The Manufacturing Advancement Center

About MAC
The MAC Action Newsline
Manufacturing our Summit
Upcoming Programs
Resource Library
Contact Us

Send a Letter
to the Editor

From the Desk of Jack Healy

Collaboration: An Answer to the Skills Shortage Problem

By Jack Healy, Director, MassMEP

Several years ago, after conducting a national survey of manufacturers, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) announced, "90% of the respondents indicated a moderate to severe shortage of qualified skilled production employees, including front line workers such as machinists." The NAM survey also reported, "83% of respondents indicated these shortages are currently impacting their ability to serve their customers." 

Since that time there have been a number of initiatives undertaken at both the state and federal levels that attempt to address this situation. One such initiative has been the Machine Operator Skills Training (M.O.S.T) program, undertaken by the six New England Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEP) as part of a Department of Labor Grant. This unique program provides for the collaboration of Regional Employment Boards through out New England with the assistance of the appropriate State MEP, to find and screen possible candidates for the machinists training program.

The training takes place daily on a Mobile Training Unit where the candidates receive two weeks of lessons on quality principles, basic math, and computer-aided machining. For a variety of reasons, only about 80% of the candidates graduate from this training before being interviewed by prospective employers. Candidates who are selected go on to a specific 60-day, on-the-job training program at their new place of employment.

To date, the MEP’s have placed 130 people in apprenticeship machining positions with over 60 employers throughout New England. The continued success of this program is contingent on the continued acceptance of the employers; there is a sizeable pool of candidates who never thought of manufacturing as a career opportunity and who are looking for work. And unless there is an immediate downturn in our economy that indicates otherwise, we have found M.O.S.T program users to be extremely supportive, as the following testimonials indicate:

James Samsel, President of Wirefab, Massachusetts, stated his concern was "more with the ‘aptitude and attitude’ of the candidates than what they learned in the initial training."  Jim wanted to make sure that they had the desire to work for his company and would be willing to learn specifics as they went along. Jim hired three candidates thus far and "supports the M.O.S.T program 100%."

Kathleen Finigan, Director of Human Services, Kamatics, Connecticut, stated, "The M.O.S.T program is a good program. I wish the program could be longer than two weeks, although I am very pleased and complimentary of it. This has been a win-win for everyone."

Kirsten Forrester, President, Stonebridge, Massachusetts., stated, "The success of our choice is a combination of the M.O.S.T program and the make-up of each individual. Both have ‘fire in the belly’ to learn and to do well. That’s the best combination of all."

Judy Boyle, Human Resource Manager, Stowe Machine, Connecticut, stated, "The M.O.S.T program is a good idea. We need to look at new innovative ways to get people into industry and we need to make sure that all of the states in New England are investing in their trade schools or we will lose manufacturing all together."

Alleviating the Trade School Crisis
Judy Boyle’s point about investing in our trade schools is important. It is a crisis that is facing all of manufacturing and is one that is being ignored by most of the manufacturing community. Unfortunately, we will all pay the price.

However, there are 33 manufacturers of the Western Mass Tooling and Machining Association (WMTMA) who are addressing this issue within their region through a collaboration with the Hampden County Regional Employment Board. This initiative is supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Workforce and Training and coordinated by the Regional Employment Board. The program allows for the utilization of the vocational high schools for evening instruction in a myriad of free courses, covering such subjects as CNC, geometric tolerancing, etc. The courses are currently being given to 167 incumbent workers of the WMTMA firms.

The state recognized the achievement of this initiative with the attendance of Lt. Governor Tim Murray at that graduation of over 100 of the evening program students and their families. Both the WMTMA and the Hampden County REB are now developing a more extensive education program called project "RENEW." All of this is taking place in a group of vocational high schools that are in desperate need of millions of dollars to for current capital equipment.

This collaboration between the Hampden County REB and the WNTMA has also extended to providing manufacturing career orientations to over 320 middle school students, utilizing the MEP’s Mobile Training Unit. The common complaint heard throughout the manufacturing community is that there are no young people interested in manufacturing. With this comes the realization that the average school age child who receives no career exposure to manufacturing opportunities while at school, will have no interest in manufacturing upon graduation.

The training and education leadership exhibited by the Hampden County REB and the WMTMA needs to be emulated. The skill shortage can’t be solved by one employer, one REB, or one school. It demands solutions that are regional, sectoral, public, and private.

The China Challenge
Prior to any collective effort a manufacturer should first look within.  An Industry Week study reports, "More than half of Chinese manufacturers are offering more than 20 hours of training per employee every year, while just over one third of US respondents do the same. Chinese manufacturers are not just going to settle for being low cost but intend to compete at all levels."

I expect that it will be the competitive threat that China brings that will, in the end, convince the manufacturing community of both the need and the value of educating our workforce. The old method of trying to buy the needed talent by offering higher salaries to experienced workers in other firms is no longer affordable given the pressures of global pricing. Today’s manufacturing leaders who strive to maintain their leadership will hopefully seek out new ways to address problems and will see the value of collective action, as did the manufacturers of the WMTMA.

For information relative to the M.O.S.T Program, contact Ted Bauer at 508-831-7020.
The Future


Home | About MAC | The MAC Action Newsline | Manufacturing Our Future Summit
Upcoming Programs | Toolbox | Resource Library | Partners | Contact Us

© Copyright , Manufacturing Advancement Center
100 Grove Street, Worcester, MA 01605, USA, Privacy Policy
Developed by Telesian Technology