What began nearly 50 years ago as a collaboration between fastener distributors to train new employees has since developed into an international organization for novice and advanced individuals working in the industry. Today, the Fastener Training Institute (FTI) provides a host of in-person and online training programs by recognized industry experts on fastener products, standards, and specifications. The aim, according to FTI’s objective is “to enhance fastener use, reliability, and safety.”
“The root of the fastener training Institute began in the early 70s with an industry group called the Los Angeles Fastener Association, or LAFA,” explains John Wachman, the current managing director of FTI. “Those who were a part of LAFA decided that, individually, no one had the bandwidth to train new employees but that collectively they could probably do a pretty good job. And so, began the first basic industry training classes.”
Wachman, a 45-year veteran of the fastener industry — and who also founded his own manufacturers rep agency in Arizona, Desert Distribution Sales, which he still runs today — was asked to join the board of LAFA in 2006
“Once on the board, I took part in the product training committee and within a couple of days was asked to serve as the chairperson for the full training committee, which I accepted, and that’s how FTI got its early start — and how I became involved with training,” says Wachman.
FTI’s future was still developing, however. In 2009, LAFA merged with the Western Association of Fastener Distributors to form the Pacific-West Fastener Association, a western trade association for distributors and suppliers. “Pac-West managed FTI for a while, but it was primarily a regional association and the demand for training classes began to grow considerably.” To support the education needs nationally the Pac-West Board of Directors decided to formally launch FTI.
“FTI became a standalone, registered 501(c)(6) non-profit in 2014 and that’s when it grew from a regional association to a national training platform,” says Wachman. “The classes grew from very basic, which we still offer, to highly advanced.” Today, Desert Distribution manages the Fastener Training Institute under contract with FTI’s board of directors (BOD). The BOD consists of fastener industry producers and distributors from throughout the country, with backgrounds and experience well-suited to guide FTI’s future.
“What’s interesting is that much of our mandate is similar to what it was when FTI started with LA FFA,” says Jo Morris, the FTI director of marketing. “We exist to serve the fastener industry and we continually train new employees.”
What has changed to some extent, however, are the needs of the fastener industry. “This is why we’re always asking for feedback so we can best serve the industry with useful and timely training,” she adds.
Here are a couple examples of the changing fastener landscape and how FTI addresses it in their current training curriculum.
1. Maturation. One trend in fasteners that Wachman and Morris have noted is the effects of an aging industry. “There’s a lot of people retiring but without an immediate successor who’s been in the industry, climbed the ladder, and gained the experience necessary to take over the role,” says Wachman. “There’s somewhat of a gap in talent here and this means there’s a risk that the tribal or historical knowledge could be lost.”
“This is why we offer such a broad product base of training options and only from instructors who’ve worked with fasteners and are considered industry experts,” explains Morris. “Where fastener companies were typically family-run businesses, today that’s changing.”
The lack of mid to senior-management employees who have “grown up” in the fastener industry has led to an influx of new employees, who require significant training. Although these new employees typically offer management experience from other industries, the in-depth insight that’s specific to fasteners is often lacking.
For FTI, this has led to two challenges: teaching decades of “historical knowledge” in a short time period and securing industry retention rates.
“We’re supporting a lot of new hires and by providing them with proper training and a sense of community, our goal is to ensure these individuals gain the confidence and skills required to stay in the industry and succeed,” says Morris.
2. Troubleshooting. Much like any industry, fasteners do experience failures. According to Wachman, however, it’s rarely the result of faulty components. To this end, one of the most significant advanced engineering classes FTI currently offers is on fastener failures. The aim is to increase the reliability and safety of the industry and the professionals working in it.
“I’m certainly not implying companies never make faulty fasteners. It happens,” says Wachman. “But the primary reason for joint failures is rarely a defective fastener. It’s usually because a person either specified the wrong fasteners or improperly installed them.”
“Typically, when there’s an application failure the fastener gets blamed,” agrees Morris. “This is because it’s the part that ends up broken. But as John mentioned, most fastener-related problems relate to misuse either from improper selection, specification, or installation. So, it’s extremely important that FTI offers advanced engineering classes focused on fastener selection and proper installation to prevent unnecessary faults and failures.”
One of the ways FTI ensures successful training is by only offering classes with instructors that are recognized industry experts. “Our instructors are full-time, industry engineers with decades of experience in the industry — they’re not academics,” says Wachman. “They’ve worked 20, 30, or 40 years on the job. So, when teaching a class, the instructors are offering the class content as well as years of real-life career experience.”
Of course, this includes in-person classes with hands-on demonstrations. The Fastener Training Institute offers full-day and weeklong classes, with visits to a fastener manufacturing facility. FTI also offers live monthly webinars and an extensive On-Line Training Library stock-full of information.
“We often hear from advanced students who’ve been in the industry 30 years that they’ve learned something new after taking one of our classes and that’s the best testimonial,” he says. “It’s great to hear we can impact the work and knowledge-base of newcomers and industry veterans. That’s what we’re here for.”
Wachman adds: “We’ve spent our entire lives in the industry and it’s been good to us. FTI is really about giving back to that community.”
Fastener Training Institute