers tend to give us little on the engineering details.
Right now were doing a lot of kitchens and they do tend to be more standard, but I'm also need someone to do some problem solving. Hence the need for someone that has good fabrication skills.

2/16/21       #10: Should I train an employee software ...
Rob Young  Member

Website: https://www.nutekmachinery.com

You voice a legitimate concern. I see the same issues with machinery technicians that don't understand how to make a cabinet and even though they understand the nuts and bolts of repairing a machine the quality of the output is often not up to par with the machine owner's standards. It's the little things that separate competitors and you run the risk of someone not familiar with casework doing your drawings missing those little details.

3/1/21       #11: Should I train an employee software ...

Website: http://Closetdr.com

With either option you will have a learning curve and training needed. Nobody is going to hop into a job like this and know it all. One will know software more than the other and one will know cabinetry better than the other. The question is which one will be the best for you long term. Somebody doing some freelance side work is great, you work with them for 6 months and have them up to speed and he gets a big job offer and his wife has a kid. Look at all the what ifs. Having an employee in the building means you can look over his shoulder and say tweet this, this and this and show me after lunch what you got.

3/11/21       #12: Should I train an employee software ...
IMS Member

Hi, we are currently experiencing the same issue. We use microvellum and are having a hard time finding a person that knows the software and understands millwork.
We are a very high-end custom cabinet shop. We trained someone for a year and they couldn't grasp on the building methods and would second guess everything they did. So they really didn't work out.

We are currently looking for a young woodworker that wants to learn the engineering side of it because we feel that it would be easier to train a young woodworker with computer skills vs a person that just knows autocad. Reason I wouldn't train one of our shop guys is because they are old-school craftsmen. Trying to teaching them to use the computer we'll that's just something I don't want to experience lol..

My experience with freelancers hasn't been positive. You have to find a dedicated freelancer that will take the time and get to know the way you guys do things. Most just want to draw quickly and collect.

pay wise, freelancers we paid between $50-$85hr (but we're done with freelancers)

Our in-house engineers make entry-level to experience $22-$42hr

I'd say start with the employee since he already knows your shop and the way you already do things. Also it might be easier to find someone to replace him in the shop vs someone like him to put in the office.

3/13/21       #13: Should I train an employee software ...
TLS Member

Thanks for all the good advice.
I've decided to hire someone with experience in software that has worked with another reputable outfit. They have been on the shop floor as well as in the office, but they are primarily an engineer and cnc programmer, which is perfect for what I need, Also they can run circles around me in the software.
The employee I was considering bringing into the office is still going to come in part time, but act as a shop floor liaison. He'll work in mozaik a bit, but also work on systems and standardizing some practices where we can, generally getting things organized. The two of them are going to sort of team up and work on pre-production stuff as well. They'll be creating spreadsheets for clients to fill out that have columns for appliances, all the finishes in the room that we'll need to coordinate with, hardware etc. All employees will have cloud access to the sheets. We're putting as mush as we can on tablets for shop floor use as well.
We're generally just making sure everyone has all the tools/info that they need to do their job.

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