My job may be in DC, and I am often attending conferences, symposiums, business roundtables and think tank sessions in the DC area, but in December, I had the good fortune to get back to my local roots in the Cleveland area where I live.
 
As I do in other areas of the country, when I was back in Cleveland, I visited a vocational high school; a local non-profit economic development organization that works with industry and career and vocational education high schools; and I toured the Unified Technologies Center at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) to see recent updates to their advanced manufacturing technology program lab, visit with their local apprenticeships program director, and review the new curriculum and the new lab that Tri-C has developed for Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing.

Just as I have been in other parts of the country, I was encouraged and energized by what’s happening at the local level to support what we at AMT like to call Smartforce Development. On the other hand, I see that there is still so much to do.

While I was in Cleveland, I was given a newly published whitepaper that was commissioned by the Cleveland Foundation on aligning the demand and the supply side of professional and technical education with careers. The research for the whitepaper had just been conducted in the fall of 2014 and as I read through it, among other things, it struck me that this very local research was reflective of and transferrable to the macro issue of the skills gap across the country. In fact, the Cleveland area is a perfect micro look at this issue because of its historic base of manufacturing and recent growth in the information technology and healthcare fields.

The research identified 96 occupational groups working in professions in the local economy. It also highlighted 41 “Core Demand Index” occupations – those that hold both long-term opportunity outlook, as well as a sustainable family wage ($17.62/hour in Cuyahoga County). Finally, it identified 18 “wealth creating occupations”—those that provide the best opportunity for demand-supply alignment in five important economic clusters of opportunity: Advanced Manufacturing, Bioscience and Healthcare, Energy Production (sustainable energy [wind, solar, etc.], not fossil fuels), Information Technology, and Financial & Business Services/Back Office. 

The two key shortcomings that stood out in the research in the area of advanced manufacturing are two that have recently come to the forefront in Washington, D.C., as well. They are the disconnect between the number of high school students who are going directly into advanced manufacturing technology degree programs at community colleges and the disconnect between the “for credit” and the “not for credit” programs at community colleges.

Typically, workforce development programs in Advanced Manufacturing at community colleges fall into two categories. One is worker re-training programs for specific employers to elevate specific skills, and the other is training displaced workers, those who have been laid off from their job and are being trained for new jobs in cooperation between the community colleges and the Federal One Stop programs. As a result, only a small percentage of graduates from these advanced manufacturing programs earn a two-year degree, let alone an industry credential or certification.

That dynamic has to change in order to bring the demand and supply side of the equation into balance for our industry. There is simply not a sufficient pipeline of students who are coming directly out of high schools into these programs and who are seeking a two-year degree in advanced manufacturing at the community college level.

When we’re talking about these advanced manufacturing programs, we’re not just talking about machinists, production technicians, welders and a next generation of additive manufacturing workers. As the Cleveland Foundation study pointed out, and as most AMT members are painfully aware, Industrial Maintenance, Machine Repair Technician and Field Service Technician are the job functions that suffer from the most critical demand-supply misalignment. AMT is working closely with NIMS on this and will have an updated solution in 2015. 

The Smartforce Development department at AMT is here to help. We can assist you in opening a dialogue and reestablishing relationships and mentorships with your local high school, career tech and community college programs via meetings, data and open house events. Please contact me at 703-827-5203 or at gjones@amtonline.org.

If you would like a link to a pdf of the Cleveland Foundation study to explore the depth of the data on your own, send me an email and I’ll forward a link to you. As usual, you can follow me on Twitter @GregoryAJones for more frequent updates on Smartforce Development. 

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You may be aware that when the administration recently announced two new Manufacturing Institutes, they also announced an additional $100 million investment in apprenticeship programs. If you would like more information on how to re-start an apprenticeship program at your company, contact me or visit www.nimsready.org. Our industry-credentialing partner, NIMS worked with the administration and the Department of Labor on this initiative and can be a valuable resource for your company.

Have a Happy and Prosperous 2015!