Mississippi: Skilled workers draw skilled jobs

Eastern Mississippi’s “Golden Triangle” has drawn “high-wage, high-skill jobs to an area with very low median income, poorly ranked schools, and a history of farming and low-end factories,” writes James Fallows in The Atlantic.

Laid-off workers from packing houses and minimum-wage garment plans weren’t ready for jobs in “a billion-dollar modern steel mill or an Airbus helicopter factory,” he writes. But East Mississippi Community College, or EMCC, stepped in to train local people for skilled jobs so they can share in the new prosperity.

Raj Shaunak, born in Kenya of Indian ancestry, built a manufacturing business with family members in Starkville, Mississippi. When it was sold in 1989, he began teaching adult-education courses and math, then went on to workforce development.

EMCC advertises its job training options and places students in “skills-based pathways,” Raj explains. Students are assessed, “brought up to speed in areas of weakness” and trained in the skills they’ll need to be employable.

These include precision measurement, ability to read graphs and blueprints, “lean manufacturing” procedures, teamwork and flexibility, trouble-shooting, “continuous improvement,” and all the other traits you’ve heard about if you’ve visited any advanced factory in Japan, Europe, China, or the US.

In the EMCC training facilities, students work on real versions, or sometimes scaled-down models, of the machinery and products being made in the local factories. I saw them dealing with real engines from the nearby PACCAR factory, and real computer-controlled machine tools.

A new Yokohama Tire assembly line will need 500 workers. EMCC hopes to train as many as 5,000 candidates.

“What happens to the ones who don’t get hired?” Raj asks, anticipating the question. “They will have much higher skills, and they will be more marketable—either when Yokohama opens its next phase [another 500 jobs], or anywhere else.”

“We cannot guarantee a job for anyone. We are in the business of training people to be part of a qualified pool of applicants. We’re trying to move people from dependence to enterprise and independence.”

Also as part of the Yokohama deal, all of the company’s own direct hires—”its engineers, its PhDs, its technicians, everyone except the CEO!” as Raj put it—will also go through an EMCC program.

“When you are competing for businesses, you have to have the infrastructure, you have to have the quality of life, you have to have the land,” Raj told Fallows. “But most places that are competing have those things. We now have a critical mass of trained and trainable workers. Companies have told us that this makes the difference.”

To expand training for advanced manufacturing jobs, EMCC is opening a $38 million “Communiversity” to house 15 manufacturing, technology and engineering educational bays, reports The Dispatch.

Colleges partner for manufacturing program

Nashua Community College (NCC) and Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America will partner on an advanced manufacturing program that will blend online and competency-based learning, reports AP.

The Advanced Manufacturing by Innovation and Design program will create a path for students to move from a certificate in advanced manufacturing to an associate degree in precision manufacturing and mechanical design.

Students will use College for America’s competency-based curriculum, which is built around online projects, while also learning hands-on skills in NCC labs. Local businesses will help students gain real-world experience.

“Industry partners are key to the program’s success and will play a pivotal role in the instructional design of (the program), in close collaboration with College for America’s innovative teaching and learning model and Nashua Community College’s rigorous Advanced Manufacturing curricula,” said NCC President Lucille Jordan.

Employers seek skilled workers

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Lyle Fry drills a hole into a handlebar he is making during a mechanical engineering technology class at Cincinnati State. (Photo: Gary Landers, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Employers are going to college campuses to help guide training for future employees, reports USA Today. Accounting, data analytics and advanced manufacturing companies are looking for workers with “the right mix of technical and communication skills.”

Employers are calling me constantly looking for good people,” says Mike DeVore, who chairs the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College. “We used to contact them (employers). Now they contact us.”

How to make students employable

To make students more employable, community colleges must engage with industry and take “a hard look at what the job market is telling them,” writes James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College in Michigan. He co-chaired the American Association of Community Colleges’ Implementation Team 5, which worked on closing the nation’s skills gap.  

Community colleges should develop close ties with local industries, the team recommends. That includes researching industry trends, hiring “instructors from the industries — who can bring with them not just experience but also contacts — and maintaining ties with students who land jobs in these industries.” 

Many businesses “value credentials designed to indicate mastery of a particular skill or subject matter as much as or more than a formal degree,” the team found.

At Michigan’s Macomb Community College (MCC), where I serve as president, we feature a production operator program that provides students with a basic orientation to manufacturing work, teaching the skills they need to obtain a job in the field. After students complete our program and secure an entry-level position, they are invited back to MCC to take for-credit classes focused on specific skill sets, all of this dependent on the needs of their employer.

“The days of comprehensive community colleges that offer a vast number of options are drawing to a close,” writes Jacobs. “Instead, community college should offer fewer options based on the needs of local and regional labor markets.”

Manufacturers see skills gap


Workers assemble the Chevy Volt electric vehicles and Opel Amperas at the General Motors Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant on Oct. 11, 2011, in Hamtramck, Mich.

More than half a million skilled manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to the labor skills gap in the U.S., according to one estimate.

Many job applicants lack the basic math and computer skills needed to train for high-tech manufacturing jobs, employers complain.

U.S. manufacturing employs more than 12 million workers.  An estimated 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs are unfilled, according to a 2012 Deloitte study.  That could increase as more baby boomers retire.

“If we can’t fill the skills gap, it’s going to be very difficult to be competitive in the global market,” said Ted Toth, vice president and managing director of manufacturing technologies at Rosenberger-Toth, which manufactures parts for satellites and cellphone towers.

. . . “To understand the skills gap, we have to understand how the public understands manufacturing,” the head of the New Jersey-based company said. “They see it as a dark, dirty, dangerous industry.”

Young people need to be told that manufacturing is a viable alternative to pursuing a bachelor’s degree, said Toth. Employees are “blue tech” workers, he said.  “They utilize technology such as computerized machines and robotics, and also in new and exciting careers in three to four times the minimum wage.”

Business leaders in two western Ohio counties are working to interest high school students in skilled trades jobs. The Auglaize & Mercer County Business Education Alliance is raising money to hire an outreach coordinator who will visit local high schools.

Electrical contractor Jack Buschur wants to find high school graduates interested in training to be electricians. “We have lots of opportunities,” Buschur says. “We’d like to keep our young people in the area and see them make a very good living.”

Bring back shop classes, writes Josh Mandel, Ohio state treasurer, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.Too many young people have four-year liberal-arts degrees, are thousands in debt and find themselves serving coffee at Starbucks or working part-time at the mall,” he writes. “Many of them would have been better off with a two-year skilled-trade or technical education that provides the skills to secure a well-paying job.”

Not all apprenticeships are equal

Apprenticeships are hot, but not all lead to middle-class jobs, writes Mark Schneider on The Quick and the Ed.

Last month, President Obama announced a $100 million fund to support apprenticeship programs in fields such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. For all the praise of apprenticeships, the number enrolled is much lower than 10 years ago. Completions are down from 52,000 in 2002 to 44,000 today.

The White House says that 87 percent of apprentices find jobs that average more than $50,000 a year in pay. This is an exaggeration, according to Florida data. The median wage is $37,252 for registered apprentices, who typically study at a community or technical college.


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Graduates with an associate degree in science earn the most, with the associate in applied science coming second and apprentices a close third.  Graduates with a bachelor’s degree start at only $33,652. 

Starting wages are much higher for apprentices in jobs that “keep things working” than for those in cooking and early childhood education. Elevator construction mechanics start at $67,565.


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“The best training is on-the-job training,” says Linda Poage, program manager at the Apprenticeship and Journeyman Training Center at Spokane Community College. Community College Daily looks at existing college-linked apprenticeship programs and plans for expansion with new federal dollars.

Job 1 is job training

Job training is job one for the fast-growing Louisiana Community and Technical College System, reports Community College Week.  The state is rebuilding its economy, says Monty Sullivan, the new president of LCTCS.

“We have an economy that is growing faster than nearly anywhere else in the country, which means our workforce needs are greater than ever,” says Sullivan.

 “We need to link the needs of employers with our educational institutions,” Gov. Bobby Jindal told the Associated Press. “I think our big challenge this session is getting ready for this manufacturing expansion.”

Only 27.9 percent of Louisiana’s working-age adults hold a two- or four-year college degree, well below the national average of 38.7 percent.

A number of states are stressing workforce development,  according to the Education Commission of the States.

In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley wants to create a Statewide Workforce Council of business and industry leaders to advise colleges on workforce needs. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has called for a Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative to bring together education officials, industry leaders and economic development officials to identify workforce needs. In Idaho, Gov. C.L. Otter wants to improve a workforce grant program to better target individual businesses and industry sectors.

Louisiana is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in training facilities and workforce “centers of excellence” linked to their regional economies.

 Baton Rouge Community College, for example, is planning a center that will focus on transportation and logistics; its home city is the ninth-largest port in the United States. Delgado Community College, in New Orleans, is home to a culinary arts and hospitality center of excellence.

Industry partners supply at least 20 percent of the funding. 

At Fletcher Technical Community College, the Deepwater Center for Workforce Excellence will train oilfield engineers and technicians. BP America Inc. contributed $4 million to pay for state-of-the-art equipment.

‘Reinvented’ Chicago colleges are growing


An advanced manufacturing program is drawing students to Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College.

“Once considered a deeply troubled urban institution where enrollment was plummeting, graduation rates were dismal and degrees held little value, the City Colleges of Chicago are undergoing a turnaround under the leadership of Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, reports Community College Weekly.  She arrived in 2010 pledging “reinvention” of the seven-college system. Enrollment and graduation rates are on the rise.

Two Chicago city colleges — Richard J. Daley and Olive-Harvey — are among the fastest-growing in the nation, Community College Weekly reports.

Hyman credits “strategic efforts to realign our programs with the demands of employers and four-year colleges alike and target our adult education offerings to community needs.” 

Launched in 2011, College to Careers enlists industry partners to help redesign job training programs. Each college has a vocational mission. Daley College focuses on high-tech manufacturing. Olive-Harvey specializes in training students for logistics and transportation careers.

Nationwide, community college enrollment is down by 4 percent as the recession eases.

Wal-Mart touts U.S. manufacturing

“After decades of sending work overseas through ruthless price competition,” Wal-Mart is bringing jobs “back to America, by committing to purchase hundreds of billions of dollars more in U.S.-made goods,” reports the Washington Post.

The Wal-Mart Foundation is funding a middle-skill job training initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs narrates a Wal-Mart ad proclaiming “work is a beautiful thing.”

Job training vs. art history?

Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said learning skilled manufacturing or the trades pays as well as earning an art history degree.

Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. (Laughter.) I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need. (Applause.)

Hackles were raised, writes Ann Althouse.

Arts education teaches critical thinking, responded Linda Downs, who directs the College Art Association.

Obama is promoting “job-driven training,” which means training for jobs that exist. That does sound like a good idea.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of the many federal job training programs. The Government Accountability Office reviewed federal job training programs in 2011, but perhaps more have been created since then.