Community Colleges, Vocational Schools and Manufacturers Partner to Confront Manufacturing Skills Gap Head On

Andrew Deutsch, COO of BelflexBy Andrew Deutsch, Chief Operating Officer, BelFlex Staffing Network,

It is no secret that the U.S. manufacturing industry is facing a shortage of skilled labor. Research from Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Manufacturing Institute shows that over the next decade approximately 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled. Contributing factors include baby boomer retirements, insufficient or inappropriate skills training, concerns about job stability in the sector and misconceptions about what a manufacturing job entails. A 2016 study by Kronos Incorporated found more than 50 million Americans (21 percent) have limited to no knowledge of the industry. While losing workers due to retirement is inevitable, a collaborative effort to provide job training to younger generations and educate them about the long-term career opportunities in the manufacturing and light industrial fields is imperative.

Education and Awareness Go Hand-in-Hand

Community colleges and vocational programs have long been a mainstay of the American education system with 9.8 million students currently enrolled in the 1,108 schools nationwide. Increasingly, these programs are stepping up their game to compete against four-year colleges by providing high-tech coursework in math and computing as well as the technical and soft skills needed for manufacturing positions. For example, in North Carolina, Central Carolina Community College and Johnston Community College provide a range of classes that prepare students for jobs in the area’s growing light industrial field including assembly and forklift training. In Mississippi, Coahoma Community College and Mississippi Delta Community College both have welding training programs so students are ready for local jobs in the metal, steel and marine fabricator industries.

While community colleges and vocational schools are critical in providing the necessary skills training, they are not going to solve the labor shortage if the next generation is not interested in entering the field in the first place. Manufacturers are in an excellent position to transform the perception of the industry by educating the millennial and generation Z populations. Manufacturing Day on October 6th provides companies around the country with an opportunity to give young people a look into 21st century manufacturing. Additionally, conducting regular facility tours, visiting local community colleges and high schools, holding job fairs and hiring events, and reaching out to community organizations throughout the year will help increase awareness of and elevate the industry.

Partnering to Fill the Talent Pipeline

One of the biggest challenges of building the manufacturing workforce is ensuring that what is being learned in the classroom aligns with local job openings and career opportunities. Too often employers are unsure if candidates are fully equipped to fulfill the job requirements. But by partnering with the local community colleges and vocational schools, manufacturers can better ensure that workers will come to them with the right training.

Additionally, tapping into community organizations can be very effective. In Cincinnati, Ohio, an increased need for workers in the warehouse and transportation industry prompted the creation of LIFT the TriState. We helped launch this collaborative effort with Freestore Foodbank, one of Ohio’s largest foodbanks, Life Learning Center, an organization that helps at-risk individuals reach their highest potential, and Gateway Community and Technical College. The free program provides unemployed and underemployed adults with the opportunity to obtain the hard and soft skills needed for employment in these fields. Graduates obtain a Certified Logistics Associates (CLA) designation, as well as certifications in forklift operations and ServSafe and training in OSHA compliance, 5S workplace organization methodology and lean manufacturing processes. All program graduates are also guaranteed placement with a local manufacturer.

By partnering together, ultimately manufacturers, educators and community organizations can bridge the skills gap. This will not only ensure that the manufacturing jobs of the future do not go unfilled, but that the manufacturing sector continues to thrive and fuel our businesses, communities and the economy.

About the author: Andrew Deutsch has worked in the staffing industry for more than 25 years, with responsibilities in the light industrial and clerical staffing verticals, safety and risk management, and branch operations management.

Workers talking in a factory.