The biggest issue I hear from both contractors and manufacturers is lack of work isn’t the issue, but lack of qualified people to do it is. Right Skills Now may not be the end all but it’s a model that can work for both on a regional basis. I know one of Mike Rowe’s passion is training the professional tradesman and this is a step in the right direction.
According to a Skills Gap study by the Manufacturing Institute, more than 80 percent of U.S. manufacturers can’t find qualified people for the nearly 600,000 skilled production jobs that are currently unfilled.
For American manufacturing to be successful, employers need machinists that have the right skills, and they need those skills now. That is the impetus for a new, fast-track education initiative called Right Skills Now.
The program is an accelerated, 16-week training course for operators of precision machining equipment. It provides classroom and hands-on shop experience to prepare students for immediate employment. It also allows individuals to earn college credit and national industry certifications.
One of the founders of Right Skills Now is Darlene Miller, CEO and owner of Permac Industries in Burnsville, Minn. She helped launch the training program for CNC machinists in her home state.
As a small business owner representing the manufacturing sector, Ms. Miller was asked to serve for two years on the President’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness. The Jobs Council is comprised of citizens chosen to provide non-partisan advice to the President to help foster economic growth, competitiveness, innovation and job creation.
Photo caption: Darlene Miller discusses the capabilities of the University of Pittsburgh/VA Human Engineering Research Laboratory with Director Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D., during a recent PCJC listening and action session.
PMPA provides staff assistance to Ms. Miller for her Jobs Council duties. Miles Free, PMPA’s Director of Industry Research and Technology, helped assure that the initial draft curriculum for Right Skills Now focused on delivering relevant skills needed in today’s advanced precision machining shops.
According to Ms. Miller, the first time she met with President Obama, she was asked to talk about the economy as it related to manufacturing and small business. “One of the things I said to the President was, ‘Not every student needs to go to college,’” she says.
“He had recently made a speech saying that every student should go to college. But he later agreed that while not all students must go to college, they do need some educational training beyond high school.
“I told him that in the precision machining industry, we have an urgent need for skilled people,” Ms. Miller continues. “We can’t afford to take just anyone off the street, provide some training and then put that person in a machining job.”
Despite the nation’s high unemployment rate, attracting workers with machining skills has been difficult for small manufacturers. “Because of the recession, we’re all strapped financially,” Ms. Miller explains. “We need people who have math skills. Our equipment is very high-tech, so we can’t afford to hire someone who hasn’t had technical training.
“It is critical that new hires have the necessary math and safety skills to understand and operate the machines,” she adds. “There is so much more involved now than there was 10 years ago.”
Serving on the Jobs Council with Ms. Miller are some of the country’s top corporate leaders from GE, American Express and DuPont. After the council meeting with the President, the members were divided into sub-committees. Ms. Miller was asked to co-chair the High-tech Education Sub-committee with Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini.
The group held meetings and brought in two of Minnesota’s technical schools—Dunwoody College of Technology and South Central College. The sub-committee was also able to elicit help from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS); and American College Testing (ACT), the company that developed the testing for applicants. The program has also received funding from the Joyce Foundation.
“To make this work, there had to be a partnership between the business community, the technical schools and organizations like NAM, NIMS and ACT,” Ms. Miller emphasizes.
To be eligible for the program, applicants have to take ACT workforce development tests, which are geared towards the machining industry.
The three WorkKeys tests used are Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, and Locating Information. Each of these tests is scored from 1-7 points. People who score at least 3 points on each of the 3 tests earn a Bronze-level National Career Readiness Certificate. Scores of at least 4 earn the silver-level, 5 for gold, and people who achieve at least 6 points on each of the three tests earn a platinum-level NCRC. As Ms. Miller said, additional training is available for those who don’t score as high as they’d like to match the job skill requirements of the employers who use NCRC scores. If an individual doesn’t qualify for the program the first time, there are remedial classes available.
“Problem-solving is huge part of the curriculum,” Ms. Miller says. “There is a mix of both classroom learning and shop time. After 16 weeks, the student will intern at a manufacturing company for eight weeks.
“That person can stay with the company and continue his or her education in a specific field,” she adds. Some go into programming, Swiss machining or advanced CNC skills. Others may end up as operations managers, quality managers or even entrepreneurs.
“We intend to replicate Right Skills Now nationally,” Ms. Miller sums up. “It’s not just for CNC machinists. It can be used for nearly any job skill. The program is so well-defined and accredited, it can be tweaked very easily to train anyone from welders to healthcare technicians.”