by Clint O’Neal
In early October, communities across Arkansas and the country held Manufacturing Day (MFG DAY) events to give manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show what manufacturing is – and what it isn’t. Students, teachers, parents and community leaders were invited to tour at all types of facilities.
MFG DAY is designed to amplify the voice of individual manufacturers and coordinate a collective chorus of manufacturers with common concerns and challenges. The rallying point for a growing mass movement, MFG DAY empowers manufacturers to come together to address their collective challenges so they can help their communities and future generations thrive.
To prepare for a career in manufacturing, students need to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. While emphasizing these fields is a major initiative in education policy, manufacturers can help spark interest in these areas by exposing students to the types of careers STEM studies will make them eligible for. Manufacturing in a smart connected world is filled with technology, advanced skill and creativity.
Several Arkansas colleges offer customized training for manufacturers in the state. One such program is Future Fit, which was developed with 10 companies in western Arkansas to identify job roles and the required skill sets to fill their entry-level employee roster. To best suit their training needs, each company provided a subject-matter expert to create job profiles for a production operator and a mechanical repair technician.
Future Fit is designed to accommodate a diverse group of people — high school graduates, recipients of the Arkansas GED Certificate, military veterans, unemployed or underemployed, and non-violent offenders released by law enforcement. Because the program works closely with companies looking to fill jobs, we expect the graduates will have job offers by the time they complete the coursework.
The initial course, “Production Operator/Assembler,” provides students with the skills needed to be successful in entry-level positions. The second course, “Mechanical Repair,” will focus on individuals that may already be working or have demonstrated they possess the base skill sets needed to pursue more advanced positions in manufacturing. Each course will take approximately 100 hours to complete and consists of a combination of hands-on training, classroom training, online instruction and demonstrated proficiency in the identified skill sets.
Future Fit partners include Bekaert, Gerber, Gerdau, Glatfelter, HSM Solutions, International Paper, MAHLE, Rheem, Rockline Industries and Trane. The pilot program has students enrolled in the first course at UA-Fort Smith this fall and will be offered at 10 additional colleges in spring 2020 with industry-specific training for each region.
To get ahead of the unfilled jobs projections, manufacturers are changing how they approach talent acquisition, development and retention. One group of potential manufacturers that is sorely under-represented in the current manufacturing workforce — and which represents major potential for the next generation of manufacturing workers — is women.
Per Deloitte’s study, only 29 percent of manufacturing employees are women, despite the fact that women make up 49 percent of the U.S. workforce. That mirrors almost identically the statistics in Arkansas. This is still an area we need to better address across the country, most likely due to the outdated image many people hold regarding manufacturing. Today’s workplace is cleaner, safer and smarter than ever before thanks to changes in regulations and technology.
The Division for Workforce Services within the Department of Commerce has many resources. But most important to this subject are the occupational skills assessments and training it provides to help job seekers find opportunities – often within previously unconsidered industries – based on a person’s existing skills and aptitude to learn new information.
By working together during and after MFG DAY, manufacturers and industry partners are addressing the skilled labor shortage they face, connecting with future generations, taking charge of the public image of manufacturing and ensuring the ongoing prosperity of the whole industry.
The Arkansas Economic Development Commission recognizes the importance of manufacturing in the state and will continue to support its partners and programs to create a solid pipeline of skilled workers to fill those open positions.
Clint O’Neal is the executive vice president of global business at Arkansas Economic Development Commission, a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce