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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Career Paths Must Support Labor Needs as Small Manufacturers Rely on Skilled Workforce

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

There is growing awareness of the demographic shift within the manufacturing community as more of the baby boom generation reach retirement age and leave the workforce.  This process, expected to conclude circa 2020, will see approximately 35 million people of the X and Y generations replacing the 85 million people who have left. This labor imbalance will be felt around the advanced economies of the world, where it is predicted that there will be an overall workforce shortage of 85 million jobs. Whether or not these numbers are exactly right, it is understood that the current and real manufacturing skills shortage is expected to accelerate as the workforce ages and retires.

This awareness was amply demonstrated within the small manufacturing enterprise community this past Manufacturing Day on October 4th. Numerous small manufacturers opened their doors to inform and attract possible candidates to the job opportunities within their firms. Overall, the entire promotion activity for that day was greatly improved in both large and small firms, from conducting tours to offering vocational videos to job fairs. As measured by Google, Manufacturing Day 2013 received double the prior year's activity with 249 million hits focused on one day's events.  

Small Manufacturers Rely on Skilled Workforce
While all manufacturers will be facing this same demographic shift, large manufacturers will have the opportunity to address the problem for their firms with automation, acquisitions, outsourcing, and reengineering. Such opportunity will not exist to any great degree for the small manufacturers who, with limited resources, will continue to be highly dependent on having a skilled and productive workforce. No economic force will have shaped or reshaped the overall manufacturing community in this country as much as this change in available labor.  Compounding this condition is the fact that manufacturers must deal not only with the labor shortage, but with a talent deficiency that is hitting small manufacturers especially hard.  

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently conducted what has been described as the world's most comprehensive adult study. The results indicated that there is a need for longer-term strategic planning for new skills that foster a competitive edge and support continuing structural changes in industries. The study's findings support what is generally known is and confirmed by the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who stated:

The education system has not done enough to help Americans compete or position our country to lead in a global economy that demands increasingly higher skills.  While the study places the highest skilled adults on a par with those in other leading nations, the findings shine a spotlight on a segment of our population that has been overlooked and under developed.

The study indicated that the oldest U.S. adults, as a group who are exiting the workforce, were close to the international skills average. Unfortunately, Americans in the younger age groups performed universally worse than the world's average and demonstrated far fewer skills which is certainly less than encouraging for the future.

Figure 1. Leslie Parady discusses the MACWIC Career Pathway. All images © copyright DON WEST / fOTOGRAfIKS.

In Massachusetts, these compounding conditions of labor shortage and skills deficits have been addressed by the Advanced Manufacturing Center's Workforce Innovation Collaborative (MACWIC) which has organized and implemented a career pathway for Applied Manufacturing Technician. As described by the Center for PostSecondary and Economic Success, "Career Pathway is a well articulated sequence of quality education and training, offering support services that enable education for underprepared youth and adults to advance over time to successfully higher level of education and employment in an industry setting."

MACWIC's Career Pathway process, recently introduced at the Massachusetts Jobs and Workforce Summit, is illustrated in this presentation as meeting the components of a career pathway framework and is being used by MACWIC members. Research has indicated that in every region of our state there are young workers (16-24) who are struggling to connect to the job market. The MACWIC Career Pathway provides a process for these young people who are seeking to start their careers in manufacturing; it shows them how to connect with a continuum of training that will lead to post secondary education. 

MACWIC is made up of partners, including manufacturers and educational/ training providers.  The association includes more than 100 members with over 18,500 employees that bring in over $6 billion in revenue. Partners of the collaborative are required to sign a Memorandum of Agreement that confirms active membership and their commitment to ensure the transfer of knowledge and critical skills to the current and future workforce. This is done through the development of relevant deployable curriculum, e.g. Applied Manufacturing Technician, in partnership with workforce training providers, vocational technical high schools, and community colleges and Universities. 

Any party interested in joining the MACWIC initiative can do so by contacting Leslie Parady at lesliep@massmep.org.

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