Closing the Skills Gap in Manufacturing

Posted by Jack Healy on Mar 2, 2015 8:00:00 AM

Editor's Note - Jack Healy is Director of Operations at the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

manufacturingA study of manufacturing enterprises in North Central Massachusetts, conducted by RTI and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), found that 69 percent of manufacturers indicated a "lack of qualified job candidates was their biggest barrier to growth." While the North Central area is a perennial labor surplus area, the lack of qualified candidates with the necessary manufacturing skills comes as no surprise.

A preliminary survey of manufacturers in western Massachusetts found this barrier to growth to be even more onerous – 77 percent of the manufacturers contacted indicated that the lack of qualified candidates was a barrier to growth.

There has been a significant downsizing of low-tech manufacturing jobs caused by the 2009 recession resulting in numerous people desperate for jobs. Ironically, the study also shows there are Massachusetts manufacturers desperate for qualified workers to fill the jobs they already have available.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in their report, "U.S. Skills Gap – Could it Threaten a Manufacturing Renaissance," observed, "The real problem is that companies have become too passive in recruiting and developing skilled workers at a time when U.S. education systems have moved away from a focus on manufacturing skills in order to put greater emphasis on other capabilities. Over the long term, therefore, serious skills shortages could develop unless action is taken."

The BCG report stated, "Companies are not doing enough to cultivate a new generation of skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S."

This observation does not pertain to Massachusetts because, in response to our state's manufacturing skills gap, a group of manufacturers formed theManufacturing Advancement Center Workforce Innovation Collaborative (MACWIC). The vision of MACWIC is to be the statewide focal point for employer-driven workforce training initiatives.

The first and immediate objective that MACWIC undertook was to create an industry-led skills certification standard that could provide a basic entry level instruction set and evaluation process that would enable employers to readily understand the skill set of the job applicant, reducing the cost of hire. The second objective undertaken was to "catalyze the talent pipe line," which meant implementing the skills certification process within the Vocational Technical High School System.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education included the MACWIC Certification in its Vocational Technical Education Framework, which has been readily endorsed across the state.

The MACWIC certification process has been well received by schools.

"The MACWIC Testing has provided our Precision Machining/CNC program with great feedback for determining where gaps in skill levels exist and where improvements can be made. A direct correlation between the MACWIC curriculum and the testing, and the ongoing feedback from industry allows us to ensure our delivery of instruction reflects the immediate needs of industry, as industry is the driving force behind the development and maintaining of MACWIC testing and curriculum," said a vocational teacher in Worcester.

Manufacturing is growing in Massachusetts. Seventy percent of manufacturing firms are forecasting expansion that offers a tremendous opportunity for skilled workers. Now, it’s up to us to make sure they have the skills to seize that opportunity.

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