The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode 117 · 2 months ago

Training the Technician of the Future


Ongoing learning and professional development are necessary for anyone who wants to stay ahead of the curve. And this episode’s guest has constructed his business around this exact idea. 

Tim Wilborne is the owner of TW Controls with his wife, Amber. Tim began working in a machine shop at the age of 12 and eventually found his way into industrial controls. While his wife was eight months pregnant, they started TW Controls with the primary goal of helping you become a better technician. Tim brings us great insights into how he began his journey and why it’s never too late to get started. 

Join us as we discuss:

  • Tim’s foray into the world of industrial controls 
  • The common misconception about automation
  • Why ongoing learning is so critical

Invest in your people, Invest in that training to take them to the next level, because you are going to get your investment back to enfold on your people. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B two B sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and the CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrillas of any six. So I turn forty next month month, and though I may not be a super old guy yet, I'm not exactly a super young guy anymore either, at least in my marketing world that's driven by new technology and innovation. For this reason, ongoing learning and professional development have never been more important if I expect to stay ahead of the curve. My guest today is a manufacturing and automation guy who will tell you the same thing, but inside of his world of industrial controls. In fact, he and his wife have built their business around ongoing training of the workforce. Let me introduce him. Tim Wilborn does PLC training in Roanoke, Virginia, with his wife Amber, where their goal is to help you become a better technician. He started out working in a machine shop when he was twelve years old and eventually transitioned into industrial controls. Tim and amber both quit their jobs while eight months pregnant with their first child and started tw controls. They like to say they work together, parent together and somehow managed to still live together. Nothing makes them happier than knowing that they have helped somewhat advance their careers get a broken machine back going, or here that a future competitor just started their automation company. Tim, welcome to the show's for having me. Well, man, you have got some guts. Going back to your bio, eight months pregnant for your wife, you quit your jobs and start a company. Man, when I quit my job and started my company, I was twenty four and I lived in an apartment that was about five a month with like two other guys and had zero responsibilities in life. Um, so I applaud anybody who is willing to take a real risk and when you've got those kind of responsibilities, that's pretty cool. We just didn't know what those responsibilities really entailed. Joan, sometimes that works in your favor, I guess right a little a little bit of not knowing what's ahead, but that's pretty cool. I'd love for you to start things off by maybe just telling us a little bit more about your store and how it led you to where you are today. I started out in a machine shop and actually my original intent I guess, as a career, was to be a mechanical engineer. So I grew up in a machine shop. I started out, you know, just cutting pieces for the machinist and, you know, doing little things, and eventually grew that to where I could do basic machine and fabrication and I worked at my dad's shop and I tell everybody that you can never pass your parents in capabilities, but because you know, they have thirty years experience on you. And so about that time companies were starting to want turn key automation. So used to you would build a mechanical piece of equipment and then you would take it to an electrician, then you would take it to a controls company and then you would put the equipment into the end you, I'll be the end user, and everybody kind of point fingers when things didn't work, and companies who are wanting to say, Hey, I want to purchase a piece of equipment, I wanted to do this and I want you to do with all the headaches. And one thing we act was...

...someone to do controls, and so it was kind of my opportunity initially just to, you know, try to do something that my parents, you know, my dad didn't know how to do, and I found that I had a knack for it. I was really natural at it. I really enjoyed it also and felt I spent many years doing that. I worked in maintenance a very large steel manufacturer and then I um, I always like to say that, you know, there are winners and losers and buyouts, and the company that worked for got bought out and I was one of the losers. And in that we decided to quit and start t w controls. And again we were yes, we were eight months pregnant with our son and I'd love to say it was great from there, but you know, we needed a marker. We knew how to build equipment, but we didn't know how to sell a job, you know, we didn't know how to quote a job. We didn't know how to, you know, make first contact of a customer. We didn't know all of these things. So cash fway was really up and down a lot. You know, you get a project and you put all your money into it, you be broke and then there's a gap in there to the next project. And I remembered something that a former employer had told me when that when I went to work for these said we're gonna start selling air solders and I remember thinking why would we sell air cylinders? We build equipment, and he said you need some small thing to pay those regular bills and then you can use these projects to pole in the cash. And so I kind of remembered back to that and I built our first PLC trainer. Now it was a flop because, again, I didn't know how to do any marketing. I didn't I needed someone like you and and we, uh, we went on through. Then we did fund a few other small items and eventually we came up with the PLC trainer we have today. Again mainly to pay those real basic bills and then people started to ask Hey, well, okay, this is a great trainer, but can you provide us more training than just your videos? And so we started developing more involved course because and eventually it came to our in person courses that we do today. That's awesome. I Love I love how you got there and your your linked in short description reads helping you become a better technician. What's that mission mean to you? Well, I see a lot. I talked to a lot of people out there, from people that are in school trying to just get a degree to the person who really is almost in the same shoes that we you know we were in and you were in probably early on. Is, you know, they realize they need a little more skill to get to that next level. So I know there's a lot of people out there that really, you know, aim for that company level of Hey, we can help your company get to the next level. But we like to say, okay, if you're if you're a mechanical technician and you're looking over there thinking, man, these electricians have it easy. Well, first they don't have that easy, but if you think they do, then we'll help you get there. Are the electrician who says you know, I almost know how to fix this machine. If I just knew how that mysterious PLC that the programmer has to come in and work on work. I think I can figure it out. Then we help you get to that point. Maybe not the point that you can write a program but okay, now I can go in and I can find that sensor that need changed in the middle of the night and get the machine backgrounding, which of course equates to hopefully your boss being more happy with you and getting you a little more money or the next promotion. I love it, you know, Um, I've heard a lot of people talk about it. I read a book about it a few years ago, but just that the future of education is is going to largely lie in the hands of the employers and and the individuals go seek those things out. It's happening so much more these days. All people are in their jobs, like... know, to help them figure out how to do it then relying on a more traditional education and Um, I think what you're you're doing here is a prime example of making that happen. Tim You recently told me that a lot of people are fearful about automation. Why do you think that? Is Well, I recently put out a video and I won't even mention the video. You probably can go find it, but it was it was one that was my reaction really to the media's reaction of an incident that had happened and reither the comments may have been the biggest realization of it, because I had more quotes about terminator and all these other movies where the robots take over the world. And I believe that partially we have a social media issue that, you know, the general public doesn't know what we do. I mean we're we're these mysterious people in these buildings with no windows and yeah, we're concocting all of these crazy things. But yeah, I was surprised at the comments of people who really, I mean in genuinely, I think, do believe that we are we're on the edge of the Terminator Coming, which simply isn't gonna Happen. And of course we have the group that really thinks that automation takes jobs. And you know, I can't say enough that automation it just it improves jobs. I mean I have never seen a job, I have never seen automation be done on a job that was not hazardous was not miserable. You know, we improve jobs, you know, so we we help you get to the point where you're instead of, you know, doing that grunt work, you can be the smart person that operates the robot and we also can extend quality of life. And I think we're gonna and here's where I'm really excited, I think we're gonna see some extensions of ca the life in people's personal surroundings that will really help them kind of get into get warmed up to automation. I mean, for example, Boston dynamics are doing some great things that I think are really going to help with, you know, assistant living facilities, but also, you know, let's say we have somebody who has the brain power they need to do a task and they love their job, but their body just can't do it anymore. We can put a cobalt the side of them or automate that hard part of their task and keep them, you know, happy at their job. Yeah, that's great. And I mean the other thing that's become very clear to me from all the conversations I've had and clients we've worked with over the last few years is that they're gonna there are not enough people out there to do the jobs anyway. And so you know, to to think that you're going to survive in the future without touching automation in some capacities is almost just silly at this point. And you know it's a it's a matter of Um, you know, getting out ahead of that at this point and figuring what you've figuring out what you can do before everybody else beats you to it. Frankly, yes, tim as somebody who trains others, how do you make sure that you stay ahead of the curve with your own learning? Well, I always say my students probably do more to teach me than I do to teach them, and that's part of you know how our training works. You know we are not you know our training. For one, we only have eight people, and there's a reason there's only eight people in this room is it's not a lecture. Well, I am not an authority on anything. What I do is I put people into situations that they're going to run into out in the field and chances are between these eight people they already know how to get through it. So a lot of it is getting them to share what is going on at their plants and so all of a sudden, you know, they'll ask a question there were it's like, you know, I don't know the answer to...

...that, when I never act like I know the answer to that. I'll tell them, hey, you know, I don't know that, but I thought I'll be up all night tonight and I will tell you tomorrow or I will I will make a set up for us to figure that out tomorrow. So by far, you know, my students are a big one. That keep me up to date and also I do answer a lot of viewer questions. Unfortunately I don't answer all of Youwer questions anymore because we get way more questions than one person could answer if they were full time at it for the whole week. But I do still pick selective questions where it's like wow, that one is challenging and just, you know, helped them through it. I mean there's no charge or anything really, it's just something I do and yeah, part of it just kind of keep my brain kind of pushing it to see what's the next thing. Okay, let's take a quick break here. I want to let a couple of our strategists at Garl Sev tell you about something pretty cool that we're doing right now for marketing folks in the manufacturing sector. Peyton and Mary, take it away. Yes, so I'm Peyton Warrant and I'm Mary Kio. Twice a month we host a live event called industrial marketing live. Right now we have a group of fifty plus industrial marketers from a variety of manufacturing organizations. We meet up digitally to learn, ask questions, network and get smarter. Every session has a designated topic and one of our team members at guerrilla seventy six opens up by teaching for the first half hour or so. Topics have included how to get better at a manufacturing Webinar, getting started with paid social on Linkedin, how to optimize your website for conversions, creating amazing video content and so much more. After we break it down, we open it up to q and a so we can help you apply all of this in your own businesses. This is pure value, no cost, no strings attached, no product or service pitches, just unadulterated learning experience. Oh and on top of these live sessions, we've also opened up a slack channel where our attendees bounce ideas off each other and learned together all week long. Between sessions. We're building a true community of manufacturing marketing professionals here, so if you or someone at your company has the word marketing in his or her job title, please consider telling them about it. They can visit industrial marketing live dot com to register. We love to see you there. What do you have to say about careers in the trades toim no, well, you know, I love careers in the trades because I preach them all the time and you know, there's a couple of things I love about the trades. Is, I don't know a lot of people really measurable in it, you know, and part of it is well, part of this because I think the trades are also but also, I tell people all the time, you know, we have vertical movement in the trades, but we also have horizontal movement in the trades. I I really probably was not cut out for machinery and I was probably not cut out to move up to a mechanical engineer in the end. Well, I could do it. I didn't feel that passion that I feel for control. So really, yeah, I was in that mechanical part and it's like, I don't think this is for me. Why don't have to leave this whole career and, you know, go get a degree in accounting or go degree in something else. Really I can look every the be like okay, now what do I gotta do to shift over? And it's surprising the people that I in fact, I would say well over half the people in this industry are not doing what their degree was intended for or, you know, however they entered, whether it's a technical degree, a trade school or whatever. You know, there's a lot of horizontal movement. To make you happy, Tim when you and I were talking recently, you mentioned that you've had students ranging from twenty to sixty some years old. Is it a situation where it's never too late to get...

...started? I would say that, yeah, there's never, at least never too late. You know, I do have to I have to be I have to be realistic. You know, there are, you know, skills are there are requirements in some jobs that, yeah, okay, at sixty you may not want to do some, you know, some of the more labors work. But I get calls often from people, I'll say, especially in their fifties, that are, you know, they're they're comfortable, but they're like, you know, I think I'm ready for a second career. I've, you know, done such and such for a good amount of time and I'm interested in this automation. Now, initially with interest in this automation. I will not take them as a student. I will actually guide them through. I'll put them in an online course. Mealie, okay, here is, here's a course for free to help you through your interests. Now call me if you decide at the end of this. Yeah, this is a career change you want, and it is surprising the ones that end up coming and they end up changing careers. And Yeah, you know, we've had. My oldest one, I believe was sixty four, sixty six, I can't remember now. And you know, but he was in a situation, he was in a more labors part of this industry and he had a knee injury and he's like, you know, my knees just aren't going to hold up to this anymore, but you know, I'm too young to retire still. And so, yeah, he called on quick and you know, yeah, I he is doing a great job at, you know, troubleshooting machines during startup and commissioning. And you know, the younger students are actually probably the ones that, Um, you know, I really have a passion, you know, they are the future of the industry and so I do, you know, look at them and, you know, try to make sure they're making good decisions, because a lot of times, you know, I you know, I have somebody that says, well, all right, I you know, I get a mechanical degree, I think I need to come to your class and get PLC program and also, and I'm like, okay, why do you need it? Exactly, it's like all why don't you get some experience and, you know, figure out what you're really passionate Abou? Because that's that's really the key. If I can get somebody at twenty to really get into their passion, then it's like wow, they're gonna have a, you know, a great life. Tim as a marketing guy, I can't help but notice that one thing you've done really well that a lot of people in the industrial sector have not done really well is build an audience for yourself. You've got forties some thousand youtube subscribers. You've got eighteen thousand linked in followers, which is about three x what I have. Um, how have you managed to create such a large following and talk a little bit about what the impact of that has been for Your Business? Well, I would love to say that I have the perfect marketing um mixture for that, but I would say it was mostly accidental. So we started out on youtube making how twos for our products, because really a lot of our, you know, video was it was on the fringes in but we realized, Hey, it's a lot easier to show someone how to use something with a video than a ten page instruction manual. So that's really where it started out at. And then we um had a guy asked us a question one time of can we, could we make a video on control panels that wasn't so boring, and really I mean our content. You know, you think our contents dry and nail in our industry. Our content was really dry at that point. So I made what everybody now calls the dancing lady control panel video, which now, I think, has three hundred thousand or so views, and it changed the way I portrayed myself online because all of a sudden it's like, okay, we can cut up a little bit and still put information forward. You know, we don't have to show where that stuff we don't have... say they're that professional. And Yeah, if we do a little bit different than you know, we can start connecting. So I started building some other series out, you know. And as far as like subscribers, always tell people, you know, I had I don't know, maybe eight thousand subscribers before I knew where to check that out. So part of it is, I believe in the end you need to put out good content that a user would want to consume. You don't put out content to promote your products directly. You don't put up content too, you know, with the intention of really growing and on it. She put out content that they want and you know your audience will start growing. Um, that's kind of kind of where we started out and we may have a little more strategy now than we did that, but still we don't have a tremendous amount. Really we listen to our audience and see what they want, see what they need. You can screen that from the top of the mountain, as far as I'm concerned. I mean that that's pretty some pretty much sums up when we we preach all the time. It's just folks. If you really understand who you're trying to reach and what matters to those people and you can be the best possible resource to them, you're gonna earn attention and you're gonna build trust and it's gonna have an impact on your reputation and people will share your content and there's just this massive snowball effect that comes from that when a lot of most companies out there just pushing product and talking about themselves and nobody's listening, not until you know they have a reason to listen. Absolutely and I was just having a discussion the other day and I would really you know, somebody may call me out on this and say I did, but in the five videos that I have, I would say less than ten of them actually mentioned our company. Nine. We're just really, you know, I kind of have their, you know, signature. It's not as much now, but easily it's nothing like high. This is to him like I want to be the regular guy, but it looks like you that's out here trying to work on this, and so really, you know, I don't. You know, they will figure out who you are if you're putting out the content and all of a sudden every time they're searching for something, they're gonna be like, Oh, there's that person again. I know that. You know. They give me good, valuable answers when I need though. Absolutely I think you're spot on, Um, and I think that human element that you've hit on a few times here is just so important. People want to work with people that they actually like, right. It's just that's a real thing. I mean so many people in manufacturing talk about they push back on various technology because, you know, zoom meetings even or you know, uh not. They always talk about how being in a room with somebody is is what matters. But you can emulate a lot of those things that happen to, you know, capture the attention and start to earn trust with people and then open up the door to those real in person conversations. So, Um, I love the way that you've been able to who leverage content, and especially video content, to really scale visibility for you. I imagine it's been a big part of what's helped you grow and be successful. Yeah, and we're talking about the human element. You know, I think the thing that people miss is it's okay to make mistakes your videos. Don't need to be perfect. It's okay to make a video talking about a mistake you made and that's not going to make someone look down upon you as a company, because obviously you could have hidden a mistake. So the fact that you are bringing out and usually for me, I bring out mistakes that I've made to hopefully prevent someone else from making the same mistake. But they realized it's like, okay, this guy's looking out for me, he's not just trying to make himself look like that top notch company. Well then, this has been a great conversation. Is there anything I did not ask you about that you'd like to add to the conversation? I don't know if there's anything I really would have had to ask him. The only thing I would like to relady your audience, especially since... know they are the big decision makers and companies, is invest in your people, invest in that training to take them to the next level, because you are going to get your investment back to enfold on your people. Love. That great way to sort of sum it up here. Well, Tim, thanks for doing this today. Um can you tell our audience how they can get in touch with you and where they can learn more about tw controls. You can get to tw controls dot com simple enough, and go find Tim Tim wilborn on Linkedin as well. Tim published his amazing content and U he's well worth the follow. So, Tim, thanks for doing this. Thanks for having me, you bet. And as for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast to sure that you never missed an episode. Subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for B two B manufacturers at guerrilla seventy six dot com slash learn. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, M.

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