Partnering for Positive Outcomes

01 Jun, 2012

In This Article

Educators and industry collaborate to create new training techniques for optimal employee development.

By David Hodes

In today’s businesses environment, prognostications about what tomorrow will bring can simply be guesses instead of informed decisions from leadership who used to rely on the straightforward answers derived from the economic indicators and patterns of the past.

When it comes to talent, developing a workforce typically followed a step-by-step practical process. There would be a job opening and a search for the right match. It sounds simple. However, today the process has trap doors and dead ends in the search to find the right match when it’s needed, as well as ensuring workers have the proper training to support an operation that is constantly updating itself to stay competitive.

Among all industries, manufacturing appears to face some of the more daunting challenges in getting the right person right there right now. Equipment has evolved, meaning workers require incumbent skills mixed with new skills. This means a hybrid workforce needs to be trained, which means someone has to recognize that fact and take the steps to work out the details.

Products contain different components that have, in some cases, leapt out of labs to become the new norm. Someone has to understand how to work with those components and get the most out of new scientific discoveries and update the materials used in manufacturing, adjust the production process, reposition the product that is produced and ultimately, satisfy a more discriminating consumer.

It is not rocket science — or maybe, it is.

Aerospace manufacturing is the biggest business in Washington state — there are 92,000 highly skilled workers in 650 different aerospace businesses in the state. However, hundreds of workers are nearing retirement age at The Boeing Co. The company has an 98-acre facility in Everett, and smaller operations throughout the state. The retirement factor, says Bruce Kendall, president and CEO of the economic development board, Tacoma-Pierce County, makes workforce the priority. “Regardless of what the overall economy is doing, the quantity and quality of folks that are available to be hired is the No. 1 issue,” he says.

For the manufacture of Boeing’s next generation of commercial jet, the 737 Max, the company will add 5,000-to-8,000 new jobs, Kendall says. “It’s an enviable position to be in, to have that kind of growth happening in the world’s largest manufacturer, by value,” he says. “But the flip side is that we get to make sure we have the folks to take those jobs.”

In Tacoma, there are two technical colleges with aerospace training programs in place. Clover Park Technical College has had a composites manufacturing training program for the past seven years. Kendall says the course is a perfect fit for companies such as Boeing or Toray Composites America Inc., a global supplier of advanced composite material based in the Frederickson industrial area at the Port of Tacoma.

The other college is Bates Technical College, which has two manufacturing certification programs related to metal, because so much of an airplane consists of aluminum, Kendall says.

One of the programs is a certification in machining, a pre-apprenticeship program for the Tacoma Machinists Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. The other is for the high-tech, automated computer numerical control (CNC) type of machining. Students are taught by instructors from a workshop on the campus in Tacoma that is set up to mirror what actually happens on a shop floor, Kendall says. “They can get the feel of the workplace, the feel of the space as well as the equipment,” he says.

The need for replacement workers at an aerospace company like Boeing is huge, Kendall says. “It’s safe to say that conservatively, 50 percent of the machinists there will be eligible for retirement in the next five years,” he says. “And that is a scary prospect that Boeing recognizes and we recognize.” He says the state has engaged with the training and education system in order to “really bulk up the pipeline of folks” that are trained to fill those jobs.

For the manufacture of Boeing’s next generation of commercial jet, the 737 Max, the company will add 5,000-to-8,000 new jobs, Kendall says. “It’s an enviable position to be in, to have that kind of growth happening in the world’s largest manufacturer, by value,” he says. “But the flip side is that we get to make sure we have the folks to take those jobs.”

There is also a statewide training effort called the manufacturing academy in Pierce County. It is a nine-week, 360-hour, 30-credit training and recruitment program that has been offered for a year. It is a pre-employment program designed by local manufacturers, most of whom are aerospace suppliers.

The program takes somebody who has not been in a manufacturing environment before; however, is curious and interested in the sector. Funds come from the state, the individual, and sponsoring companies such as General Plastics Manufacturing Co. and Precision Machine Work, Inc. Training covers applied manufacturing tools, Six Sigma principles, basics of industrial safety, electricity, blueprint reading, introduction to welding and introduction to composites. There is a $300,000 scholarship fund available to Pierce County residents.

Alignment at the Local Level

In the Midwest, Indiana is among the states that have made workforce development a priority.

A program by the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation, has been supportive of a number of initiatives in the state, says John Sampson, president and CEO, Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. “In 2008, they invited us to submit a grant proposal for up to $10 million for a project,” he says. “Two years later, we were approved for a $20 million grant for a development project exclusively for talent development initiatives in the region tied specifically to the needs of current employers.”

About 25 percent of the grant money went to a higher education endowment related to manufacturers in the region; 25 percent went to a community college to purchase high-tech equipment for its advanced manufacturing center; 25 percent went to create new tech high schools focused exclusively on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. The remaining 25 percent went to worker retraining programs in the region.

The returns from that grant came back in a number of ways, Sampson says, but the most important one is that Indianapolis is ahead of the national average in employment growth. “There was no blinding insight here,” Sampson says. “We just thought we were doing the right thing and that led to more workers getting back to work early here.”

The workers serve five target industries, with a “horizontal slice” in advanced manufacturing separate from the auto industry, Sampson says, which is represented by an expanding General Motors truck plant. The industries are medical devices, defense and aerospace ground-based wireless communication, food processing, transportation and logistics, and specialty insurance companies.

“It’s not the traditional classroom,” Sampson says. All the state standards are the same, he says, but they are just using a different teaching methodology that more closely resembles the workplace in terms of problem solving. “It was directly in response to the needs of the local companies to have students well-versed in STEM and 21st century skills,” he says.

“Our objective now is to produce an adult workforce by the year 2025 that is [comprised of] 60 percent of the workforce we need that have a four-year degree or two-year degree or a certified skill that has labor market value,” Sampson says.

Economic developers, industry and educators are directly focused on producing skills that have labor market value in the region. “We don’t think a solution to getting these people employed exists on a national level,” Sampson says. “We think this is about alignment on a local level.”

Efficiently Moving the Goods

While the need for manufacturing skills comprises a large number of workforce training programs, the global economy has also put pressure on logistics companies to step up and address the faster pace of moving manufactured products from point A to point B.

For example, the growth of the UPS Worldport forced the company to quickly ramp up its workforce numbers. The company’s worldwide air hub is located at the Louisville International Airport, and in 2006, the company completed a $9 billion, 1 million-square-foot expansion. “We knew we were going to need third shift workers to work odd hours Monday through Friday from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” says Jeff Wafford, public relations specialist, UPS.

UPS is the charter business partner in the Metropolitan College, which isn’t a college but a partnership between the company, the state of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and Jefferson Community and Technical College. To enroll in the program, a UPS employee applies through Metropolitan for the third shift job, and then applies for admission to either the university or the technical college.

A UPS employee who works the third shift and attends classes at the partner institutions will receive 100 percent of their tuition paid through the program. “It’s a good deal,” Wafford says. “You get a paycheck, benefits, tuition paid for and you get bonuses when you complete a certain number of course hours.”

Wafford says a workforce advisory board has been created that consists of companies such as Norton Healthcare, Kentucky’s largest health care system; the recently expanded Ford assembly plant that now employs nearly 3,000 workers; and Texas Roadhouse.

In March, Metropolitan College placed its first three workers through the program. One of them was hired full time at Norton Healthcare, and the other two were hired full time at Ford. “Metropolitan College was not started necessarily to keep long term UPS employees,” Wafford says. “It was meant to staff the hub. And if we gain long-term UPS employees out of it that is a bonus for us.”

Wafford says the plan is to expand the number of companies involved with them in the program. “This program is 14-years old now and we really want to see it going for the foreseeable future.”

When it comes to workforce training, visionaries at corporations see where they need to go. But getting there — having the right workforce in place to make the future as profitable as the present — is a strategy that takes an evolving collaboration among the stakeholders, including the higher education system.

David Hodes is a business freelance writer for several business publications. He is based in Arlington, Va., and can be reached by e-mailing

For complete details about the organizations featured in this article, visit:
Metropolitan College (Louisville, Ky.)

Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership

Tacoma-Pierce County (Wash.) Economic Development Board


David Hodes

David Hodes is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at

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