Higher Education and Manufacturing

Community colleges, manufacturers team up to fill middle-skill jobs

November 10, 2012
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LANSING — With the state’s manufacturing industry facing a talent crisis, the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Michigan Community College Association are collaborating to meet the demand for middle-skill workers.

As technology advances, a lot of jobs require people with the right skills, said Delaney McKinley, director of human resource policy for the MMA.

And the shortage could get worse as the work force ages and skilled workers retire, according to the association.

About 20 percent of Michigan’s manufacturing work force is older than age 55, according to the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan in Detroit.

Middle skill jobs, as defined by McKinley, require a level of skills somewhere between those that “need people who are engineers or highly educated” and those that “don’t require training necessarily.”

Industry is looking for people to fill jobs such as production technicians, computer numerical control machinists and welders, McKinley said.

“Our members would be impacted largely if they couldn’t find the right person,” she said.

Mike Hansen, president of the Community College Association, said middle skills require higher education, but not necessarily a four-year degree.

“There are a number of companies offering jobs and a number of people looking for jobs. Community college is a way to help those people with the right skills to match those jobs.”

“We are looking for opportunity to help reduce the skill gap,” he said.

The Manufacturing Middle-Skill Talent Alliance, a program initiated by the two organizations, would bridge the gap in communications among industry, education and government, aiming to get more workers into industry.

Many community colleges provide training and partnership programs with manufacturing companies to meet the skill demands.

Fiona Hert, dean of the School of Workforce Development at Grand Rapids Community College, said local manufacturers project a need for several thousand skilled workers over the next several years.

Hert said the college offers manufacturer-paid training programs, which participating companies hope will create a pipeline of workers necessary for their future. The programs include education for industrial maintenance and advanced manufacturing technicians.

Oakland Community College’s automotive servicing program and mechatronics program — a cross discipline in mechanics and electricity — are very much in demand, and many students get hired before graduating, said Sharon Miller, vice chancellor of external affairs.

“In the past, production workers didn’t have to grasp other technological skills, but now most work requires computer-driven skills,” Miller said. “And that’s why the skill gap happened and we need middle-skill workers.”

However, the shortage might be not only be an issue of necessary skills.

“It is also about wages and interest,” she said. “It is a combination of different issues.”

Joe Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College, said an outdated perception prevents people from choosing a career in manufacturing.

“There are still people who think manufacturing is dirty and grimy and does not require skills,” Petrosky said.

Miller agreed that the old perception persists and said many people don’t know that today’s industry is clean, dynamic and related to technology.

She also said a lack of interest is a bigger challenge for industry.

“People may not want to pursue a manufacturing job, especially when there is a difficult time,” she said. “They would ask, do they really want manufacturing jobs for a living?”

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