Education and Training for Manufacturing Success

KCMN’s January 2012 Education Forum featured four higher education institutions, and for manufacturing companies, who discussed their approach on building a 21st century manufacturing team.

The four presenting schools Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Metropolitan Community College – Business & Technology, and Pittsburg State University, all emphasized their desire to be responsive to the needs of the region’s manufacturers.  For example, Pittsburg State utilizes an industry review board to look at ways to improve the curriculum and respond to changes in the marketplace.  KCK Community College, JCCC and MCC can tailor customized training programs for even small employee groups.  The community colleges emphasized that a program of study could be developed outside of a traditional degree program, which traditionally has more appeal to a working adult with additional responsibilities.   For employees looking to take their careers to the next level, Pittsburg State has developed a program to work with students who have earned a technical associates degree to earn a Bachelor’s degree that includes both technical and managerial coursework.

One area of discussion was improving front line supervisory skills.  Torotel was very pleased that their partnership with JCCC greatly improved all measures of behavior and leadership skills of their supervisory people, as measured by a pre and post training employee survey.  As a result of better supervisory behavioral and leadership skills – communication, problem solving, delegate, interpersonal skills, feedback, change, authority, and accountability the percentage also improved in 25% and better in five months.  This was accomplished despite a limited budget for training.

Cost of training programs is always a concern in an era of tight budgets. JCCC works with KS Workforce Partnership and can help you determine if training funds from the state are available.  The school also can serve in partnership with MCC when there is a cross state need identified, and they are working towards more cooperation.  KCK Community College’s Rich Piper will identify the right institution for your needs, and will recommend another institution if the in-state tuition makes the program too expensive.  Pittsburg State offers in-state tuition to MO residents in counties in the Metro KC area.

An extended discussion focused on the needs to increase the worker pipeline.  Ben Boone of ATK Small Caliber Systems says that going through the process of Lean increases stress on the labor force, and increased skills attainment by the workforce is critical to making the effort successful.  Forty percent or more of skilled workers are eligible or approaching eligibility for retirement.  Rich Piper noted the declining state of shop classes and other hands on programs at the high school level.  In schools without these kinds of outlets, there is a much higher rate of drop-outs, especially among boys. Tom Goodpasture of Pride Manufacturing stated that getting involved in education and the development of the next generation of workers is critical as well.  He noted that ‘If you are not at the table, you are likely to end up on the menu”

All of the manufacturing company panelists agreed that having a plan for both current and future workers was important.  As Dr. John Iley of Pittsburg State noted, classroom work can only cover so much.  Students also need co-op and internship opportunities to apply what they are learning.

Jason Grove with Dimensional Innovations has hired and continues to hire Pittsburg State interns and grads, and has been very happy with the results.  Developing and running an intern program is challenging, but it also carries many rewards, including new perspectives on the business and new enthusiasm from the younger workers. He stressed the importance of forming a two-way relationship with your educational partner. When both sides benefit, the outcomes are greatly improved.

Tom Goodpasture with Pride Manufacturing has had an active training program in his facility in order to respond to growing demand for skilled workers.  It is vital to cross train employees, and to utilize training as way to keep workers engaged. Tom also strongly recommended involvement in both the national and local dialog.  Elected leaders need to understand the concerns of industry, and appreciate the feedback.

Ben Boone emphasized that it is critical to capture the knowledge of older workers, and a key way to do this is by training them to capture their processes.  For example, MCC offers a course in digital literacy where older workers can learn to use excel and other technology to help document their work.   The manufacturing panelists strongly emphasized talking up education to your workers, and making sure that the culture values those who continue to improve their skills.

All of the speakers emphasized that the worker shortage is only going to get worse.  It is important to do what you can to encourage both improved skill sets/cross training of current workers, but also finding ways to advocate for earlier involvement, at the high school and even junior high level.  As a nation, we have avoided tracking kids into particular areas, but a range of skill sets is being ignored at the peril of our future competitiveness in manufacturing in the US.   If all of the jobs that went to China returned to the US, we would not have the workforce to fill them.