How to cope with the coming skills shortage
Finding adequately trained workers for manufacturing operations is going to be increasingly difficult in the next few years as a wave of retirements drains skilled people from our manufacturing plants. Consultant and blogger Keith Campbell has this advice.
1) Start by asking the best of the best what they need. Listen to their needs and ask probing questions until you really understand what they are telling you.
2) Focus public and private efforts on meeting the needs of the top 1/3 of the world-class manufacturers in your region. The second 1/3 will eventually follow. The bottom 1/3, where public funds have typically been focused, are going to fail anyway, so don't exert any special effort on those needs.
3) Use the public education system to deliver industrial training. Force them to catch up, otherwise they will fall further and further behind and become totally irrelevant.
4) Provide a pathway to college academic credit for all workforce training programs. Don't make workers repeat training in a different classroom to obtain college credit.
5) Find a way to grant academic credit for skills already mastered. Don't expect workers to sit through class topics that they themselves could teach.
6) Provide training when and where it is needed. Accept the reality that maintenance people don't work regular hours and don't have a planned schedule. Deliver training on a flexible schedule, which may require computer-based or internet-based training. We work with schools that can enroll a new student in a new college class every Monday. Once enrolled, classes do not have fixed completion dates. Every student can progress at his or her own pace. Labs are open six days per week, morning, afternoon and evening to accommodate all shift schedules.
7) Articulate credits from institution to institution, from technical high schools, colleges, and universities. Allow students to be constantly moving from school to work to school. We have 2 plus 2 plus 2 programs that refer to 2 years in high school, 2 years in community college and 2 years in a university, with work interspersed in between, where students do not lose progress as they advance from one program to the next.
8) Don't pretend that your courses can be all things to all people. Base-level courses can work across multiple industries, but the more advanced the courses, the more they must be focused to target industries and sectors. Don't dumb down courses by choosing the lowest common denominators of need.
9) Make sure that classes include hands-on experience on real industrial systems and equipment.
10) Teach troubleshooting as an art and a science of its own with real life practice. When many of the requirements you hear from industry are boiled down, they want people who can troubleshoot to solve problems.
11) Develop or identify meaningful industry credentials that provide intermediate achievement points along the way to a degree and which allow employers to gauge skills mastered across different institutions.
12) Recognize that these programs are expensive. Use industry training revenues and student tuition to cover costs. You won't cover the cost with tuition alone. Regular students can't afford industrial training rates. Even if workers and degree candidates sit in the same class, they needn't necessarily be paying the same rate.
13) Collaborate across institutions. You can't afford for every school to have these advanced programs. Put the academic competitiveness aside. Use funding to purchase equipment and pay for training, not for developing multiple versions of curriculum that already exists. So what if it wasn't invented here?
14) Recognize that the above requirements are disruptive to the faculty. This process will require more hours of work on the part of the faculty. Don't grant credit based upon the number of hours of contact time, but on the real and meaningful skills conveyed.
15) It is better for a group of schools to get advice from a single small group of executive visionaries than for each school to staff its own advisory council with a group of middle management reactionaries. This is what our Mid-Atlantic Mechatronics Advisory Council is about. We provide strategic guidance to a group of schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.
While all of this is going on with incumbent workers, we need to be working on ideas to get young students into the pipeline. That will take too long to solve the impending crisis, but we are always looking for new ideas as to how to accomplish this. Perhaps you can assist us with this dilemma.