Precision Manufacturing’s Precise Challenge

Steve Kalina, a veteran of more than two decades in manufacturing, is the still-new executive director of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association, having started in August.  He’s also (I’m guessing not incidentally) “a veteran of the United States Marines, with two decorated combat tours and many leadership roles.”  His acute remarks at MPMA’s “ManufacturingNext 2018” conference on workforce issues perfectly reinforced themes Center of the American Experiment continues to focus on in our multiyear project, “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree.”  The conference, formerly known as MPMA’s “Annual Meeting,” was held in Brooklyn Center on October 25.  Here are excerpts of what he said.

  • There was a young boy that grew up not far from here. As a kid, he liked to tinker with things.  In fact, he sometimes got in trouble for playing with cigarettes and knives, but to be fair, he was putting them on the end of robots.  He later watched a movie that inspired him to learn and explore and take his tinkering to a new level.  The movie was “Frankenstein” and it inspired a young Earl Bakken to combine medicine and electronics to form Medtronic.  We all have something that inspired us.

  • As manufacturers we focus on lead times, labor utilization, cycle times and so on. Education and government don’t typically work this way and typically cannot move as fast as manufacturers.

  • We’re blessed to have great schools in Minnesota that can produce solid students. But we still have the same problem of a limited funnel.  If we simply improve the curriculum, the funding and technology in the schools, what does that do? It may provide better candidates to larger companies that connect with the schools.  After that, there are very few candidates left for smaller manufacturers.

  • We need people and we need them now. Many shops can’t keep up, are turning away business or are simply burning their people out.

  • We still need to partner with education, but not rely solely on them. Without more students going into manufacturing, the sole investment in programs won’t yield us more workers.  Students that graduate aren’t fully ready to work in our shops and still require further training from the manufacturers.  That means we need to focus resources on increasing that funnel, supporting apprenticeship training programs and reducing the dependency.

  • This summer, the board of directors developed a new strategic plan. It centers around workforce development because that is our most immediate  The team developed three Pillars:

      • Number One: Government Relations & Advocacy. We’ll continue the momentum we’ve developed in government relationships, take the next step with the Youth Skills Training program and find other avenues to improve our legislative resources.  We’re not going to forget about all other legislative matters, but we are going to fine-tune our focus on workforce development at the Capitol.
      • Number Two: Career Pathways. I like to call this the funnel, which focuses on improving the image of manufacturing and increasing the draw of students, by engaging manufacturers with the community, schools and parents.  We need to learn how to connect with students . . . . We need to help manufacturers develop a community around them.  Instead of partnering with dozens of institutions, each of us needs to find those specific and local to our business.
      • Number Three: Worker Training. MPMA has done a good job of investigating and informing us of things like [the Pipeline and apprenticeships.]  But as I mentioned, most of us don’t know where to start.

That might well be true if he says it is.  But it’s not to say Mr. Kalina isn’t off to an insightful and promising start himself.