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Manufacturers, here’s a tactical guide to narrowing your skills gap

By Andrew Palmer March 8, 2016, 08:16 am MST

Ask a Colorado manufacturer how their recruiting efforts are going and you are likely to get an earful. You will hear about the futility of searching for full-time employees from temp agencies. You will hear about the necessity of importing skilled labor from other states and the costly relocation packages the practice entails. You will hear about millennials' lack of interest in manufacturing careers.

These difficulties highlight the real-life consequences of the skills gap in American manufacturing. The Manufacturing Institute estimates that 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled over the next ten years due to an acute shortage of qualified candidates. The problem is so immense that it can be hard to know how to start addressing it.

Today, it is not enough for public education to provide students with academic training.  The time has come for industry to invest in human capital in partnership with education providers.  It is time for industry and education to collaborate and institutionalize this collaboration as an integrated part of day-to-day business strategies.  This collaboration must be demand driven process.  Business and Schools In Collaboration (BASIC) is a public-private partnership that entrenches industry in the education system.  CAMA's has developed the tools and is providing the leadership to make it easy for Colorado Manufacturers to build awareness of the career paths they offer and dispel misperceptions about the industry.

To help manufacturers take that first step, CAMA authored this tactical guide to narrowing your skills gap. Read on for part 1, which covers facility tours, internships, and apprenticeship opportunities. Check back in on March 23rd for part 2 of the guide, which will cover a new online jobs marketplace. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more information on how you can easily and proactively begin to develop your own workforce pipeline.

1. Organize a Facility Tour

Facility tours require only modest investments of time and resources on the part of the host yet they can dramatically increase a student's interest in your company and the manufacturing industry. Tours should begin with a brief discussion of the company's history, primary products and services, and career paths. This discussion should also prep students for what they should pay attention to on their tour. You will then split the students into small groups and lead a tour of the facility. The groups will stop at areas of interest for hands-on activities led by industry professionals. Lastly, the groups will reconvene for a wrap-up discussion and activity. Having students fill out a participant survey at the end of every tour will help you measure your impact and make improvements for subsequent tours. The NOCO Manufacturing PartnershipCAMA, and The Manufacturing Institute are regional, state, and national organizations respectively that offer resources to manufacturers looking to host facility tours.

2. Host a Summer Intern

Internships offer manufacturers a three-pronged approach to filling their skills gaps. First, internships introduce your company to potential full-time employees. Second, internships that lead to full-time employment boost your firms' retention rate since former interns tend to stick around longer than other employees. Third, internships strengthen your ties with local schools and encourage educators to steer talented youth to your company's front door.

Manufacturers in the Denver metro area can participate in Denver Public Schools' CareerLaunch internship program. CareerLaunch will match 250 high school students up with summer internships that leverage their STEM coursework. Placement industries include Advance Manufacturing, Engineering, Healthcare, Finance, and Technology. Coursework on welding, fabrication, machining, shop safety, and CAD equips Advanced Manufacturing Pathway students to make meaningful contributions to a manufacturing operation. Denver Public Schools seeks to provide a turn-key internship program that minimizes the administrative burden on host companies. Thus, the district is organizing and covering the cost of intern transportation, providing the workers' compensation coverage, and dedicating staff to planning and technical support.

Internship programs and opportunities in other regions of the Colorado are equally enticingimportant. With this understanding, CAMA worked with Representative Pete Lee from Colorado Springs to create the Innovative Industries Program. This program will reimburse 50 percent of internship costs up to $5,000 for interns with a minimum of 130 on-the-job training hours completed in 6 months. Manufacturers statewide can take advantage of this program by following the above link.

The program, administered by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, reimburses companies for a portion of their internship costs. Firms can receive up to $5,000 for each intern employed.

3. Hire an Apprentice

While summer internship programs can inject young talent into your organization and fill openings for entry-level positions, they will do little to remedy shortages in highly skilled labor. Manufacturers need a different solution to prepare for the retirement of their master mechanic, ace mold maker, or expert machinist. This is where Registered Apprenticeship comes in.

Apprenticeship is a proven training model that combines on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Apprenticeship programs vary in duration from one to four years based on the complexity of the occupation. Job seekers value the clear career and wage progression of apprenticeships. Employers value the cost savings and the high retention rates. As with most items on the open market, the acquisition cost of a skilled worker is lower if you are constructing it yourself rather than purchasing the marked-up final product. In addition to cost savings, employers benefit from high retention rates. Since apprentices earn a nationally recognized credential once they complete their program, there is a strong incentive for them to remain in your employment for the duration of their apprenticeship.

Workplace learning -- be it facility tours, internships, or apprenticeships -- constitutes a key element of a well-rounded education for students and a successful talent development strategy for businesses. These investments in human capital are like preventative maintenance. They require a little effort up front, but prevent big headaches down the road.

Please contact Andrew Palmer for more information about any of the opportunities detailed above.

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