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From the Desk of Jack Healy, Viewpoints on the State of Manufacturing

Time to Face The New Reality

With the Need For a Real Skills Based Training System
The recent phonemena occuring in the Massachusetts Manufacturing employment levels is a change that we have not seen in this century.  What we have seen since the  beginning of 2001 has been the month over month manufacturing sector employment declines that resulted in over 150,000 less people working.   While this has been a disaster for the people who lost their jobs, it has been a benefit to many of the manufacturers who have utilized this outsized pool of skilled workers to draw upon for their new employment needs.

Based on this year’s trend and the future projections, this canabalization process has come to an end and unfortunately with very little in the way of structural support to replace it.   The original vocational skill building systems for manufacturing have atrophied to the point where they meet little of today’s manufacturing skill’s needs.  This change comes with a recent demand for “skilled manufacturing” positions vs. “unskilled or entry level”  increasing  dramatically over the past year.  This skills shortage has not been addressed by today’s high unemployment levels as it is being reraffirmed in employment ads in every newspaper and employment sites on the interenet.   An analysis of 3,602 listings on one internet employment service  for this year through this October indicated that 68% of the listings were for skilled positions only.

This skills shortage condition is acerbated  by the vast majority of young people now moving through today’s education system who will have little or absolutely no interest in a manufacturing career.   Compounding this is the fact that the young people that do choose a manufacturing career will have limited skill levels that are far below the older workers who they will be replacing.    All of this calls into question the national pursuit of an educational policy that focuses primarily on young entry level people with no cohesive program to re educate or reskill adults who are in real need.

More than half of the current Massachusetts’ manufacturing labor force between the ages of 25 and 64 have no postsecondary degree or postsecondary credential of anykind. The percentage of the manufacturing workforce nationally requiring some college or a specific skill has grown from 28% in 1973 to 59% in 2007, and is expected to increase to 62%  by 2018. To put this in perspective – this increased skill demand will put the vast majority of people in our existing workforce in jeapordy of losing their jobs prior to retirement unless they can acquire new or better skills through some type of  post secondary or private education and training entities.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
The average production, value added per employee in Massachusetts, as of 2008, was $172,157 or 40% more year than the average value added per employee in the year 2000.  This increase represents a degree of improvement in manufacturing skill levels, such as computer literacy, that will continue well into the future.  To this change, manufacturing skill levels will also have to accommodate the skill obsolecence created by innovation and technology change. The skill obsolecence change will also be unending and will have a real negative effect on the long term unemployed’s ability to find employment at a comparable salary to their previous earnings.  As indicated in a report from the Hamilton Project that “ for workers displaced in mass layoffs or plant closings, the consequences usually extend far beyond the period when they are unemployed.   When they do find new jobs they face substantial and highly persistent declines in thei earnings.  On average , these workers experience losses equivalent to about 25 % percent of their previous earnings — even five to ten years after the displacement occurred.”

Two recent and comprehensive studies of Massachusetts’ manufacturing sector performed by Northeastern University and Deloitte LLC highlighted the current acute skills shortage in their findings and empasized the importance for the correction of this situation.   Now the federal government has raised the bar on the skills shortage situation as the President made the doubling of our exports as part of the overall program for the reduction of our National Debt. To achieve such an  objective we will certianly need to get real serious about reskilling our workforce as we do not have the skill levels anywhere near what is needed to support such a growth  initiative in the coming years. Back in 1995, Germany made a simialar decision of developing their manufactured export capability .  It took Germany who has an outstanding skills training capability that is embeded in their apprenticeship training system, ten years to achieve that goal.

This importance of skills competiveness is not just restricted to Massachusetts or the U.S. , but is a world-wide issue as well.  This was recently illustrated by Ford CEO, Alan Mulally, during his visit to the Ford Motor operations in the UK.  As part of the tour, Mr. Mulally met with Ford apprentices receiving training in the various Ford plant s along with A-Level students who were using the cutting edge design equipment in the  National  Skills Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME).   More than 2,000 students from various schools have already benifited from learning new skills at CEME. This center has worked with schools and colleges nationwide through the UK to provide an educational enviornment for apprenticeship training.    Mr. Mulally remarked at the end of his visit at the center what any CEO would have said in that he hoped that some of those prople that he spoke with “ would aspire working at Ford”.

How can all of this need for reskilling and continuing education  be supported by our current educational structure ?   The Community College curriculam is not designed to foster vocational skills development to students facing the complex balancing challenge of  life – work – education without some outward modification.

Quinsigamond Community College has faced this challenge and has started working with the Massachsetts Manufacturing Extention Partnership in a program that allows for the development of a partnership platform  between individual firms, industry associations and Work force Investment Boards.    Utilizing the MassMEP’s Mobile Operator Skills Training  (MOST) program that provides  a customized intergrated skills training for the employer that when completed will provide the framework to address the community college’s needs for continuing education by providing an incremental Contining Education Credit  (CEU ) award, while still providing 3 credits of advanced standing towards a degree in Advanced Manufacturing at Quinsigamond Community College.  The MEP has successfully trained and placed hunderds of job candidates through the MOST program with a retention rate of close to 80%.

Unfortunately we do not have such a CEME center to provide such  national support for our skills training needs, but we do have Community Colleges , like Quinsigamond  Community College who are willing to work collaboratively to put the necessary skills training  in place through such initiatives as the MEP’s  MOST Program.   Anyone interested in utilizing this program to support their own respective skills development needs can do so by contacting –

Ted Bauer – [email protected]

Bob Doiran – [email protected]

New Hampshire
Zenagui Brahim – [email protected]

Bob Zider – [email protected]

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