Recruiting and training new textile workers for jobs in the U.S. is a challenge, reports the New York Times.
The American textile and apparel industries, like manufacturing as a whole, are experiencing a nascent turnaround as apparel and textile companies demand higher quality, more reliable scheduling and fewer safety problems than they encounter overseas. Accidents like the factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year, which killed more than 1,000 workers, have reinforced the push for domestic production.
But because the industries were decimated over the last two decades — 77 percent of the American work force has been lost since 1990 as companies moved jobs abroad — manufacturers are now scrambling to find workers to fill the specialized jobs that have not been taken over by machines.
In Minneapolis, manufacturers teamed with a nonprofit and a technical college to train new workers in a six-month program two or three nights a week.
Applicants needed to speak English well enough to communicate with supervisors and to be able to measure precisely. Eighteen students enrolled in the first session. Half were immigrants. Charities and the city covered the $3,695 tuition. Students will be expected to pay for the course themselves in the future.
After the course, the companies, which pay to belong to the coalition, sponsored students for a three-week rotation on their factory floors and a two-week internship at minimum wage. Then the free-for-all began as the members competed to hire those graduates who decide to pursue a career in industrial sewing.
But only nine students completed the course and applied for sewing jobs, which paid $12 to $16 an hour.
Airtex Design Group, which now pays $11.80 an hour for Chinese workers, decided to train new workers on the factory floor. The company uses a technical-college instructor and existing employees. “The reality is, if we want good workers we know we have to train them and bring them in ourselves,” (Airtex President Susan) Shields said.
Funding community college-based job training and creating industry-college manufacturing institutes will create “middle-class jobs,” President Obama said in a speech at an Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, reports Inside Higher Ed.
. . . Another idea the administration unveiled Tuesday that involves higher education is the creation of 45 manufacturing innovation institutes, which link companies, colleges and government. That proposal builds on a pilot program in Youngstown, Ohio, as well as three new manufacturing institutes that are slated for creation later this year.
Obama proposed cutting corporate tax rates and taxing foreign earnings of U.S. companies, which would raise revenue to help pay for the community college plan and other proposals. But he didn’t discuss the “grand bargain” with Republicans, who said it was just a ploy to raise government spending.
The community college fund — worth $8 billion when Obama proposed it in February — would support training two million community college students for high-demand jobs, according to the White House.
In 2009, President Obama announced a $12 billion American Graduation Initiative to fund job training at community colleges. A lower priority than health-care reform, it was allowed to die. However, community colleges have received $2 billion in U.S. Department of Labor workforce development funding that “appears to be having a substantial impact,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
Half of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs are open to workers without a bachelor’s degree, according to a new Brookings report, The Hidden STEM Economy. These jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, installation, maintenance and repair pay $53,000 on average, 10 percent more than jobs with similar educational requirements. For example, a computer systems analyst averages $82,320 without a four-year degree, according to Brookings.
Overall, 20 percent of U.S. jobs now require STEM skills, Brookings estimates.
Even in high-tech Silicon Valley, there’s a demand for people with math and fix-it skills but no bachelor’s degree, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
Tae Kim and other students learn computer software for drafting and manufacturing at De Anza College in Cupertino. (Patrick Tehan, Bay Area News Group)
“Jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree represent a hidden and unheralded STEM economy,” said Jonathan Rothwell, author of the report. ”The overemphasis on four-year and higher degrees as the only route to these careers has neglected cheaper and more widely available pathways,” he said.
The report urges policymakers to boost funding for training in such careers as toolmaking, technical writing and technician work — the critical pick-and-shovel brigades in tech’s gold rush. Of the $4.3 billion spent annually by the federal government on tech-oriented education and training, just one-fifth goes toward training below the bachelor’s degree level. National Science Foundation spending largely ignores community colleges, it asserts.
At De Anza College‘s Manufacturing/CNC Technology Lab, students learn to run software programs and visualize multidimensional projects using $500,000 machines.
“There was a time when machine operators just pushed buttons. Those are the jobs we’ve lost — the simple, cheap, push-button jobs,” said Mike Appio, the lab’s department head. “Now everything is numbers. You need the ability to keep machines running on five axes spinning at one time.”
Patrick Pickerell dropped out of high school, learned to make coiled metal springs and kept on going. He runs Peridot, which specializes in precision manufacturing. His workers need ”math proficiency, but not advanced math, like calculus,” he said. “Kids that are gearheads are excellent candidates … people who enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together.”
Underemployed four-year graduates are enrolling in community colleges to learn job skills, reports the Chicago Tribune.
In 2010, Jessica Underwood graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin “with a stellar academic record, a can-do attitude and a newly minted business degree.” Her bachelor’s degree was “just like a ticket to nowhere,” Underwood told the Trib. Despite sending as many as 10 job applications a day, she found only low-wage, low-skilled office, retail and telemarketing jobs.
Three years after graduation, Underwood decided that she needed to reboot — and fast. At the College of DuPage, she enrolled in the paralegal certification program, which offered a robust hiring outlook, but also the chance to reinvent herself in only 18 months.
She owes $60,000 in student loans for her business degree.
Illinois community colleges are touting accelerated programs to help the underemployed get a fresh start.
At Prairie State College, the ”Career in a Year” campaign boosted enrollment by 50 percent in programs training home inspectors and dialysis and pharmacy technicians.
Harper College‘s launch of a “fast track” advanced manufacturing program — certification in one semester, followed by a paid internship with a partner company — attracted a standing-room-only crowd.
More than ever, companies want people adept at communicating, critical thinking and problem solving — all hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Studies continue to show that people with a four-year degree earn more, on average, over the course of their lifetime than those without college degrees. But employers say there’s often a mismatch between what traditional colleges are producing and what they need.
“Middle-skills” jobs, which require a certificate or associate degree, can qualify graduates for middle-class paychecks. Demand is high in health care fields, information technology and manufacturing, reports the Tribune.
With the help of Labor Department grants, community colleges are accelerating job training programs aimed at adults and “stacking” workforce credentials, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Working with employers, Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges have accelerated training for jobs in health care, advanced manufacturing, information technology, biotechnology, green energy and financial services.
In addition to prior-learning assessment and competency-based education, colleges are creating stackable credentials. Students can earn a short-term certificate, find a job and return later to add a higher credential.
For advanced manufacturing, the final product was a pyramid of competencies employees should ideally master to work at various job levels. The colleges worked with manufacturers statewide to develop those standards.
For example, in the precision machining field, entry-level jobs like assemblers or warehouse workers should have skills in five major areas: shop math, blueprint reading, metrology, problem solving and workplace readiness. But further up the pyramid, supervisors and managers should hold certificates and degrees in manufacturing technology, as well as more learned skills, such as programming, and a minimum number of hours working in the industry.
Stacking also works well for health-care credentials, said Ana Sanchez, the “career and college navigator” at Springfield Technical Community College. “Everybody wants to be a nurse,” but not everyone has the math and science skills needed. In one or two semesters, students can earn a certificate as a patient care technician or medical admin. It can be a quick route to the workforce and, for some, the first step on the path to a nursing degree.
A high school graduate, Anthony Oliveri earned $30 an hour building cars at NUMMI’s Fremont, California plant, until he was laid off in 2010 along with 4,700 other unionized auto workers. He now earns $12.80 an hour as a security guard patrolling high-tech campuses. It’s a different story for Greg Bostick, who studied machine technology at Oakland’s Laney College after the layoff and found work as a quality inspector.
More than a third of the Bay Area’s manufacturing jobs have vanished in the last 20 years. New manufacturing jobs require technical training and skills that old-style factory workers didn’t need, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
“When my father was around, working in manufacturing, he had a sixth-grade education,” says Jose Anaya, the initiative director of the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies, based at El Camino College in Hawthorne. “He got a job and that’s because they valued hard work and they valued brute strength. Now that isn’t so much needed. They’re looking for a higher set of skills.”
Modern Bay Area manufacturers are small operations producing electronic and medical devices. Workers need “computer skills, problem-solving savvy, the ability to talk to designers and customers and to understand their concepts, and a willingness to retrain in order to make next big thing.”
“Twenty or 30 years ago you could have a high school degree and you could expect to get a job in a pretty stable industry and maybe have a one-earner family,” says Doug Henton, CEO of Collaborative Economics in San Mateo. Now, “it’s a more challenging time. You might need a couple of years beyond high school and even then you might need two incomes to support a family.”
The Manufacturers Institute estimates 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing are unfilled. The Boston Consulting Group estimates 100,000, but predicts the gap will grow. The average age of skilled manufacturing workers — machinists, welders, mechanics — is 56.
Tesla bought the NUMMI plant to make electric cars, but it’s hired only a few hundred laid-off NUMMI workers. Tesla’s highly automated factory needs fewer, more highly skilled workers.
After completing Laney’s two-year machine technology program, Bostick found a job at a machine shop through a Laney instructor. He now works there part-time and works full-time at a second job, where he uses computer programs and sophisticated tools to inspect parts. With extra work hours, he makes almost as much as he did at NUMMI, where he earned $29 an hour plus overtime. ”There are really no blue-collar jobs in California that you can make that kind of money and have no skills,” Bostick says. “I don’t know of any.”
Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.
High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.
Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.
They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).
One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.
“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”
Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers ”doubt . . . the so-called cure.”
Having students write about math isn’t a real cure. Group work isn’t a cure. Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute. I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.
Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.
Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.
Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.
Manufacturers are expanding — if they can find skilled workers, reports Minnesota Public Radio.
BRAINERD, Minn. — Pequot Tool and Manufacturing, whose 135 workers fabricate metal and plastic parts for aviation, agriculture, medical and other industries, is poised for growth in Pequot Lakes, about 25 miles north of here.
But the company is turning away customers, chief executive officer Karlo Goerges says. Goerges can’t find workers with the right skills, he said.
The U.S. Labor Department has given $500 million in grants to technical colleges and universities to expand training programs in manufacturing. Community and technical colleges in central Minnesota will use $13 million to train workers in high-tech manufacturing skills.
Companies say high-tech and even entry level jobs are tough to fill. What used to be, say, simply a welding job, now demands computer skills, robotics, adaptability, flexibility and more.
“If I had a skilled person walk in today, we’d probably hire them on the spot,” Goerges said. “Right now we’re turning away work that we can’t do, because we don’t have the people to do it. And if we don’t have people, we can’t expand.”
Manufacturing jobs in Minnesota pay an average of $56,000 a year and each job creates nearly two jobs in supporting industries, economists estimate.
John Newhouse, who runs a custom mold-making company, said applicants for entry level jobs often lack basic mechanical skills that used to be taught in high school. ”A factory job is no longer a factory job,” Newhouse said. “A factory job is now a value-added asset to a company.”
Marlene Mixa, director of strategic grants initiatives at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, is leading the job training effort, which will teach reading, math and computer skills, plus communications skills and working in teams. ”You need someone who can be flexible, who has that understanding of the whole process, who has critical thinking skills, problem solving skills,” Mixa said.
Central Lakes and technical colleges in St. Cloud and Pine City will use the federal grant to develop new degree programs in automation, plastics, and reverse engineering and rapid prototyping.
Retraining adults for high-demand jobs and improving graduation rates are the priorities for Iowa community colleges, reports the Gazette. Half the students who enrolled in 2009-10 earned a credential or transferred within three years. Colleges are trying to improve that number.
Des Moines Area Community College is among the schools that now requires an orientation course for all students, said Jeremy Varner, administrator of the community colleges division with the Iowa Department of Education. Other colleges are putting resources into more advising and early-warning programs for when students begin to struggle, he said.
“Getting more through to graduation — that’s where a lot of that focus is,” Varner said.
Kirkwood Community College hopes its math “emporium” will improve retention, ’said Math and Science Dean Lori Woeste.
Students work in a computer lab where an instructor is always on hand for one-on-one discussion, and the students work at their own pace. . . . students signs up for the Prep for College Math course, where they demonstrate competency in the “modules” they are confident about and then focus their time on the areas where they need work, Woeste said.
College officials hope state funding will improve next year, easing the tuition burden on students and funding job training. Iowa is focusing on training workers for jobs in nursing, information technology and advanced manufacturing.
The auto industry needs workers with more advanced skills, said Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research at the the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Workforce Development Institute.
Auto manufacturing jobs fell by 54 percent at the depths of the recession and are now rebounding, but the new jobs require new skill sets, Dziczek said. Community colleges will need to retool automotive job training.
As baby boomers retire, auto makers will be looking for new hires with the “cross skills” to do a variety of jobs.
There is a growing role for tech support in auto repair, and mechanics need more “soft skills”—like problem-solving and customer relations skills—as well as the ability to understand data storage and analysis, Dziczek said.
Community colleges should specialize in training workers for certain industries and “cultivate your brand” as “the place they’ll go to for skilled workers,” Dziczek said.