Demand For Tool And Die Workers Outstrips Numbers

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Two West Michigan vocational training centers — one in Ottawa County and the other under construction in Kent County — represent the kind of initiatives needed to help address a growing worker shortage in the tool and die industry.

So says the head of a trade association’s education foundation.

The corporate support provided the Michigan Technical Education Centers are a “shining light” for others around the nation to follow, said David Sansone, executive director of the Precision Metalforming Association’s Education Foundation.

“West Michigan is the shining light. It has been proactively involved in training to a degree we don’t see in other parts of the country,” Sansone said.

The Cleveland-based Precision Metalforming Association, at the urging of its local members, donated $150,000 each to support development of the Tassell Michigan Technical Education Center, or M-TEC, now being built in Grand Rapids, as well as the Patrick M. Thompson M-TEC that opened last year at Port Sheldon Road off US 31 in Ottawa County.

The Tassell M-TEC, scheduled to open early next year, will include manufacturing technologies in its course offerings.

The Thompson M-TEC, built and operated through a partnership between Grand Rapids Community College and the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, offers training in tool and die and machine trades as part of its core curriculum. The school is the first of its kind in Ottawa County offering vocational training specifically for adults.

Prior to the opening of the Thompson M-TEC, tool and die companies or individuals in Ottawa County that needed worker training or wanted to start an apprenticeship had to travel to Grand Rapids.

“The adult workers had nowhere to go, unless you came to Grand Rapids, and that was a pain,” said Don Boyer, provost at Grand Rapids Community College.

M-TEC facilities are being developed throughout Michigan under public-private partnerships. The private sector, in addition to providing financial support to cover development costs, has been heavily involved in curriculum planning for the centers, which are designed to address a shortage of skilled workers for high-paying, high-demand jobs in Michigan.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job opportunities for people entering the tool and die field will remain excellent for years to come, as the demand for workers continues to outstrip the number of people entering the field. The worker shortage may worsen as current tool and die makers hit retirement age and leave the trade.

Driving the shortage is a cultural shift that has younger workers opting in greater numbers for high-tech and other careers, rather than manufacturing, Sansone said. The industry is also combating a lack of emphasis placed on manufacturing careers at the high school level, he said.

“Careers in manufacturing are not really that highly thought of by students, parents and educators,” he said. “There is not an emphasis placed on a career or placed on anything that doesn’t require a college education.

“Everybody wants to work on computers and nobody wants to get their hands dirty. The fact of the matter is you don’t get your hands dirty that much.”

The growing worker shortage will force tool and die companies to become more active in supporting workforce development initiatives as a way to draw a younger generation of workers into the field, Sansone said.

The 1,600-member association’s Education Foundation typically hands out $50,000 to $70,000 annually to workforce development initiatives. The $150,000 contribution for the Thompson M-TEC in Ottawa County is being paid over a 10-year period. The same amount awarded to the Tassell M-TEC is for five years.

“As industry learns they can do something about the shortage, they’re getting more involved,” Sansone said. “There’s a great deal of interest within the industry to work with schools and get some training going.”

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