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From the Desk of Jack Healy

CEO Interview Series: Competing in the Global Workforce: Materials Systems Inc. and Continental Consolidated Industries

By Kathie Mahoney, Events Marketing Manager, MassMEP

With significant numbers of workers retiring over the next 10 years, the United States is facing a serious challenge in preparing students to meet workplace demands in an increasingly complex, knowledge- and technology-based global economy. Several area companies are proactive when it comes to making sure their current and future employees have the necessary skills for their company to compete in the global workforce. 

Are They Really Ready to Work?
In addition to the science, technology, engineering, and math skills that are lacking in the future workforce, there is a great need for the soft or social skills, as reported in the new report from the Conference Board, "Are They Really Ready to Work: Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce." The report’s findings include:

  • Over half (57 percent) of US CEOs report education and workforce preparedness are "very important" or "most important" policy issues. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of those CEOs who report having difficulty finding qualified workers in the US rate global competitiveness as "very important" or "most important". 1
  • Between 2000 and 2010, the number of workers ages 35-44 will decrease by 10 percent and those aged 16-24 will increase by 15 percent. 2
  • Between 2000 and 2015, about 85 percent of newly created US jobs will require education beyond high school. 3

In a rapidly changing environment, it is important that employees be adaptable, lifelong learners who know how to access and apply resources to whatever task or obstacle they face. In order to accomplish this, companies need to ensure they have the tools and skills necessary to execute job requirements. 

Materials Systems Inc.
One area company that is extremely responsive to the need for additional employee training is Materials Systems Inc. (MSI) in Littleton, Massachusetts. MSI develops and manufactures sub-systems, components, and advanced materials for defense and commercial systems customers. Their high technology products range from sonar transducers and industrial ultrasound transducers to transparent ceramics for armor and infrared/optical sensor windows. 

Company President Les Bowen saw a need for the company to grow and at the suggestion of his management team implemented Lean through the MassMEP performance based training program. The training program began with the Time Wise Lean 101 program and continues with several 5S training programs at the company. In order for MSI to compete in a global economy, the company needed to change and grow its core business competencies. As a result of these training programs, the employees are learning additional skills and are excited about the changes being implemented within the company. 

Caption: Figure 1. Lean training at Materials Systems Inc.

Since seeing the results of the lean program, Bowen says, "I now have a greater understanding of what my managers have been telling me about Lean and that makes it easier for me to say yes to changes within the company. Our Lean training program is building confidence in our customers and teaching our employees to believe in continuous improvement within the company and be more responsive to our customers needs."

Through continuous improvement and learning, the employees are making MSI a more competitive company in a global economy.

Continental Consolidated
Another area company takes a different approach to a more skilled workforce by partnering with the Worcester Technical High School to work towards a their common goal – graduating students with the skills necessary for career placement. 

Seeing a need for additional mill work training for the graduates of the Worcester Technical High School and knowing that the school was revising its curriculum with the expansion of the school at the new location, Continental Consolidated President Jim Powers spent endless hours with the school’s carpentry program to develop a greater awareness of the need for the mill works and the opportunities for careers within that industry.  His efforts have begun to reap a reward for the industry – enrollment has increased in the carpentry department, nearly doubled from four years ago. Jim has several interns from the school each year and hired one intern this past year.

Continental Consolidated Industries (CCI) is a custom mill work shop located in Worcester, Massachusetts. It supplies mill work to such retailers as Lancome, Estee Lauder, and Crabtree and Evelyn. 

"The mill working industry constantly evolves and so do the skills required for the industry. Two years ago, 15% of CCI’s business was veneer and staining; now it is 80% of their business," stated Powers. As a result, there is a growing demand for a higher skilled workforce that can read blue prints and has joinery skills. In addition, there exists a demand for soft skills for these positions such as the ability to work and communicate as part of a team. Employees are encouraged to recommend and implement process improvements. 

Actively Training Employees
These two area companies are just a small example of the companies in Massachusetts that actively train their employees to ensure they have the skills for a better future for themselves and the company. Not only are these manufacturers competing with companies overseas, but also with companies in other parts of the United States where there are lower wages and lower costs of living. In order to stay competitive in Massachusetts, manufacturing companies must conduct business better and faster than their competition. 

If you are interested in learning how your company can remain competitive through performance based training, please contact Mike Prior at [email protected] or 508-831-7020.


  1. The Business Council Survey of Chief Executives: CEO Survey Results, February 2006. The Business Council and The Conference Board.
  2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Winter 2001-02.
  3. Gunderson, Steve: Jones, Roberts; and Scanland, Kathryn, The Jobs Revolution: Changing How America Works, 2005.


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