Despite stated commitments by many to support well-paying manufacturing jobs, a fundamental challenge persists: matching workers with those jobs and the career pathways they provide. In fact, industry experts predict that while manufacturing employers will need to fill nearly 3.5 million jobs by 2025, as many as 2 million of those could go unfilled because of the inability to find skilled workers that match employers’ needs.
Solving this problem is not a simple prospect. Despite the best of efforts, there has been a persistent inability to “sync the signals” between companies and educators. Far too often, companies are advancing their technology, processes and job functions, but at the same time, aren’t signaling what competencies they need to those who train workers — community colleges, universities and local workforce training programs — or if they are, those entities often aren’t making needed adjustments. But this can be fixed.
One model that has proven effective is the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program. Developed by Toyota, it’s now being shared with more than 300 other companies in conjunction with the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education.
AMT, which currently works with 22 colleges in nine states, offers participants an opportunity to gain work experience while attending college, spending two days each week in the classroom and three days on the job. While in the program, participants learn the skills and competencies that employers need, increasing their job prospects exponentially. In fact, nearly 100 percent of graduates are placed into full-time positions with either the sponsoring employer or other partnering company.
The essential ingredient to these types of successful models is collaboration. It’s critical that manufacturers work with local colleges and workforce training agencies to close the gap between when a company needs certain competencies and when training programs are graduating workers who have those competencies. Done effectively, with the right mix of public and private partners, they help manufacturers reduce job vacancies and first-year turnover, increase workforce diversity, and provide greater advancement for their workers from entry-level to middle-skill jobs. For workers, what that means is a solid pathway to a well-paying career.
As the data points out, our nation’s efforts on this front need to be accelerated if we are going to close this gap and match skilled workers with the jobs manufacturers will need to fill over the next decade. Private sector companies and educational institutions are two of the partners needed to do this. The third is government.
Many of these collaborations already include local government entities. But they need the federal government as a partner, too, in the form of budget and policy support for workforce training programs and apprenticeships — including through the reauthorization of the Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. They also need block grant and competitive grant opportunities, which allow local and regional collaborations to bring in more community partners, have better impact assessment of their efforts and a broader inclusion for their areas’ workers.
Syncing our signals on workforce skills and competencies is critical to fulfilling a promise of economic opportunity and access to the middle class for countless Americans. Up to now, our nation’s efforts to do so have been marginal at best. But this is a challenge we can overcome. Collaborations across the nation are proving to be highly effective. But if we’re going to accelerate the impact of these programs, the federal government must be at the table, too.
Martin Scaglione is president and CEO of Hope Street Group, a nonprofit committed to ensuring economic opportunity for all Americans, that has partnered with Arconic Foundation and Toyota to build local manufacturing career pathways collaborations.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.