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Manufacturers Guide Workforce Training 


by Rachel Duran

During the past few years, for many manufacturers, it has been sink or swim. While manufacturers are improving processes and boosting innovation by becoming lean, more productive, and producing higher quality products, they continue to use outdated approaches to workforce training. Innovative thinking should also be applied to training your workforce.

Although there are pockets of manufacturers across the country that are in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing training curriculums that respond to their needs and creating career pathways for workers, others have yet to implement initiatives for the 21st century.

One solution to the workforce training dilemma is the NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System. The system was developed in response to manufacturers who believe an educated and skilled workforce is the single most important factor for success in the global economy — and their greatest pain point — “their inability to find workers with the right skills who could be productive early in their employment,” says Emily DeRocco, president, The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The institute has joined with leading organizations that issue certifications for a variety of skills to create a national stackable, portable credentialing system. The Manufacturing Skills Certification System is in various phases of planning or implementation in 36 states.

Breaking it down, the certification program provides training in entry level skills that align to the National Career Readiness Certificate, a jobs skills credentialing system, and four technical skill sets. The training includes production skills issued by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council series; machining and metal forming skills from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills; welding skills from the American Welding Society; and the Certified Manufacturing Technologist certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

DeRocco says the portable skills certification programming is a solution that is both a short term fix for meeting immediate talent needs, but more importantly, it is a major education reform that longer term provides a solution that will benefit not only manufacturing but other industries and citizens as well.

DeRocco says the certification creates a foothold for manufacturers in the education system. The Manufacturing Institute and its partners are ready to roll out version 2.0 of the programming, which addresses higher-level skills in specific occupational areas or specific sectors. “We have credentials aligned to educational pathways in transportation, distribution and logistics; in quality; and in packaging that includes mechatronics; and automation,” DeRocco says. There are two sectors that have convened to outline critical foundation skills for career pathways: biosciences and med tech. Energy, both resources and renewable energy, and aviation and aerospace will convene in the first quarter of 2012 to outline skills and career pathways.

Preparing For More Than Just A Job

In Greenville, S.C., manufacturers define training curriculums. One of the goals of the training efforts is for employers to encourage employees to continue their training and education beyond initial certifications. “We have seven companies engaged in the process, involved in aviation, rail or auto manufacturing,” says John Baker, director, Greenville Works. “They sat down with us during a period of months and defined what they wanted to see coming out of this training.”

In Jonesboro, Ark., industry leaders and educators formed the Workforce Training Consortium (WTC) in 1995 to serve the industrial community and other businesses or organizations that need training. “This consortium is very definitely employer driven, which is the way we want it to answer their needs,” says Shelle Randall, director of workforce development and existing industry, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce. Jonesboro is located 75 miles northwest of Memphis, Tenn. “We are making sure the training is relevant to the consortium’s members. We assess the needs to ensure we are delivering to current and future needs.”

The consortium’s membership runs the gamut from traditional manufacturers to agribusiness companies to banks and a hospital. The community has a large food processing cluster. In addition to courses in welding, an electrical series of classes, office and computer applications, and a supervisory series, Jonesboro now offers a supply chain management series of classes, which prepares employees for certification in supply chain management. Further, instruction in technical skills is offered through the industrial maintenance programming. “A new class starting in January is mechatronics, which is a multidisciplinary program that brings together software engineering, control theory, computer science and so forth,” Randall says. “We have WTC funding to purchase new equipment that is used in those classes. We are excited to offer this training to our industrial community to raise the skill levels and take them into the next level of skills knowledge.”

Examples of funds for meeting training costs come from grant monies from state and federal programs. Consortium member companies also partner with officials at Arkansas State University’s Newport-Jonesboro campus, as well as the state university system, to apply for funds.

Back in Greenville, Greenville Works’ efforts are supported through a federal grant, which required matching funds from private and public partners, which resulted in raising a little more than $1 million for a two- year period. The first class started on Oct. 31, 2011, ending on Dec. 16, 2011.

The training is conducted in tiers. In order to enter the classes, participants will have had to earn the WorkKeys silver level career readiness certificate, and meet other criteria. The second tier consists of 180 hours of training, which includes a technical competency for general manufacturing but with more of a slant toward the transportation industry, which is prevalent in the region. Nearly 20 percent of the training focuses on soft skills, teamwork and communications.

“Employers provide hands on training, such as providing components and design drawings that show the dimensions of the component,” Baker says. “One manufacturer of fuel injectors provided measuring devices to measure the tolerances specified in the drawings. They also supplied a control plan, which is a quality control sheet that is used for each part to make sure they are in compliance.”

Baker says Greenville’s manufacturers have created a career progression system because they want employees to receive further training to fill skills gaps. “What we stress to people is that we don’t want you to see this as just an opportunity to get a job,” Baker says. “We want you to see this as an opportunity to have a career. Six weeks of training is just the start of what you will need to do, training wise.”

After the six-week course is completed, trainees can go to work, enter an apprenticeship with a company that wants to provide specific training, or continue with their education. The progressive career training approach aims to prepare employers in answering workforce challenges of the future, such as filling the openings left by retiring baby boomers. Trainees in Greenville can follow this path:

1.) These are the jobs you will qualify for when you come out, such as assembly and operator jobs;

2.) The next tier focuses on skilled jobs, outlining the amount of training and experience that will need to be obtained;

3.) The next tier focuses on technician jobs and multiskilled maintenance (mechatronics), and;

4.) The highest tier focuses on production manufacturing jobs

Training is delivered at the life-long learning division of the Greenville County school system, and at Greenville Technical College.

DeRocco says partnering with community colleges is an appropriate starting point for the integration of industry recognized nationally portable credentials, as well as community college credits as students and working learners work toward earning associate’s degrees. The credentialing system provides more on and off ramps from education to work and back again. What’s more the credentials create value in today’s labor market in regard to their recognition as a recruitment, screening and hiring tool for employers. Additionally, “by integrating industry recognized credentials, community colleges are producing a consistent quality graduate whose skills would be recognized by manufacturers whose footprint is often in many states,” DeRocco says.

On a local level, in Harvey County, Kan., located in south central Kansas, a workforce specialist in a three-county region conducts workforce development training, attends job fairs on behalf of industry, posts jobs, and even conducts initial interviews for companies that are shorthanded. “Because our specialist works locally he develops a feel for the culture and corporate structure of the companies,” says Mickey Dean, executive director, Harvey County Economic Development Council Inc. “Workforce efforts have been successful because our specialist understands what they are looking for.”

Harvey County’s industry activity includes heavy machine work, home to firms such as AGCO Corp., the third-largest ag machinery manufacturer in the world. South central Kansas also features a composites manufacturing cluster that supports the aviation industry in the greater Wichita metro region, and other industries such as med tech and renewable energy. “We are starting to attract the wind energy industry,” Dean says. Harvey County is located 30 minutes from Hutchinson, which is home to a nacelle assembly facility for Siemens USA. “Harvey County has been named by two companies as their preferred site locations,” Dean says. She says the companies are Tindall Corp., for the manufacture of concrete tower base systems for wind turbines; and New Millennium Wind Energy, for the manufacture of vertical-axis wind turbines. Both projects have selected the Kansas Logistics Park in Newton.

Moving east to Jonesboro, workforce development officials are also tuned in and truly understand industry needs in order to ensure the training that is delivered is what companies are looking for. “I spend a great deal of time visiting with companies to make sure they meet the skills training they need currently, and those they foresee in the future,” Randall says. “Workforce development starts at an early age to make sure we don’t have a break in the pipeline of skilled employees.”

This includes business leaders, educators and HR professionals, among others, who give their time to initiatives in the community to engage the talent base of the future. Initiatives include a program called Student Recognition, another called Arkansas Scholars, and the newest, the Junior Leadership Program. “This is a group of bright, energetic students that will one day be our leaders,” Randall says. “They have been a real joy and inspiration to work with.”

For complete details on the organizations featured in this article, visit:

Greenville Works (Greenville, S.C.), www.greenvilleworks.com and www.careerskillsnow.com

Harvey County (Kan.) Economic Development Council Inc., www.harveycoedc.org

Jonesboro (Ark.) Regional Chamber of Commerce, www.jonesborochamber.com

The Manufacturing Institute, www.themanufacturinginstitute.org

Workforce Training Consortium (Jonesboro, Ark.), www.wtcjonesboro.com

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About the author: Rachel Duran

Rachel Duran is the editor in chief for Global Corporate Xpansion. Contact her at rduran@latitude3.com.

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