by Larry Taitel
The mounting need for workers capable of stepping into manufacturing jobs has prompted the State of NJ to get involved in an effort to benefit both manufacturers and potential employees. This has the potential for long-term benefits for all of us who depend not only upon the health of our own manufacturing businesses but also the growth of industry in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development (LWD) and New Jersey’s Talent Networks are partnering in support of one of LWD’s highest priority projects: creation of a statewide Demand Credential List (DCL). Toward that end, I recently attended a “Credentials Roundtable meeting” where employers watched a presentation and then participated in discussions with regard to employee credentials for advanced manufacturing. It’s hoped that the feedback from these discussions will help the Labor Market Analysts design questions for a broader online survey that will further prompt numerous other companies in our state to provide additional input.
At the meeting, one of my colleagues who was presenting opined that most companies which are seeking candidates for manufacturing jobs are less focused on credentials than on attitude and competence. He stressed that most of us are looking for good and reliable people who can be trained in our respective companies’ specific processes. For the most part, I concur.
At Convertech, with more than three decades in manufacturing for the converting, printing and packaging industries, we have learned that the best machinists begin with basic skills. The other two main criteria are a desire to learn and reliability (as Woody Allan once observed, 80% of life is just showing up). Of course, job compatibility and actual job expectations must be measured in, too, but these factors should begin, for potential employees, at the education level.
There’s a clear need for manual experience before individuals can begin moving on to automated machinery. Despite the fact that we’ve entered the Computer Age, where CAD and programming have hastened and refined manual processes, manufacturing requires workers to walk before they can run. In short, we need to develop basics skills training in the area of machinists, tool and die, metal lathe, and so forth. These are the fundamentals that manufacturers require. Further, we need to develop training of core competencies and credentials.
One program that I believe would be enormously beneficial is a four-year apprenticeship program. This should start as early as 10th grade and conclude at the State College or County College level. Such a program would allow actual employers to offer genuine hands-on training to potential employees. Imagine what a serious win-win this could be for everyone involved as we begin to build workers for manufacturing jobs!
Can apprenticeship programs be enacted with college credits earned so parents can see an actual educational path (read: college path) for their children? Yes.
I, for one, don’t believe college is appropriate for everyone. But to satisfy the ingrained notions many hold that college is indeed mandatory in this day and age, adding real-world skills to early academic training might prove eye-opening to both parents and students alike. Indeed, it may signal to many young people that a potential career in manufacturing—where jobs are currently a plenty—may hold superior and more desirable prospects than that desired career in another industry where jobs are few and, quite possibly, less satisfying.