Workforce development

Business is booming at Lincoln Machine, a 70-employee machine shop at the east end of Nebraska's state capital. With local clients such as Kawasaki, Goodyear and Square D, the facility hums with activity. It is a highly-specialized business: custom automated manufacturing equipment, machine re-tooling and retrofit.


Business is booming at Lincoln Machine, a 70-employee machine shop at the east end of Nebraska's state capital. With local clients such as Kawasaki, Goodyear and Square D, the facility hums with activity.

It is a highly-specialized business: custom automated manufacturing equipment, machine re-tooling and retrofit. No machine built at Lincoln Machine is exactly like another, and each requires a skilled professional to drive the operation. Raw materials and clients are abundant; the skilled professionals are in short supply.

“We've been swamped since June,” said Linda Lichtenberg, the company president. “We would love to have more technically-skilled workers. These jobs are interesting and challenging.”

That's a message Lichtenberg wants to take to others in Nebraska. She's the Lincoln area director for the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition, the latest of the Dream It. Do It. chapters in conjunction with the National Association of Manufacturers. Nebraska has the first state-wide chapter of Dream It. Do It., which is designed to help local businesses promote manufacturing careers to parents, students and educators.

The coalition includes support from Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, University of Nebraska president J.B. Milliken and representatives of the state's workforce development department, the state department of economic development, the AFL-CIO, officials from the K%%MDASSML%%12 and community college system and the state's Chamber of Commerce.

“I've seen interest in the trades go down. The reason is a lack of interest in the profession because the image is poor,” said Dwayne Probyn, executive director of the coalition and a former workforce development director with Caterpillar. “Parents don't think this is the kind of opportunity they want for their children.

“We're preaching the message that manufacturing has a good career path, a long career path,” Probyn said. “We got to be a strong nation by making things.”

Lincoln Machine needs more skilled workers to continue to grow. Lichtenberg knows her business isn't alone, and so even in a competitive environment, she's working to bring manufacturers together to attack the problem as a group. “We're reaching out to people %%MDASSML%% chambers of commerce, community colleges, and we're still reaching out to manufacturers,” she said. “It's turned into a snowball. We're all just busy, and competition is severe, but we're all saying that this is what we need to do.”

The 'shop class' image of manufacturing lingers, even if the reality of manufacturing is very different. “People don't realize that to run the machines like Linda has here, you need PLC programming skills and computer skills,” Probyn said. “These are highly educated, very bright people. We have to get the attention of parents and educators. We've got to convince parents that manufacturing is a strong career path.”

The goal for the Nebraska coalition is to meet the challenge of what Probyn sees as a state economy that won't grow without skilled manufacturing professionals. “Nebraska is on the cusp of being a manufacturing heavyweight,” he said. “We're looking for highly skilled workers. Our project is looking at reaching people between ages 16 and 26, but the reality is we've got to go well before that to get the pipeline started.”

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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

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