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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Taking the Next Step to Develop Manufacturing Skills

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

By Jack Healy, Director of Operations, MassMEP [email protected]

Twenty five years ago, I had the opportunity to visit two Japanese automotive transplants located in Anna, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky to study their very productive manufacturing methodologies. Both organizations have continued to evolve and they have been recognized for achieving productivity levels of at least 95% of those located in Japan. This has led to the conclusion that whatever the faults of the US educational system, on-the-job training can compensate for educational deficits.

What was not widely recognized was that both organizations, at that time, made a two-year college degree a prerequisite for employment throughout their plants. Possessing such an extensive skill base obviously made for a much easier development of their productive manufacturing cultures in each of their respective organizations.

As President of a Massachusetts manufacturing firm at that time, I viewed having such a prerequisite degree for my own firm of 250 employees something of a dream. Lacking an existing credentialed talent base or a supportive community college system, the manufacturing community, along with my own firm, were reduced to hiring "the willing," regardless of educational levels.

While we’ve made progress, the Massachusetts manufacturing community still has a ways to go. According to the recent findings in the Staying Power II Report Card on Manufacturing in Massachusetts 2012 report, compiled by the Center for Urban and Regional Policy School, approximately 40% of our entire workforce has a high school or less education level.

As stated in the survey, "In 2005, 33 percent of the workforce had at least a BA; five years later, that number is 39 percent. Younger workers joining the industry are coming in with more education, taking the place of older retiring workers who were much less likely to have gone beyond high school."  

This finding and the fact that high-technology enterprises, such as medical devices and navigational and electronic instruments, are growing sectors and require higher levels of education for their new hires have contributed to the increase in education. In addition, hiring for much of the basic unskilled manufacturing assembly jobs, once the core of manufacturing, has become relatively unimportant. Nearly one-sixth of team assemblers work for employment agencies, which furnish workers to other companies on an as needed basis*, and as such are not included in the state’s manufacturing sector’s employment numbers.

Massachusetts’ ability to provide a large number of well-paying jobs for those with less than a 4-year college education is in decline but may accelerate with the growth of the state’s Advanced Manufacturing sector. The current skills gap of hundreds of manufacturing positions going unfilled, coupled with continued demands for improved productivity, have brought approximately a quarter of the state’s manufacturers to a level of awareness that they must now become personally involved with resolving this problem that is jeopardizing the growth of our industries. 

The Staying Power II Survey asked the firms in the survey for their recommendations for "what they thought were the most important initiatives that might be undertaken by industry itself, by their own firms, and by the state."

The following recommendations were made (and percentage of respondents who thought that these recommendations were very important or extremely important).

  1. Working with school or community college instructors to incorporate industry standards into curriculum — 30.3 %
  2. Creating a certificate in manufacturing technology  — 27.5%
  3. Serving a mentors/advisors at selected vocational schools or community colleges — 27.4%
  4. Speaking to parent organizations/student groups about careers in manufacturing — 24.7%
  5. Contributing machinery, tools, or other materials to schools — 21.0%
  6. Exhibiting at education, career, and technology fairs — 19.7%
  7. Instituting company sponsored educational scholarships  — 14.2%
  8. Hiring vocational/community college teachers to train your employees — 11.6%

The survey also found that at least a third of the respondents are not willing to become involved in any of the recommended programs that may address this problem, either because they believed that they were not useful or because they did not have the resources or time to participate. While this is a significant segment of the manufacturing community, we have seen that there is a general willingness of manufacturers within the state to collaboratively participate in addressing their industry’s skills gap. Thus was born the Manufacturing Advancement Center’s Workforce Innovation Collaborative (MACWIC).

MACWIC is an industry-led collaborative that in less than a year’s time has established an acceptable skills credentialing system and established an articulation agreement with Quinsigamond Community College. Quinsigamond is recognizing and supporting the applicability of the MACWIC skills standard as part of the school’s degreed program in Applied Manufacturing Technology. Many economists attribute the differences in productivity of countries to their labor and capital markets, which makes collaborations like the MACWIC essential to support the necessary development of productivity in our labor markets.

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