I don’t have the answer to the question of knowing when it is time to hire a full time pattern maker but maybe you can help me sort it out. There are two scenarios in which to frame the question.
First scenario: A company I know (they attended my manufacturing boot camp class in 1998) is over a barrel. Succinctly stated, they’ve been using a freelance pattern service over the past eight years and recently the relationship has soured. The pattern service refuses to hand over digital files for the 800+ patterns owned by the customer. While that is being sorted out, the company has hired a new pattern service. The thing is, I’ve only heard negative reports on the new pattern service. Considering their problems and choices, I suggested that they should bring pattern making in house. The owner says they can’t afford to hire a pattern maker but then said maybe they could hire an intern (which made me shiver all over and not in a good way). I said they could buy everything they needed (CAD software, plotter, digitizer) for 20-25K new, less for used. He said they don’t have the money to acquire the CAD system or plotter either.
They have 25 employees, 15 of whom are stitchers. With respect to head count, there are 10 non-sewing employees which as a ratio (40%) is quite high. However, they also dye all their products in house so the company isn’t as inefficient as one could suppose.
That said, I don’t need to be there to know that the operation isn’t as efficient or cost effective as it could or should be. Having a pattern maker on staff will reduce costly problems and make the company more competitive. He said they did have a production manager but in my way of thinking, if your company is small and you have a production manager, the production manager should be a pattern maker. Obviously this company isn’t going to can their production manager on my say so nor should they but this is something you have to keep in mind as you grow. If you’re at the stage of hiring a production manager and you don’t yet have a pattern maker, you should hire one person to fill both jobs.
Which round about leads me to a discussion I was having with another party and my second scenario. Said party asked me if they should bring patterns in house but they are in a similar situation as the company above in that they have a production manager who is also not a pattern maker and probably won’t ever be one. They also asked about bringing in an intern but I explained you need a very experienced person for this and worse, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find them.
It struck me that the trade is in a very bad spot. We have a whole generation of working pattern makers who have never been exposed to production beyond a factory visit here and there. When the production went off shore, new hires never gained the opportunity to see the effects of their work in the sewing line across from them. They’ve never been called back to the cutting room to see first hand how a poorly conceived seam truing makes for a difficult cut and unnecessary waste. And now that we need people with these skills, they are difficult to find. Most of the people with these skills are older, settled and they don’t want to move.
One of my far off goals had been to start a sewing factory school to train workers in a real plant. A small one of course but a training facility nonetheless. I don’t know if it is tenable or if it will become more so as the situation becomes increasingly worse but it is something to think about.
But I digress. When do you think a company is of such size that they should consider bringing patterns in house? What are the cost considerations of doing so and how could this decision be made most cost effectively? I await your advice with bated breath.