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What's Being Done to Address the Lack of Skilled Workers?

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For the past 15 years, manufacturing companies have been focused on training existing employees in the tools and methodologies of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma in order to improve efficiency, productivity, quality, and customer service to be more competitive in the global economy. However, this training doesn't address the lack of workers trained in the specific skills needed for today's advanced and higher tech manufacturing.

Mark Tomlinson, executive director and general manager of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, sees the skilled worker shortage as an iceberg looming on an uneasy sea. "We're just approaching it; we haven't hit it yet but we know it's there," he says. "People are starting to see it. They just don't know how to deal with it...Now there is an increased need to fill the manufacturing jobs associated with aerospace, energy, medical device manufacturing and aspects of transportation," Tomlinson says.

At the imX event in Las Vegas that I attended September 12-14, 2011, I interviewed Experience Partner companies that are very involved in workforce development and training. Mark Logan, V. P. Business Development & Marketing, Mag IAS, LLC said that MAG has a very comprehensive training program. Mag America restarted its apprenticeship program in 2005 in partnership with local community colleges. Students in the program work full-time at MAG in addition to taking college classes, working toward an Associate's degree. MAG invests approximately $200,000, including tuition, salary and benefits, for each apprentice earning a degree. This program gained national attention in an NBC Nightly News report "America at the Crossroads."

Other internal programs include Future Leaders and the Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP), which are designed to fill the pipeline at the company's management and executive levels. Future Leaders participate in a one-year program that combines classroom training with developmental assignments and mentoring from senior managers. Accelerated Leadership candidates have been identified as employees who have the potential to assume executive-level positions within MAG, and the program provides a series of high-impact job assignments coupled with advanced educational opportunities. The company also has co-operative education programs with a number of well known regional and national engineering schools. MAG IAS joins manufacturing leaders Boeing, Caterpillar, United Technologies and others as the newest partner in MIT's prestigious Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) dual-degree graduate program that equips students with master's degrees in engineering and management.

Another Experience Partner, Sandvik Coromant, provides training for their employees in collaboration with technical schools and colleges in addition to performing internal training utilizing curriculum they have developed, according to Robert Page, Productivity Center and Training Manager. They also provide training for their customers at Smart events in metal cutting technology ranging from the basics of terms and definitions to specialized metal cutting of "hard" parts in super alloys.

Another imX Experience Partner was Fanuc FA America, one of the world's leading factory automation companies. Fanuc has developed simulator software, which is ideal for training and presentation. Mark Brownhill, Program Manager, Machine Tool Distributor/Education, said, "We offer regular training programs for end-users as well as machine tool builders, agents or distributors. The training combines practical lectures with hands-on lab exercises to ensure that you get the value-added skills needed. Our NCGuide simulates the CNC operator environment featuring, by selection, ISO programming or Fanuc Job Shop Programming Software while our NCGuidePro additionally provides development tools as used by machine builders and OEMs. Both these products run on standard PC equipment with no need for additional hardware." Fanuc also has two training centers, one near Chicago and one that just opened in Cypress, California.

Since its founding in 1932, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers has provided lifelong learning programs, certification and skills assessment, technical resources, publications and industry expertise through its members. SME has several certification programs in specialized fields that are used by both industry and academia to develop today's and tomorrow's workforce, such as Certified Manufacturing Technologist, Certified Manufacturing Engineering, Lean Certification, and Green Manufacturing Specialist.

In 2010, SME acquired Tooling University LLC (Tooling U) based in Cleveland, Ohio. Tooling U provides online training to more than 1,200 manufacturing companies and 400 educational institutions. With more than 400 unique titles, Tooling U offers a full range of content to train machine operators, welders, assemblers, inspectors, and maintenance professionals.

A free Workforce 2021 Readiness Assessment was introduced at the Tooling U booth at the imX event in Las Vegas. This customized and targeted workforce assessment program gives manufacturers the opportunity to assess their own capabilities in the face of challenges they will need to solve before they are confronted with the severe skilled workforce shortages predicted by 2021. The first component of the assessment requires companies to answer questions about how they are preparing to meet the needs of the 2021 workforce. Tooling U and SME Professional development experts were available to explain solutions for readiness deficiencies identified in the assessments.

After the imX event, I interviewed two of Tooling U's clients. One client is Midmark Corporation, which brings efficient patient care to millions of people each day in the human and animal healthcare industries around the world. Midmark is committed to providing innovative products and services for the medical, dental and veterinary healthcare equipment industry. Headquartered in Versailles, Ohio, Midmark Corporation maintains four subsidiaries in the United States and has over 1,100 employees worldwide.

Casey Webster, Human Resources Manager, said, "We are experiencing a shortage of skilled machinists. So far this year, Midmark has hired seven machinists from the outside. Finding this talent was a major struggle. We tried several different recruiting tactics such as advertising in the newspaper, online, offering referral bonuses, radio ads, and professional recruiting services." She said, "We chose Tooling U because it was recommended to us by Edison Community College. After doing some research and course trials, we decided to partner with Tooling U. The kind of training courses we are utilizing includes 45 online modules and five labs. It was important that we implement a program that allowed teammates to confirm their learned knowledge. Once a teammate completes a set of online modules, he attends an eight hour, hands on lab at Edison Community College. Classes range from mathematics, blue print reading, cutting, lathe, mill, turning, and CNC. The Tooling U training program has benefited our company by:

1. Providing development opportunities to current teammates wanting to become machinists
2. Reducing training time
3. Verification program that a teammate has the skills to be successful in a machining role

Kellogg Community College, located in Battle Creek, MI, is the other client I interviewed. Chris Walden, Interim Director, Workforce Services, said, "Manufacturers are coming to us as part of the "Michigan Works" program. We purchased full-year subscriptions to ToolingU courses in machining and welding because they are the perfect supplement for lab and class work. The ToolingU courses are a cost-efficient and beneficial tool and have saved taxpayers thousands of dollars by our not having to develop our own curriculum. The courses are translatable to both certificate programs and Associate degrees." He added that the current president of the college, Dr. Dennis Bona, started out as a welder in private industry, and then became a part-time welding instructor before going on to higher education so he is very supportive of workforce training programs.

Another trade organization that also provides workforce training is The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA). The FMA champions the success of the metal processing, forming, and fabricating industry. FMA educates the industry through the following programs:

FabCast ─ FMA's webinar platform to deliver live, interactive technical education programs directly to shops on such topics as laser cutting, roll forming, metal stamping, etc. Companies can train their whole team at once, even from multiple locations. Companies can break up full days of instruction into modules and spread out over a period of time. (i.e. two hours four days a week, four hours once a week for a month, etc.)

Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) Certification - FMA's PSMO Certification is the metal fabricating industry's only comprehensive exam designed to assess a candidate's knowledge of fundamental precision sheet metal operations.

On-site - Live training conducted at a company on their equipment. Rather than releasing a limited number of staff to attend an off-site training program, it can be more cost effective to bring the expert into a facility to work with all team members engaged in a particular process. Training can be offered modularly and when needed (first, second, third shifts or weekends).

FMA's e-Fab - online training that allows a company to get the training that they need, when they need it. E-Fab courses combine a full day's worth of instruction by FMA's leading subject matter experts with the flexibility of online delivery. The training is available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Educating current and future manufacturing workers is critical for the health and growth of the manufacturing industry, and the training programs provided by SME and FMA will aid in addressing the lack of skilled workers.