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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Good News: Discussion Has Changed to Supporting Manufacturing Growth

Jack Healy – The voice of manufacturing in Massachusetts
Jack Healy –
The Voice of Manufacturing in Massachusetts

By Jack Healy, Director of Operations, MassMEP jackh@massmep.org

In the two years since the 2009 great recession, the Massachusetts Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose 23%, twice the cumulative amount for the prior eight years.  

This significant change in our state's economics has moved discussions to how the state can support manufacturing growth, rather than supporting a declining sector. The past several years of growth have confronted the manufacturing community, as a whole, the significant challenge of developing the necessary skills to support their growth.


Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis – Updated June 5, 2012

Manufacturing skills shortages have been standard operating procedure for manufacturers for years, especially in the small manufacturing enterprise community.  This shortage has been greatly exacerbated due to recent industry growth.  There has been a complete fall-off in manufacturing closings; these historically provided the reservoir of job skills for the remaining manufacturers to draw on to meet their own skills deficiencies.  Now there is no longer a skills reservoir to cannibalize. Instead, we have a number of new enterprises looking to fill their own openings.

Skills deficiencies are not just relegated to new hires, but affect the incumbent workplaces as well. This is especially true for those manufacturing firms that must keep up with changes in technologies and equipment.

The recent "Staying Power II: Report Card on Manufacturing in Massachusetts" 1 notes that 40% of our entire workforce has an education level of high school or less. Unfortunately, this is in an industry that has now reduced low technology jobs to only 20% of the total industry jobs.

The incumbent worker skills deficit problem is compounded by the fact that many companies will see the bulk of their skilled staffs become eligible for retirement during the next five years.

To support the welcome growth in the manufacturing industry and the subsequent challenges it produced, a group of firms decided to take action. One year ago this month, a coalition of 66 people representing MA manufacturers, technical high schools, a community college, and a university formed the Manufacturing Advancement Centers Workforce Initiative Collaborative (MACWIC). The members signed a memo of agreement that confirmed their commitment to:

  1. Building a company-led network that is dedicated to identifying common issues and challenges and seeking synergistic solutions.
  2. Creating a talent pool to meet current as well as future workforce needs.
  3. Influencing the development of relevant, deployable curriculum in partnership with Workforce Training service providers, technical high schools, colleges, and universities.
  4. Increasing technical training resources, including an academy supported by MACWIC member companies committed to upgrading the technology skills of the current workforce.

The overall achievements of this coalition are included in the attachment. Their work culminates in the Applied Manufacturing Technology Certification Pathway that was developed by the coalition members to provide a precision machining certification program. This program is designed to add value and merit to the industry, encouraging students to consider careers in advanced manufacturing. This program also creates a standard instruction set and evaluation process so employees can readily understand the skills set required of an applicant.

The recession of 2008-2009 has shown that the current system does not work for the companies who plan on being the next generation of manufacturers. The people and organizations who have joined MACWIC have decided that they want to support their respective company's growth. They are doing this is in collaboration with other manufacturers who can re-imagine and redesign a system to support their needs. MACWIC is challenging the status quo and challenging the public workforce system to reinvent itself so that it can truly add value to a changed economy that is in need of support.

For those interested in learning more about the Manufacturing Advancement Center Workforce Innovation Collaborative (MACWIC), an alliance for Next Generation Manufacturers, can do so by attending their Technical Education Conference on March 11, 2013, at Worcester Technical High School.

1. Compiled by the Center of Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University

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