Mind the gap

Manufacturers seek long-term solutions to address the growing skills gap.

Center of the American Experiment hosted a solutions-focused forum in December on the challenge Minnesota manufacturers face in attracting and training a skilled workforce. The event, part of the Center’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project, drew manufacturers and educators from across the state. Co-sponsors included the National Association of Manufacturers, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association and Real-Time Talent.

The symposium opened with keynote remarks by Gardner Carrick, vice president of Strategic Initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute of the National Association of Manufacturers. He highlighted promising strategies to attract new talent that ranged from a highly successful “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” video competition for high school students in Pennsylvania to a new model of an American “learn and earn” apprenticeship called Kentucky FAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education).

Two expert panels of Minnesota manufacturers followed. The first group discussed innovative strategies their companies are using to bring in new talent. Tom Wynn of Peerless Chain Company in Winona described the Reach Initiative, a project of the Winona Chamber of Commerce and its Business Education Network. Reach works with juniors and seniors at Winona High School, giving them hands-on “immersion” experience with local manufacturers and helping them develop soft skills and personal character.

Sean Mullan of 3M explained the ground-breaking TigerPath Academies program at Hutchinson High School, which merges traditional education with hands-on experience at local companies. Keith Viggers of Graco outlined the many ways manufacturers can boost recruitment by partnering with high schools and technical colleges, offering mentors, internships and opportunities to practice corporate good citizenship.

The second group of panelists focused on innovative ways their companies are developing talent themselves. Val Bentdahl of Jones Metal explained how her company is supporting Mankato High School’s welding program and using funds from Minnesota’s PIPELINE program to develop a “learn and earn” opportunity for young welders in partnership with South Central College. Tim Walker described how Pequot Tool has used PIPELINE funds to create its own training program. E.J. Daigle, dean of Robotics and Manufacturing Programs at Dunwoody College of Technology, discussed Right Skills Now, a fast-track CNC machining training program, and Dunwoody’s 2+2 program, which leads to a four-year degree.

Action-step take-aways from the forum included 1) using the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Business Education Networks to build partnerships with high schools and technical colleges, and 2) considering new resources, such as the PIPELINE program, that enhance manufacturers’ ability to develop their own training programs.