Manufacturers Go Back to School to Find New Hires

Despite an abundance of job openings and skyrocketing unemployment in early 2009, there wasn’t an employee to be found for Larry Broseh’s two small manufacturing firms in the Fort Worth, Texas, area.

To tackle the problem, Broseh and about 20 other manufacturers teamed up with Tarrant County College and the federally funded Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County, which develops employment and training opportunities, to create a nine-week training course for computer numeric control, or CNC, machinists, who use machines to help form metal parts.

“Although we [the manufacturers] were archcompetitors, it was smarter to pool our resources,” Broseh says.

It’s a step that has been taken in locations across the nation as manufacturers that are struggling to combat the severe shortage of skilled manufacturing employees and fierce competition for those available take matters into their own hands and link up with community colleges to develop fresh talent.

Throughout the country, an estimated 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because employers can’t find people with the right skills, a 2011 survey by Deloitte Consulting and the Manufacturing Institute found

Two-thirds of the more than 1,100 manufacturing executives surveyed said they faced a moderate to severe shortage of skilled labor, and more than half expected the problem to intensify within the next five years.

In Tarrant County, Texas, some of the companies involved with the training program donated machinery so the students could get hands-on experience, and the program teaches everything from blueprint and gauge reading to math skills to work ethics. Graduates get a CNC machinist certificate, as well as CPR and forklift operation certificates.

So far 75 machinists have completed their training since the program launched in 2010, and all have been snapped up by employers, says Amber Gosser, business services director at Workforce Solutions.

Broseh has hired about a dozen graduates for Cam-Tech Manufacturing, which serves the aerospace industry, and Drill King International, which manufactures drilling equipment—something in great demand for the oil and gas sector. He says he would have hired more, but they’ve been snatched up by competitors.

Part of the issue is that manufacturing suffers from an image problem. While most Americans highly value manufacturing, they don’t want a job in the sector, another Deloitte survey found.

Although manufacturing has become far more high-tech over the years, many people aren’t sure what it entails these days. “Is it safe and clean, or dirty, dumb and dangerous?” says Craig Giffi, Deloitte’s vice chairman and U.S. consumer and industrial products leader. “There’s no national effort that makes manufacturing sexy.”

Schools generally don’t encourage students to pursue manufacturing careers, and there’s a general perception that manufacturing jobs have gone away and won’t return, Giffi says.

But that’s far from reality. Gosser, whose organization serves those who have recently been laid off, are underemployed, or are recent high school or college graduates, kept seeing jobs for CNC machinists posted on Workforce Solutions’ job board.

That prompted Workforce Solutions to foster the CNC training program, drawing on the expertise of local manufacturers to craft the curriculum. A grant from the Jobs and Education for Texans Program funds the initiative.

Dave Warnick, vice president of human resources in the Weir Oil & Gas Division, says the company, which produces pumps and other products for the oil and gas industry, wanted to increase staffing so it could operate around the clock, but had difficulty finding employees around Fort Worth.

Because other areas of the country had seen a manufacturing downturn, Warnick says Weir looked outside of Texas for employees who would relocate. Weir began tapping into the Tarrant County College program this year, hiring nine CNC machinists in January.

Broseh says the school’s program takes the guesswork out of hiring. Before, it took about 60 days to determine if a new hire had the skills and work ethic to make the cut. His companies then had to decide whether to add an employee permanently because that’s when insurance eligibility kicked in.

Before the college certification program, Broseh’s managers had to “make an educated guess if they [new hires] were going to be a good fit or not.” That’s changed since the CNC program launched. “You can get the 60-day training period basically taken care of in the class.”

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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