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 This article was first published in the March 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine found here as a PDF.

 Barry JohnsonBy Barry Johnson Senior Associate Dean and L.A. Lacy Distinguished Professor of Engineering University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; CCAM Board of Directors Katherine DeRosear       By Katherine DeRosear Director of Workforce Development Virginia Manufacturers Association Executive Director Virginia Council on Advanced Technology Skills   Workforce development is arguably the most significant drag on the country’s advanced manufacturing sector. We’re exploring a new workforce model in Virginia, however, that could give the sector the lift it needs to gain altitude. Don’t get us wrong. Advanced manufacturing is by no means stalled. While the US is likely to continue losing labor-intensive manufacturing to low-wage regions of the world, it maintains a leadership position in specialized, highly technical production of next-generation materials and products. Aerospace and defense, microprocessors, networking equipment and pharmaceuticals, for example, are highly advanced manufacturing sectors that are not sending jobs overseas. Advanced manufacturing jobs, however, demand a high level of specialized and technical skill as new technologies and research breakthroughs continue to revolutionize manufacturing capabilities, processes and products. Our work to grow advanced manufacturing in Virginia starts with a simple premise: bring the universities, community colleges, high schools, and training centers that educate the workforce together with the manufacturers that employ the workforce. Then, leverage the collaborative insight to sharpen existing training and educational opportunities. In March 2011, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) broke ground on a 60,000 ft2, state-of-the-art research collaborative in Price George County, Virginia (just south of Richmond). At CCAM, business and higher education sit down at the same table to tackle R&D challenges. Industry sets the agenda, and top academic and industry researchers pursue it in CCAM or University labs. The goal is to provide significant R&D efficiencies through pooled resources and to rapidly accelerate the transfer of innovations to the factory floor where they can improve operations, products and profits. Two classes of industry-funded research are performed at CCAM: generic and directed. Generic and directed research are funded by membership fees paid by CCAM’s industry members. Directed research is performed for one member, or potentially several members that partner on a specific project. The member(s) sponsoring directed research own all intellectual property that results. Generic research is performed for all members and all members share resulting IP. Industry members include aerospace and defense giants Rolls-Royce, Newport News Shipbuilding and Aerojet along with other global manufacturers, such as Canon Virginia, Chromalloy, Sandivk Coromant, Siemens and Sulzer Metco. Industry members are joined by Virginia’s flagship research and teaching institutions, including the University of Virginia, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech. Bridging the gap between basic research and technology commercialization, however, works best when people are properly trained. A significant benefit of CCAM is the opportunity for member companies to work with students engaged in research projects. Companies can then employ those students in full-time positions as people and technology developments transition from the lab to the marketplace.

The Need is Clear

The 2007 Skilled Trades Gap Analysis, a report commissioned by the Virginia Manufacturers Association, found that job growth in skilled trades would far exceed the growth expected in other manufacturing occupations. It also unveiled an imbalance between the demand for skilled workers and the location of existing training programs: Almost half of manufacturers surveyed rated soft skills and measurable skills preparation of recent entry-level hires as “fair” to “very poor.” 70% rated recent entry-level hires’ knowledge of basic manufacturing principles as “fair” to “very poor.” 66% of manufacturers surveyed somewhat agreed or strongly agreed that the state should have a standardized manufacturing skills credential system that certifies workers for competencies at the entry-level through college level. 65% somewhat or strongly agreed that the public image of manufacturing is a major contributing factor to the problems employers experience in recruiting. To address the challenges, several steps were taken to improve Virginia’s workforce training and development. For example, the Virginia Industry Foundation, in partnership with the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, launched Dream It Do It Virginia (DIDIVA) in 2009, an award-winning program that promotes careers in advanced technology industries such as manufacturing and connects talent to them. Through continuing research and evaluation of programs like DIDIVA, however, it became clear that existing workforce development fell short. Schools, community colleges, universities and training centers develop and deliver excellent educational programs, but they do so independently. There is not a consistent method used across all organizations to develop and deliver programs with direct input from industry. CCAM aims to bring that “direct connection,” and it’s inspiring some new thinking.

More Education and Training

The Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Program is a new training and educational framework for skills development. It is currently in the proposal stage and under consideration by government and industry organizations with a stake in advanced manufacturing. At its core, it proposes to capitalize on existing workforce development strengths, such as DIDIVA, and better tailor them to industry needs through stronger industry connections. The program is supported by five pillars: 1. Exploration—position DIDIVA as a workforce gateway for industry, centralizing and coordinating outreach and awareness activities; establish internships at CCAM leading to employment upon technology commercialization; host advanced technology “summer camps” for students. 2. Readiness—strengthen workforce readiness skills programs across all grade levels, and include “applied technology” as a skills readiness indicator. 3. Education and training—leverage insight from CCAM’s collaboration between business and academia to determine industry’s most critical skill needs. 4. Assessment and Certification—strengthen certifications with industry-validated credentials and input. 5. Employment and Advancement—leverage online and in-person career resources to develop a pipeline of talent and connect it with industry opportunities. The program positions DIDIVA as a single point of contact for industry and workers to access workforce development programs and provide feedback. Plugging CCAM into the mix, with its daily collaboration between industry and higher education, further strengthens industry’s direct involvement in the state’s workforce development initiatives.

Bridging the Gap

This approach, over time, develops an integrated workforce development system for Virginia that is aligned with the needs of the advanced manufacturing industry. It brings the state’s many excellent, but widely distributed, workforce development resources together in a cohesive system. There will also be a clear set of metrics, such as the Skills Gap Analysis, to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of the system, ensuring that decisions are rooted on solid, industry-driven research. According to some reports, more than 600,000 US manufacturing jobs have gone unfilled because industry cannot find workers with the required skills. New collaborative efforts are warranted and necessary. Keep your eyes on Virginia. Exciting new projects like CCAM and the new Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development framework it is inspiring are providing the tools and blueprints required to bridge the gap. The work underway can create the ideal conditions for industry growth, helping advanced manufacturing achieve new heights.

Post Author: Antonya Hurt

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