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Producing more skilled workers

By Debra Gibson Isaacs

“There are no jobs in manufacturing now.”

Greg Higdon, president and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, often opens with that statement as he speaks about the manufacturing industry. After a few gasps from the audience, Higdon finishes his message: “There are only careers in manufacturing.”

Jeffersontown High School student Emily Holbert works on a horizontal band saw at nth/works, a Louisville-based metal fabricator that employs 350 people in two facilities.
Jeffersontown High School student Emily Holbert works on a horizontal band saw at nth/works, a Louisville-based metal fabricator that employs 350 people in two facilities.

Higdon’s statement speaks to the massive changes that have taken place in manufacturing jobs since the painful and much publicized mass exodus of manufacturing jobs overseas. The news today – that manufacturing is enjoying a renaissance, that manufacturers desperately need employees, and that the jobs pay well and require more brains than brawn – hasn’t garnered the same attention beyond the manufacturing world.

Within manufacturing, however, the need for good employees has everyone’s attention. Higdon said there are four big issues for manufacturers today, including energy costs, taxes and logistics. The big one, though, is human resources. The demand for skilled workers, such as tool-and-die makers, far outstrips supply, and the disparity is getting worse as Baby Boomers retire.

That need has prompted manufacturers to be proactive with programs led by host industries to train the new advanced manufacturing worker.

The bellwether is Toyota North America’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) Program. Started in 2009, the AMT Program is a partnership between the Toyota North American Production Support Center in Georgetown and Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC).

High school graduates with an interest in manufacturing spend two days a week in the classroom learning topics such as electricity, fluid power, mechanics and fabrication, and the other three days working at Toyota. They simultaneously earn an associate’s degree and up to $40,000 in salary from Toyota over the course of five semesters. In 2011, Toyota began recruiting AMT applicants from Project Lead The Way (PLTW) high schools, finding that students who took PLTW in high school had the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the program.

AMT program participation is about as close as one can get to a job guarantee, said Dennis Parker, Toyota Assistant Manager of Workforce Development. “Basically everyone who comes in on the front of it is very likely to have a job at the end of that, even though the pathway is somewhat involved.”

A recent Toyota report shows that 95 percent of AMT graduates are hired for a full-time manufacturing position.

Kentucky’s success led Toyota West Virginia to follow and implement its own version of the program. Today, five North American Toyota facilities have begun the AMT program, and facilities in two other states are in the planning stages.

Expanding the success

Other manufacturers also took notice when Toyota formed the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), working with BCTC to close the skills gap in the workforce. The collaborators – including manufacturers such as 3M in Cynthiana; TOPY in Frankfort; LinkBelt in Lexington; E.D. Bullard and Co. in Cynthiana; Montaplast in Frankfort; Florida Tile in Lawrenceburg; Central Motor Wheel of America in Paris; Sealing Life Inc. in Lexington; and GR Spring & Stamping in Richmond – now sponsor their own students in the ATM Program. Participants are chosen and sponsored by one of the manufacturers as that company has a need for additional employees.

As with Toyota’s program, students go through the BCTC industrial maintenance technology program while also working for pay the other three days of the week for their sponsor company. At the end of the program, they have earned an associate’s degree in applied science with 63 to 70 college credit hours and have two years of work experience. Fees for the program are paid while the student works, so students end up with a degree debt-free.

Northern Kentucky’s Enzweller Apprentice Training Program is the longest running and one of the largest post-secondary apprenticeship programs in the country under the auspices of the National Association of Home Builders.
Northern Kentucky’s Enzweller Apprentice Training Program is the longest running and one of the largest post-secondary apprenticeship programs in the country under the auspices of the National Association of Home Builders.

“The idea is that students learn the theory in the classroom on Tuesday and Wednesday and can immediately apply it at work on Thursday,” said Carol Crawford, BCTC campus coordinator. “They make the connection between what they learn and what they do. They learn a lot faster that way.”

And students learn more than the technical skills needed to succeed in manufacturing.

“We set expectations in the program,” Crawford said. “Every one has to make at least a “C” in every class. They have to attend class. They learn work ethic and discipline. A lot of young people coming out of high school just don’t have that yet.

“The idea is to develop a global competitive workforce. That means we are building a more rounded worker. Students not only get the technical skills they need but also learn about the manufacturing culture, safety, organization, communications and writing, team building and problem solving.”

Copying Germany’s successful model

In mid-March, Gov. Steve Beshear and Peter Fischer, minister of economics at the German Embassy in Washington announced a combo educational/on-the-job program called the Skills Initiative. The program is based on a German model that seeks to close the skills gap between what employers need and what job applicants offer.

“Businesses consistently tell us the need for highly skilled workers has never been greater,” Beshear said. “We found an extremely effective program developed by the Germans, and so we contacted the German Embassy to learn more. They’ve been extremely helpful, and with their assistance, we created the Skills Initiative. The Skills Initiative is open to all manufacturing industries in the state, and I encourage businesses and students to take advantage of this opportunity.”

The primary goal of the initiative is to align Kentucky’s existing education and workforce development resources to create a system of dual-track training that mixes equal parts education and work. Essentially, Kentucky companies, government and educational institutions partner to prepare students for the workforce through apprenticeship-style models of education that allow students to earn their high school diplomas while working as apprentices in specific occupations.

Currently, more than 150 Kentucky companies are participating in some form of formalized dual-track training programs, according to Beshear. These companies employ hundreds of student workers.

“Our aim is for the Skills Initiative to be industry driven and based upon the market demands of Kentucky’s workforce needs,” said Cabinet for Economic Development Secretary Larry Hayes.

Filling the coming licensed tradesman gap

Some of the training programs focus on a particular industry to help potential workers learn a particular skill.

Northern Kentucky’s Enzweller Apprentice Training Program is the longest running and one of the largest post-secondary apprenticeship programs in the country under the auspices of the National Association of Home Builders.

The annual Kentucky Construction Career Fair Days in Shelby County promotes and trains high school students in a variety of special skilled trades jobs.
The annual Kentucky Construction Career Fair Days in Shelby County promotes and trains high school students in a variety of special skilled trades jobs.

“The program started back in 1967 as a way to train carpenters but now includes classes in carpentry, electricity, heating and A/C, remodeling and maintenance, masonry, plumbing and welding. Each class is taught by professional trade people. Students are in class two nights per week for three hours each night.

“Every program is based on licensure,” said Brian Miller, executive vice president of the Northern Kentucky Home Builders Association. “Students work during the day as actual apprentices, and their work hours are tracked. They take classes at night. When they leave the program they only have to take the licensure exam. They already have the work hours required to get a license. We are the only program in the area that is a true licensure program. You can graduate with an associate degree but you still don’t have the work hours to get a license. We are advancing them two years.”

The Enzweller Apprentice Training Program boasts a 95 percent licensure pass and a 98 percent job placement rate. Students are almost assured of getting a position when they finish the program, according to Miller.

“A recent study said we are going to need 2,000 skilled trained people by 2020,” he said. “Our program is set up to train 1,000 of those. We are working to expand to handle the other half.”

The Kentucky Association of Homebuilders also recruits students to their industry through annual construction skills training and competitions. The one in Shelby County typically attracts about 1,500 high school students, according to Robert M. Weiss, president and CEO of the KHA.

“Through our Construction Career Days, we try to show high school students various careers in the construction industry, highway contracting, homebuilding and landscaping through hands-on exhibits.” Weiss said. “We also try to hit school Junior Achievement programs with information about careers in the construction industry.”

The idea is similar behind the new certificate in food manufacturing processing and technology at Western Kentucky University. Started just a year ago, the program is designed to produce much-needed entry-level to mid-level supervisory workers as well as quality-processing engineers and production supervisors in food safety within the food services industry, according to Dr. John Khouryieh, head of the program and an assistant professor at WKU.

“We have in Kentucky quite a few food manufacturing companies,” Khouryieh said. “They hire hundreds of people, but they can’t find enough people to fill their positions. These people need education in food processing and technology.”

The certification program is a way to fast-track skills and allow people to broaden their career, according to the WKU professor. Students learn production food science and food safety through online courses or in traditional classrooms.

Non-traditional workers a key resource

Other programs seek to expand the number and quality of manufacturing workers by expanding the base to non-traditional manufacturing employees such as women.

“Advances in technology have changed the way goods are produced and many jobs now require highly specialized technical skills and little physical labor,” said Karen Ellis, operations and communications manager for KAM. Women represent a vast, untapped resource of talent and leadership for the ever-changing, ever-expanding manufacturing sector.”

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Homebuilders Association of Kentucky and the Associated General Contractors Kentucky chapter are among the sponsors of Kentucky Construction Career Fair Days that attracts about 1,500 interested high school students annually.

With that in mind, KAM and the Kentucky Commission on Women are holding a luncheon Thursday, June 25 in Frankfort to discuss the changing face of manufacturing leadership.

Other programs now include high school students.

Such is the case at nth/works, a Louisville-based metal fabricator that uses high-tech equipment and metallurgical analysis to build parts for the automotive, appliance, hardware, electrical, and electronic industries. nth/works employs approximately 350 people in two facilities.

The biggest challenge facing nth/works is finding skilled workers who want to work in manufacturing. To remedy this, nth/works partnered with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet and the Kentucky Office of Career and Technical Education to participate in a pre-apprenticeship program known as Tech-Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky. The TRACK program offers registered, certified pre-apprenticeships in a variety of industries.

In the first year, the company placed five Jeffersontown high school juniors and seniors with mentors in various parts of the operation. They attended class in the morning and worked at nth/works in the afternoon. They were paid and treated like regular employees. At the end of the program they had a high school diploma, experience, and a certificate confirming their skills from the National Institute for Metalworking. The company has a trained prospective employee, ready to contribute immediately.

“We’re dying for skilled trades, said Tom Hudson, president/CEO of nth/works. “The skilled trades have not been replenished. When I go to find a 25- or 30-year-old tool and die maker, I can’t. The same is true for maintenance, and control people and engineers….

“But these are good jobs. A tool and die maker in our company makes $60-90,000 a year, with no college debt. It is a wonderful profession.”

Or as Greg Higdon puts it: “There are no jobs in manufacturing. There are only careers.”

Time to speak up about modern manufacturing

Tom Hudson, president and CEO of nth/works, believes it is time to be vocal about the changes in manufacturing – more robotics, more use of sensors, data driven, engineer driven, more automation – as well as the need for skilled craftspeople.

Tom Hudson is president and CEO of nth/works.
Tom Hudson is president and CEO of

“Join the crusade to help us restore the excellence of American manufacturing,” is his mantra.

And Hudson wants to take it one step further.

“When our politicians and educators say that everyone has to go to college, not only is that untrue and misleading but it also carries the belief that trades people are somehow second-class citizens,” Hudson said.

“The problem is, not everybody needs to go to college. We have toolmakers out here and people who are far smarter than I am. They didn’t go to college. They have demanding, interesting, rewarding jobs.”

Those beliefs were fueled by a trip to Germany a few years ago to see their famed apprenticeship programs first hand.

“If you go to Germany you don’t hear Germans saying you have to go to college. They put people on career paths much earlier.”

Hudson would like to see similar programs here that start in high school with an apprenticeship program.

“First you come and get your hands dirty,” he said. “You see if you like it. If you like what you are doing, maybe you go on to night school and get some more education in the field,” he said. “Perhaps you decide you want to be an engineer. Great. Then you go on to engineering school. You go into school with an understanding you wouldn’t have without the experience. This is the way to develop a rich, robust understanding and enjoy a career.”

Debra Gibson Isaacs is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].