Building a Workforce That Builds Business

31 Jul, 2013

By Kelly Reenders

Strategic partnerships in San Bernardino County, Calif. , fill critical workforce needs.

The mantra in real estate circles has long been “location, location, location.” However, today’s manufacturers may think that the mantra is more accurately: “location, location, labor.”

According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG) the United States is on track to create up to 5 million manufacturing and supporting jobs by 2020 by recapturing production from China and offering an alternative to high labor and energy costs in Western Europe and Japan. However, BCG also notes that American factories are watching their workforce age. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the country is 56 years old. As the industry ramps up output and exports, BCG states that companies need to invest more energy into filling the gap.

Kelly Reenders

Kelly Reenders

The good news is that this challenge can be averted through strategic partnerships. A number of local manufacturers, in partnership with the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and local educators, formed the Manufacturers’ Council of the Inland Empire to pool resources to train a new generation of skilled workers. The council helps develop customized training programs funded through the Workforce Investment Act to train the local workforce with high demand skills.

Rod Hoover, human resources manager for California Steel Industries (CSI), one of the San Bernardino County’s leading manufacturers, says:  “It is very difficult to find all of the skilled craft workers we need. We invest in classes at local colleges and provide on-the-job mentoring and training to develop talent among our current employees, in addition to paying their wages. The county of San Bernardino supports our effort by funding key vocational education to develop skilled employees to fill critical needs.”

The WIB is comprised of private business representatives and public partners appointed by the County of San Bernardino Board of Supervisors. The WIB strives to strengthen the skills of the county’s workforce through partnerships with business, education and community-based organizations.

Services such as process improvement consulting, employee training, on-the-job training, and recruitment are available at no cost to businesses in the county through the WIB.

The county’s local community colleges have also emerged as a valuable partner in working to support manufacturing growth. An example of a company that has taken advantage of those partnerships is Safariland LLC. Based in Ontario, Safariland is a local, national and global leader in products such as bullet-resistant vests and holsters for law enforcement and sporting markets.

According to the company’s executives, training is important to keeping the workforce engaged. Chaffey College is one of many providers who help employers secure Employment Training Funds from the state.  These funds are available for California employers, based on certain criteria, to provide skills training to improve competitiveness in the marketplace.

For Safariland, Chaffey’s consulting approach has helped the school better understand the manufacturer’s business and in turn develop programs for their employees that create value.

Chaffey and Safariland recently graduated nearly 30 employees who participated in a Chaffey-led leadership training program. Through an internal needs analysis, they identified the demand for training at an individual and group level, in areas such as leadership, computer skills, and certified technician training, among others. For Safariland, these workforce training programs are part of a deliberate strategy as it relates to employee lifecycle, retention and attraction.

According to Safariland executives, when they help employees to become better leaders, there is a trickle-down effect. The benefits of training become contagious. It’s a positive inertia around learning, thinking, and doing things differently. Simply by talking, engaging, and teaching people, everyone becomes more focused on process improvement. Moreover, there is a tangible increase in performance and reduced turnover.

As manufacturing continues to experience a renaissance, the county and its business and education partners are proving that success takes a commitment to building a workforce ready and able to make it happen.

Kelly Reenders is economic development administrator for the County of San Bernardino. 

Located at the heart of Southern California, an economy of 22 million people, the County of San Bernardino is the largest county in the United States. Its vast borders stretch from the greater Los Angeles area to the Nevada border and the Colorado River encompassing a total area of 20,160 square miles. Comprised of 24 cities, the County of San Bernardino encompasses more than 2 million residents with a workforce exceeding 900,000. Its assets include an innovation corridor of close to two dozen colleges and universities supporting a strong, diverse workforce along with an unparalleled collection of roadways, runways and railways that lead to regional, national and international business centers. One of its transportation assets is the Ontario International Airport featuring the western hub for UPS.

Illustration by cooldesign at Free Digital

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