Manufacturers’ Moan – part 2: “Need More Skilled Workers!”

In “Part 1” of this blog, we mentioned how at the Great Lakes Trade Adjustment Assistance Center we often hear from small and medium-sized manufacturers about the problem of finding and keeping skilled workers. We explored some programs that have been launched by consortia with national and state funding assistance. But what can you do if you’re fully employed at one company (or maybe you own it) and you’re not going to be starting a new organization that applies for grants? Do any manufacturers just run their own apprentice programs? Sure. We talked to the guys at Overton Industries in Mooresville, Indiana.

Overton Industries, with about 100 employees, for example, has a policy of trying to keep their number of apprentices at around 10% of employees. This helps them keep the funnel filled for their own company, as well as supplying the industry as a whole. “We typically can only retain about half of the apprentices we train for more than two years after their program ends,” explains Ron Overton, Vice President of Sales & Marketing. “We understand it’s our duty to the industry to provide a training ground for tomorrow’s skilled workers.”

At Overton, this commitment has meant about 8 – 10 apprentices and interns on the floor in the past 6 months. Four of the apprentices are enrolled in programs at Ivy Tech and Vincennes University. Overton recruited the young adults at a job fair at a local high school and offered to pay for their books and tuition on a sliding scale that depends on their grade point average. Another intern is a junior at Purdue University who is pursuing a BA in mechanical engineering.

One creative program Overton recently added was sponsoring a robotics contest for high school teams in Indianapolis. They also actively participate in the National Tooling & Machining Association (NTMA) and are now supporting a new Military to Manufacturing initiative. The latter program is part of a national effort to help veterans with high-demand skills become certified for civilian jobs in manufacturing. The program is part of the Veterans Job Corps legislation, currently making its way across capital hill.

So it appears state and federal government, industry and academia are all working to find solutions to the current lack of critical skills for manufacturers. Will it be enough? That remains to be seen, but with the innovation and determination already in evidence, the prospects look good.

Question: what kinds of things is your company doing to provide training for tomorrow’s skilled workers in manufacturing?