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Developing Your Future Smart Workforce

How CEOs are solving the shortage of young, skilled workers threatening manufacturing gains.

Rodon has about 200 workers in its vast factory in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, which is equipped with highly specialized equipment that runs 24 hours a day. The company has two specialists on staff who help develop the software that controls the company’s advanced robots. “We’ve tried to address the pipeline of talent through apprenticeship programs, summer internships and partnerships with local trade schools and community colleges to help them understand what our needs are,” Araten says.

One particularly innovative action his company has taken is to help create a consortium of 100 manufacturers in Montgomery and Bucks counties called the Bucks-Mont Manufacturing Consortium. It is a nonprofit organization led by Rodon’s head of human relations. HR representatives from other companies volunteer their efforts, as well.

“CEOs looking to expand and improve their manufacturing must pay keen attention to where workers will come from.”

The consortium works with the state government and with federally funded workforce-development boards to tap whatever government funds are available to pay for training at community colleges and other institutions. In this geographic area, at least, community colleges seem to be cooperating in the push to train new workers.

Araten’s workforce has grown from 140 to 200 people in recent years and he anticipates that number will increase to 250 people over the next four years—assuming the company achieves its growth targets. “I think we’re going to be in good shape,” he says. “We will make sure we’re first in line at community colleges and trade schools.”

But more fundamentally, he says he perceives a shift in how average Americans are beginning to calculate their life choices. “Look at North Dakota,” he says. “People [there] never considered that they would work in energy, but now people are clamoring for those jobs.”

Parents and their children also are beginning to recognize that four years of university education could leave them with six-figure debt levels and that manufacturing jobs pay 30 to 40 percent more than retail jobs, he says. “People go where the opportunities are,” Araten concludes. “Manufacturing is becoming a more viable option than it has been in a long time.”

Bottom Line: Manufacturing jobs are no longer old-fashioned positions on the assembly line. CEOs looking to expand and improve their manufacturing must pay keen attention to where workers will come from.


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