Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce: Innovative training for today's workforce

Feb. 13, 2019's Amanda Del Buono interviews Samer Forzley, CEO of Simutech Multimedia

To further discuss the need to attract young people to manufacturing and share some innovative digital training methods that can help to fill the skills gap,'s digital engagement manager Amanda Del Buono is joined by Samer Forzley, CEO of Simutech Multimedia, a company that specializes simulation-based training for the manufacturing and electrical troubleshooting industry. 


AMANDA DEL BUONO: Hello, and welcome back to Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce, a podcast about workforce issues in the manufacturing industries. I’m your host, Amanda Del Buono.

In our first episode, we discussed the fact that the manufacturing sector isn’t the most glamorous, and it’s not seen by young people as a potential career path. To further discuss this and to share with us some innovative digital training methods that can help to fill the skills gap while also attracting young people, we’re joined by Samer Forzley, CEO of Simutech Multimedia, a company that specializes simulation-based training for the manufacturing and electrical troubleshooting industry

Prior to his role at Simutech Multimedia, Samer was VP of Marketing at Pythian and eBillme, and has held several other management positions. A winner of the 2010 Ottawa Forty Under 40 Award, he holds an MBA from the University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management, where he is a part-time lecturer.

Thanks for joining us today, Samer.

SAMER FORZLEY: Thank you, Amanda, and we’re excited to be with you and chat with you and your audience about all the cool things that are happening in manufacturing. It’s a great time to be in this space, and I look forward to sharing our experience and insights.

AD: Awesome, well why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit about what you do at Simutech Multimedia and how you help train workers for the manufacturing industry?

SF: Yeah, sure. Simutech has been around for 23 years now. Actually, we launched our first training module 20 years ago this year, and it’s been a learning experience for us, for sure, over time, but quickly we helped manufacturing companies teach electrical maintenance staff how to troubleshoot. And the best way to think about what we do is an airline pilot does not necessarily just jump in a jumbo jet and start flying, right? They go to school first, then they train in a simulator and then they go actually fly the real plane. And so that’s what we do. We provide that simulation so that electrical maintenance staff who come from school with some background knowledge don’t just jump and start troubleshooting and playing with real live equipment where they could hurt themselves or damage equipment. They practice in our simulator and then they’re ready to go and be productive and help factories keep their line going.

AD: Talk us through some of the companies you’ve worked with so far. You’ve mentioned in some previous interviews we’ve seen that you’ve worked with Kraft, Tyson, and Ford Motor Company. How exactly did you work with them and who initiated these conversations?

SF:  I guess the best way to kind of think about it is the way we help companies to start with. So, there’s two ways our simulation software is used. The first way is to assess an individual and assess their skillset. So, if I gave you a simulation to solve a problem, I can marker what you’re doing and see if you’re actually following proper standards, that you’re following proper safety protocols, if you’re solving the problem without changing parts that you’re not supposed to, etc., right? So, when we are helping companies assess employees, that conversation happens with the HR department. It actually sometimes happens during the recruitment cycle. Everybody’s resume always looks good, but how do you test for somebody’s critical thinking, right? And the best way to do it is to give them a problem to solve where you can actually see what’s happening and get a full record of that. And so when the conversation around how we help manufacturers come to training, not training, recruiting and assessments, we have that with HR.

When it’s about training existing staff on whether it’s closing the skills gap or we moved from traditional electromechanical components to automation and PLCs and all that exciting stuff, that is about getting the existing team up to speed, and in that case, we’re having conversations with the plant managers, maintenance managers, sometimes on the engineering side and sometimes on the operations side, so it could be VP Ops, director of operations, etc.

AD: And how do you set up the programs for them? Are they specifically designed for the company or are they universal for a variety of companies?

SF: So they are universal. We basically try to get the most common elements down to a universal simulation because there’s a couple things. First of all, we’re teaching the concept of thinking through a problem and solving it. And the second thing is that most factories, it may seem obvious,  have more than one provider. So, like if it’s a PLC it could be a Siemens’ PLC, or a different brand, it doesn’t even matter. They kind of behave in a similar way, so we’re trying to teach the generic concept. Again, the best way to describe it, we compare ourselves a lot to the airline industry, right. So, if I am flying a plane,  and I encounter a problem, I need to recognize first what problem I’m in. Now, let’s say I’m in a stall, right? So, the corrective action for a stall when I’m flying the plane is to push the yolk forward and increase speed. Eventually, the plane dips down, picks up speed and takes off. That action is the same whether I’m flying a little four-seater cessna or a big jumbo jet, no different, right?

So, when I encounter a problem I need to recognize, that’s the problem I’m trying to solve and then the corrective actions are pretty much similar, right?

And also, a different example. If you’re driving a Honda today, and tomorrow you get the keys to a BMW, I mean you might need a second to figure out ‘well how does something work’ but eventually you’ll just go ‘yeah, yeah, the basics are the same, i’m going to get in this car and drive it..’

So, we’re teaching the concepts that are applicable to all scenarios and all components.

AD: Ok that makes sense. So, kind of moving on, from your point of view, which we talked about a little bit before we started recording, Manufacturing has a less-than-glorious reputation, how do you think  the industry could work to improve that perception and attract these younger, tech-savvy employees?

SF: Yeah. So, the truth is the industry has to start working better with the schools in some sense, right? Even at the high school level or at the local college level. So, like here, we work a lot with industry, but we also work a lot with colleges, because we need to start evangelizing and teaching the concepts early. Before I graduate from my local community college and figure out what I’m going to do with myself when I graduate, if there are some joint programs that: a) teach what is required, but b) explain that manufacturing is actually really neat and cool. So, if you think about it, a factory floor today, it was built like 40 years ago/50 years ago, it has the perception of yeah it’s dirty work, etc. That’s fine, got it. But like if you actually walk on a factory floor there’s robotics, there’s PLCs, there’s programming, there’s a lot of skills that the younger generations, the Gen Zers, the Millennials, are learning when they’re in school. So, if you’re a Gen Zer today, and you’re in grade 10, you are learning to program, whether that’s Raspberry Pi, whether it’s Miki Miki, any of those fun games, right? And so, you want to be able to  carry on that excitement of learning when you actually get to the workplace. But actually, manufacturing is the perfect place for that, because as you’re walking down the factory floor, you’re encountering really cool equipment that is automated, that requires a lot of not just hands-on experience, but also you have to use your judgement and your training. And so, it’s a great place to work. I think it’s an exciting place to work. And I think manufacturing needs to tell that story early on to students at colleges.

For more, tune into the Manufacturing Tomorrow's Workforce podcast.

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