Private sector has major role to play in filling manufacturing skills gap

The private sector needs to join forces with technical schools and community colleges to train the student tehnicians of tomorrow in skilled labor positions

09/18/2013


Courtesy: Snap-on IndustrialManufacturing jobs today are more complex than ever before, and require a level of training above and beyond a high school diploma. That’s where technical schools and community colleges come in. These institutions fill a vital role in training the student technicians of tomorrow to help ensure that these well-paid jobs are filled, and also to make sure that the American manufacturing sector doesn’t fall behind.

But technical schools aren’t in this alone. Now is a great time for the private sector to step up and do its part to assist schools with the overall technical training process. And that’s exactly what we at Snap-on are actively doing. Beyond making work easier for serious professionals, Snap-on has made support for technical education a top priority. We do this by leveraging more than 90 years of industry expertise to collaborate with tech schools in jointly developing courses that best meet the needs of students and the manufacturing sectors. The result is shaping a more well-rounded, skilled technician who can enter the workforce trained and ready to contribute. So how are we doing this? It starts with the students. 

Making skilled labor a calling

We need to inspire students to pursue a career in a skilled trade. Often in only two years, a young man or woman can receive a technical degree and start working a meaningful job that offers career advancement, and make a decent living doing so. The average hourly wage for manufacturing jobs in the past few years has been holding steady at about $24, according to Businessweek.com. That’s a good story that needs to be better told in high schools across the country. However, I think part of the problem is that manufacturing and skilled labor has an image problem with young people today. Many probably think a career in manufacturing involves working in noisy, dirty surroundings in a job that gathers little respect and less attention. Those stereotypes are hampering the recruiting efforts of young people into manufacturing and need to be brought up to date.

The reality today is that as high school students begin to think about what they want to pursue following graduation, many think of a traditional four-year college as a first option; a career in a skilled labor field isn’t top of mind with most students.

But it should be. Skilled labor shouldn’t be viewed as a second place option or consolation career path. What students need to know is that plants and facilities are highly automated, and it takes a great deal of training and knowledge to operate them. People can’t simply walk in off the street and get those jobs; if they could, we wouldn’t be facing the current labor shortage.

What students need to know is that a technical degree can often provide a much quicker path to employment, is often less expensive than a bachelor’s degree, and comes with reasonable assurance that a job will likely be waiting for them following course completion.

Certifying the profession

Courtesy: Snap-on IndustrialPrivate sector industry can take a proactive role with technical schools to aid in the training process. What Snap-on has done is develop a certification program for specific disciplines that technical schools can teach to their students. The origins of our education program for manufacturing sectors stems from our foothold in the automotive industry. For years the automotive industry has had performance standards and certifications governed by the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of vehicle repair and service by evaluating and testing automotive professionals. While ASE has worked well for the automotive industry and FAA certification is an aviation industry standard, there’s no similar path for technicians in various manufacturing, natural resources, or energy industries. Our education program and certifications aim to change that.

Snap-on, working with the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), has developed certifications in diagnostics, torque, wheel service, vehicle information systems, multimeters, foreign object damage and tool management. To help facilitate these certifications, we’ve partnered with the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), a network of education providers and corporations that support advances and validate new and emerging technology skills in the transportation, aviation, manufacturing, and energy industry sectors.

Today, we are partnering with more than 70 technical schools across the country in offering our certifications. We are also continuing to work with technical schools and leading companies to identify and design additional areas in need of training, and I expect we’ll be expanding our certifications in the future.

The goal of these certifications is not to teach how a vehicle operates or how an aircraft flies; rather, it is to teach technicians the proper and best way to use the equipment listed above to become more productive in their jobs. To date, there have been few real standards in how to go about teaching the use of tools and equipment as traditionally the responsibility falls on each school to determine how to teach torque, diagnostics, and other similar topics.

The curriculum is aimed not only at teaching students and technicians the proper use of tools and equipment, but also at providing training to the instructors as well. Tools and equipment today are more advanced than ever before, and it is imperative that instructors know how to fully maximize these products, and in turn teach students about their use and capabilities. Trade schools need to be at the forefront of innovation and training, and the curriculum we’ve developed helps them achieve that vision. 

Promising future

The state of manufacturing is constantly evolving, and technical education will be the key to ensuring tomorrow’s technicians are well trained and prepared to answer the call. We see our role at Snap-on as one of empowering these young people to help them achieve their dreams by giving them the best opportunities to succeed—and the way to do that is through our partnership with technical schools.

Highly technical jobs are difficult to outsource and often need to remain here in the United States. Having a trained workforce benefits everyone involved. This is our contribution to making domestic skilled labor the most qualified in the world, and together I’m confident we’ll see our joint efforts make a positive impact in the manufacturing sectors. 

Andy Ginger is president of Snap-on Industrial.  



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