Two Great Examples Of How We Can Create The Manufacturing Workforce We Need

From Forbes on April 7, 2021

By Jim Vinoski

One heartening aspect of our slow emergence from the many months of pandemic difficulties is this: the ongoing discussion of the need to bring the manufacture of critical products back to the U.S. isn’t abating. If anything, the push for reshoring, at least in print, is steadily growing. And while there’s much concurrent discussion of how automation and Industry 4.0 technologies will facilitate that reshored production, the reality is that no amount of technology will eliminate the need in the U.S. for a growing number of well-trained people in manufacturing in the coming years.

But where will they come from? High schools have largely done away with the shop and technical classes that used to serve as feeders for industry, and while trade schools are still out there, they aren’t keeping up with current demand, much less with what will be needed for a manufacturing renaissance. That’s why the two examples covered here are so important: they help show the way for companies to help create their own workforces for the future.

The first is focused on helping transitioning military service members enter the skilled trades. Workshops for Warriors is an accredited nonprofit educational institution based in San Diego, California, that focuses on accelerated programs to help its students acquire certified third-party credentials in advanced manufacturing fields. It was founded in 2008 by U.S. Naval officer Hernán Luis y Prado, now retired from the Navy and serving as the institution’s CEO. “I was on active duty when I started Workshops,” he said. “I saw intelligent, motivated people desperate for a purpose. I sold everything I had to start it.”

The program offers a variety of certifications, including welding (the American Welding Society), CNC programming (Mastercam), CAD (SOLIDWORKS) and metalworking (the National Institute for Metalworking Skills). In all, they offer about 300 nationally-recognized third-party credentials. Training takes only sixteen weeks, and costs about $25,000 per student.

Workshops for Warriors is privately funded through individual donations, foundations, and corporate support. “We have to get Americans to change their mindset about what the government should do, and what someone else should do,” said Luis y Prado. “We have to get back to our pioneer roots, where we help build everyone else’s house—back to American ingenuity and perseverance.”

Luis y Prado’s focus is on greatly expanding the program. “We became eligible to get GI Bill funding in 2018, so that helped,” he explained. “But we need a lot more to expand. We currently turn away ten times more people than we can accept. America is creating a golden river of talent, then flushing it down the drain. We need help to turn that around.”

To him, the numbers speak for themselves. “Right now, we can certify about 200 machinists and welders a year,” he said. “America needs about 200,000 to 300,000 a year. And we spend $25,000 to train each veteran in our program to qualify for jobs with an average salary of $60,000 a year. Those are deserving people who will then put food on their own table, help rebuild their communities, and contribute to the tax base. 87% of our funding goes directly to our program, and we have a 94% placement record.”

The second example is one of a manufacturer building its own trained managerial pool to serve the needs of its business. I first learned about the program when I saw a blurb in my son’s high school announcements newsletter calling for applicants to the UFP Business School, and decided to investigate.

UFP, I discovered, is UFP Industries, Inc., which has its corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founded in 1955 as Universal Forest Products, it’s an international supplier of wood and wood alternative products for retail, construction, and industrial markets, including DIY products, packaging and building components. The company has more than 180 facilities around the world, and is publicly traded, with a market capitalization of just over $4 billion. UFP’s stock has been on a strong upward trend for the past two years, more than doubling over that time.

Seeing a burgeoning need for more managers trained in good business basics, and looking for a way to counter the skyrocketing costs of college education, in 2016 the company started its own internal business school. Their program runs for two years and results in the equivalent of a Bachelor of Business Administration degree that would be earned at a traditional college or university, covering subjects such as sales, leadership development and operations management. Students must have a high school diploma or GED to be accepted, and include those fresh out of high school as well as experienced workers.

It’s a small but growing program. “This year, 14 people will be graduating,” said Ann Baker, Dean of UFP Business School. “The program is gaining momentum internally as our graduate success stories are being discovered and shared.”

For internal students, the program offers a path to promotion. For those coming from outside the company, it’s a way into a higher-level position that includes work experience. Students in the Grand Rapids area attend classes for 10 hours per week, then have paid internships for 20 hours per week. For one term in each year, they work in one of the company’s operations in North America.

There is no debt incurred by the students; all of them attend on a full scholarship paid by the company and donors. Those who graduate have an opportunity to apply for available jobs and are eligible for all positions in the company requiring a college degree.

“UFP is investing in the future of both our internal employees and those outside the company that have the drive to take on a challenging yet rewarding program to advance their career,” Baker said. “Additionally, we recognize that investing in our own people is also an investment in our company’s future.” Typical positions for graduates include various manufacturing management roles and sales positions.

“Our long-term vision is to establish an education blueprint that other companies can adopt and integrate into their internal career advancement tool set,” Baker explained. “This could include sending their employees to us for the degree portion of our program or taking the curriculum and making it their own.”

In the end, both of these programs lay out concrete directions all manufacturers should be contemplating to help themselves with their own staffing challenges. For Baker and Luis y Prado, there’s a sense of satisfaction in that.

“Things that are useful like this take hard work,” Luis y Prado said. “Creating our advanced manufacturing workforce will be difficult but doable.”

 “At UFP Business School, our purpose is to provide a unique, full scholarship program that balances quality education and paid hands-on experience,” Baker added. “When you join our organization, you become a part of the UFP family, and we want nothing more than to see our hard-working family members succeed.”

Read the original article here.