How 3 CEOs Are Solving Their Own Skilled-Worker Shortage

Many things keep manufacturing CEOs up at night, but one of the most nagging is the challenge of ensuring that they’ve got enough skilled workers to keep the machines running in the future.

America is expected to experience a shortage of 2 million skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade, according to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. Industry think tanks, academics and business chiefs alike have been attacking this problem for awhile and have determined that the manufacturing sector as a whole needs to do a much better job of making careers in factories appealing to teenagers in high school and in college.

Some manufacturing CEOs, however, are moving ahead to ensure their own companies have an ample supply of skilled workers in the future, even if the rest of industry might not.

As Industry Week put it, such efforts don’t “have to be elaborate [and] can begin with one determined person reaching out to schools, local governments and fellow employers to get a pipeline of engaged, well-trained workers up and running.”

“America is expected to experience a shortage of 2 million skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade.”

Here are examples of things that 3 manufacturers are doing to fill the pipeline with skilled workers.

Primera Pathways: In Zeeland, Mich., Primera Plastics owner and CEO Noel Cuellar has made finding and developing skilled workers his top priority, according to Plastics News. That’s why he launched Primera Pathways in 2014. Ten high-school students arrive after school four days a week, putting in 3 hours a day doing light assembly. Cuellar also brings in local bank employees to educate Primera workers in budgeting and finance and offers to match up to $2,500 that his student workers save for college.

KY FAME: Toyota executives in the state of Kentucky started the KY FAME (Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) manufacturing-training program to help their Georgetown, Ky., plant several years ago. Now many other local manufacturers support the program in which students get a five-semester apprenticeship, attending community or technical college two days a week and working three days. They’re paid at least $12 an hour to start, with pay going up from there. By the time they graduate as industrial technicians, according to Industry Week, they are making $25 to $35 an hour.

Convertech’s Door-to-Door Efforts: Larry Taitel is one manufacturing CEO who has concluded that he’s the best person to solve this problem for his company, Convertech, a custom parts manufacturer in Wharton, N.J. He has struggled for decades to find qualified machinists and recently had to stop finding new work for his 45-person company because of it. So in the past year, on his own, Taitel began contacting vocational schools and community colleges, hoping to talk to them about adding a machinist curriculum, which he told Industry Week hasn’t been offered in his area in 30 years. And now, thanks to help from state Sen. Anthony Bucco, Taitel has meetings set up with several technical schools he’s been wooing.

It’s one thing for manufacturing CEOs to hope that others are going to solve their skilled-worker shortages for them. But sometimes there’s no substitute for acting on your own.


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