Cover Story: Moving Forward

March 12, 2018 No Comments
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Transforming Workforce Development

by Katherine Kersten

toc_features50pxMinnesota’s looming workforce development gap presents an urgent challenge for manufacturers. By the end of 2022 – five years from now – Minnesota’s worker shortage is estimated to explode from about 60,000 to 278,000, according to Scott Peterson, Board Chair of RealTime Talent, a business led cross-sector collaborative that uses data to improve the alignment of the workforce ecosystem in Minnesota.

The resulting economic impact is estimated to constrain state GDP growth by $33 billion, reduce local tax revenue by approximately $2.2 billion, and lead to about $12 billion in annual personal income not spent or saved, Peterson says. For manufacturers, that will mean orders foregone, revenue growth sacrificed, and employment expansion plans deferred or even cancelled.

How do we move beyond lamenting this potential catastrophe and take steps to successfully avoid it? Minnesota has some promising workforce development experiments, profiled alongside this story. But these often operate in isolation. A comprehensive workforce strategy is needed whereby employers, educators, policy makers, and nonprofits pull together to address the challenges.

Other states offer promising models that generally share two themes.

First, successful workforce initiatives must be industry-driven. Enlightened state policy is not enough: Employers must step up and participate.

Second, work-based learning must play a central role. Work-based learning is a dual-track, “learn while you earn” approach that combines academic learning in the classroom with paid, on-the-job skills training. It is one of the most effective ways to build and sustain a system of attractive career pathways in in-demand fields for young people.

A major reason for today’s manufacturing workforce shortfall is the widespread belief that a four-year college degree is necessary to achieve personal and financial success in life.

Young people are most likely to consider a career in manufacturing when they have some familiarity with the field, according to research by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Work-based learning can provide this vital experience, increasing the likelihood that both high school students and recent graduates who want a skilled career entailing minimal student debt will choose skilled manufacturing.

The difficulty, however, is that developing and sustaining work-based learning programs requires close collaboration between employers and educational institutions, which can be challenging for both.

That’s why effective programs generally rely on intermediary institutions – nonprofits, community-based organizations, chambers of commerce, and similar organizations – to act as conveners and brokers, recruit students, and provide technical assistance to all the parties involved.

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Kentucky FAME
The KY FAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) initiative began in 2008, when 10 to 15 employers in central Kentucky who were frustrated by workforce challenges came together to “grow their own talent.”

First, the companies determined that their greatest skill need was multi-skilled maintenance. Then they worked with nearby Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Georgetown to develop the two-year Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program: a dual track, apprentice-style training program based on Toyota’s nationally-recognized model of the same name.

Students in the program attend classes two days a week and work for their employer/sponsor at a competitive wage for three days a week. They study technical skills like pneumatics, electronics, and welding; academic subjects like math, physics, and English; manufacturing safety; and soft skills like punctuality and teamwork.

They graduate with an industry-recognized Associate of Applied Science degree, earn 70 – 80 college credit hours, and gain two years of work experience. Most finish debt-free, since employers generally pay all costs while the student works.

The KY FAME initiative has proven so successful that today, the association has 10 regional chapters across the state and about 250 employer members. Each chapter works with a nearby community and technical college to customize the AMT program to meet its own members’ needs. KY FAME also sponsors an annual state-wide conference to share best practices, brainstorm about improvements, and expand outreach to employers.

To date, about 250 Kentucky students have earned AMT degrees, and more than 650 students are currently enrolled in FAME-endorsed programs. FAME students’ on-time graduation rate is 89 percent, far higher than the national on-time graduation rate for two-year colleges, according to Josh Benton, Executive Director of Workforce Development at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

KY FAME is truly employer-led. Each regional chapter has a committee that oversees its program, sends representatives to local schools to promote manufacturing to students in grades 8 through 12, and recruits high school students to attend technical college. AMT participants include recent high school graduates, veterans, and full-time workers who want to upgrade their skills or prepare for a supervisory role. Each student has a flexible schedule, tailored to maximize efficiency for his or her own circumstances.

In addition, regional KY FAME chapters offer summer externships to high school teachers of core subjects like English, science, and social studies. In 2017, 135 teachers from throughout Kentucky participated. The goal is to have teachers share their enthusiasm about what they have learned with students, and to encourage them to consider a manufacturing career.

KY FAME’s board of directors includes private and public leaders from around Kentucky who work together to launch new chapters and encourage development of new work-based learning programs. Recently, for example, one local chapter created a computerized manufacturing and machining program, while another developed a 90-day Enhanced Operator Certificate for entry-level assemblers, production technicians, and production operators. The Bluegrass chapter is now piloting programs in which AMT grads can earn manufacturing-focused bachelor’s degrees in engineering and business.

CareerWise Colorado
Colorado’s ambitious strategic plan for workforce development – pioneered by Gov. John Hickenlooper – includes the bold and innovative “CareerWise Colorado” initiative. CareerWise is a nonprofit, public-private partnership dedicated to “building the middle class by closing the skills gap through experiential learning.”

CareerWise grew out of Hickenlooper’s Business Experiential Learning (BEL) Commission and was created in 2015. The Commission’s members are business and government leaders, and its mission is to develop a skilled talent pipeline for hard-to-fill positions in the state. The Commission views the following elements as central to effective work-based learning programs:

  • Businesses view themselves as producers, not just consumers, of talent.
  • Career education is competency-based, not course-based, and career exploration begins as early as elementary and middle school.

To improve and expand Colorado’s work-based learning system, the BEL Commission works with Colorado’s business-led “sector partnerships.” These industry-specific regional partnerships identify shared opportunities and challenges, and draw on a variety of workforce, education, and economic development resources to address them.

The Commission also partners with the Work-based Learning unit of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment. This unit coordinates federal, state, and local work-based learning strategies, and seeks to strengthen existing apprenticeship programs and develop new work-based learning initiatives.
Funding for CareerWise comes from grants from JPMorgan Chase, foundations such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, the state of Colorado, and other sources.

CareerWise Colorado acts as an intermediary to help employers set up three-year, paid apprenticeships in several skilled fields, including advanced manufacturing. High school students apply for these positions, which begin the summer before their junior year, on CareerWise CO’s “Apprenticeship Marketplace.” Each week, they do two to three days of classroom learning and two to three days of on-the-job training. They also learn soft skills in a “professionalism boot camp.” Students earn credits toward high school graduation, as well as post-secondary credits or industry credentials.

A third year of apprenticeship after high school prepares them to begin work immediately, or go on to complete a two-year or four-year post-secondary degree. They finish the program with a nationally-recognized industry certification, top-notch work experience, a valuable professional network, and about a year’s worth of debt-free college credit.

CareerWise Colorado’s role as an intermediary is vital to the program’s success. The organization recruits students, optimizes their schedules, and assists both companies and schools in creating career competencies and aligning goals. It also trains supervisors and apprentice-coaches at participating businesses, prepares apprentices for a professional work environment, and conducts outreach with industry-led sector partnerships and statewide trade associations.

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Kansas Talent  Solutions Coalition
Kentucky and Colorado are pioneering state-wide work-based learning initiatives. The Talent Solutions Coalition (TSC) in Wichita, Kansas, offers a very different workforce development model. It serves one specialized industry – aviation. This model is of interest because it could be replicated in other industries.
Founded in 2016, TSC is a nonprofit intermediary that builds a talent pipeline for the 75 percent of aviation companies that report a significant shortage of skilled workers. The organization, which grew out of a federal grant program, acts as a broker between aviation employers and four community and technical colleges that offer programs in aviation manufacturing and maintenance. These are Wichita Area Technical College, Pima Community College in Arizona, Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, and Vincennes University in Indiana, a four-year institution.

An article in the January 27, 2017, online publication Inside Higher Ed explains how the process works:

A regional airline might tell (TSC) it needs to hire 150 skilled workers within two years. The coalition … would then work with its college partners to train 150 students through a specialized, in-person certificate or degree program. That could mean divvying up the slots, with three colleges each taking 50.
TSC consults with the four participating colleges to customize their curricula to meet each aviation employer’s needs. It also ensures that “workplace skills and behaviors” – such as attitude, attendance, appearance, communications skills, and teamwork – are embedded into credit-bearing technical programs.

TSC assists employers and colleges to evaluate students’ job readiness, in terms of both technical and soft skills. In addition, it works with its partner colleges to promote the aviation career path to students and faculty, and to improve the image of the manufacturing industry.

Ivy Tech Community College
Effective work-based learning initiatives are generally employer-led. However, in some cases, post-secondary educational institutions are leading the way.

One of these is Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the largest singly accredited statewide community college system in the nation. The college has 45 campuses and site locations around the state.

Ivy Tech is a national leader in coordinating academic programs with on-the-job training, to ensure that experiential learning is valued and can lead to an academic certificate or degree. The goal is to make sure the college is offering exactly what employers need, and that all credentials are “stackable,” that is, can be applied toward more advanced certificates or degrees.

For example, Ivy Tech coordinates with construction-trade unions to offer an Associate of Applied Science degree. This credential incorporates the on-the-job training required for a Journeyperson’s Card with the general education classes required for an associate’s degree. It is available to workers in 15 trades, from carpenters and millwrights to boilermakers and sheet-metal workers.

Ivy Tech’s interdisciplinary Advanced Manufacturing associate’s degree is a similar co-op arrangement. Students in this unique, 75-hour academic/industry-blended program learn industrial automation and robotics maintenance skills. They work for an employer two days a week and spend three days a week in one of college’s manufacturing centers of excellence labs. Some students are full-time employees who need a skills upgrade, while others are interns the employer may or may not hire.

One of Ivy Tech’s highest priorities is to identify strategies to attract more young people to skilled, high-demand careers. The college works as a convener and facilitator, ensuring that school districts understand local manufacturers’ skill needs and then reaching into high schools and middle schools to create a pipeline. Teachers and counselors assist by identifying students who are likely to have an interest.

In Ivy Tech’s two-year pilot programs for high schools, students split their time between academic courses at school and a manufacturing lab at the college. The first year, they do job shadowing. The second year, they rotate through four employers, doing “real work” for eight to 10 hours a week. They graduate from high school with a certificate or technical credential from Ivy Tech that stacks into an associate’s degree.

Ivy Tech is also piloting three-to-five-day summer camps for 13 to 14-year-old middle schoolers. Local employers take the lead, buying pizza and T-shirts for the students, and planning fun and interesting activities like using computer-assisted design and 3D printing to make a cup. “I don’t know of any employer who has said, ‘we’re not interested in helping’,” says Chris Lowery, Ivy Tech’s Vice President for Workforce Alignment.

The key ingredient in all Ivy Tech’s work is “employer, employer, employer,” Lowery adds. “We need their voice, their engagement, their support.”

Indiana policy makers believe their state – indeed, any state – needs to have 60 percent of its workforce equipped with post-secondary credentials to be competitive in the future, according to Lowery. Recently, Ivy Tech adopted an ambitious five-year plan to advance this goal.

As part of the plan, state and college officials will gather data to evaluate progress on two key aspirations: First, at least 80 percent of the college’s programs in key economic sectors will be at equilibrium with the market to meet the needs of employers (supply and demand); and second, 80 percent of Ivy Tech graduates will be at or above Indiana’s median income one year after graduating.

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Financial Rewards
As noted earlier, a primary reason for Minnesota’s skilled workforce shortage is the widespread belief that a four-year college degree is imperative for a financially rewarding, middle-class life. In fact, a recent study by Center of the American Experiment in Golden Valley reveals that young Minnesotans who choose alternative routes – a two-year technical degree, apprenticeship or one-year certificate – can often earn more over a lifetime than their peers with a four-year degree.

The Center commissioned the study, by labor economist Dr. Amanda Griffith, as part of its “Great Jobs Without A Four-Year Degree” project. Griffith generated median lifetime earnings profiles for a variety of occupations, using data from Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and other sources. She found that the median lifetime earnings of CNC machinists and millwrights in Minnesota are 11 percent and 4 percent higher, respectively, than those of four-year degree holders. The reason is that, on average, these manufacturing workers earn higher wages – and have lower student debt – than peers with a bachelor’s degree.

Minnesota will need a robust work-based learning strategy – and maximum employer engagement – if it is to avoid the crisis-level talent shortage that is just around the corner. On April 24, the Center of the American Experiment will sponsor a forum for employers on this topic featuring Kyle Hartung, Director of Pathways to Prosperity and a national leader on work-based learning. The forum will take place from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel in St. Louis Park.

Pathways to Prosperity is a collaboration of 12 states (including Minnesota), the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based nonprofit. It currently oversees diverse and innovative work-based learning experiments across the country and profiles them in its “Work-based Learning in Action” reports.

Minnesota must act quickly to build better pathways to the well-paying, in-demand careers on which our economy depends. To do so, we must expand the promising initiatives under way here and learn from the successful models that other states have implemented.  pm_endmarkblue-e1320337140493


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KATHERINE KERSTEN is a Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment in Golden Valley, where she co-leads the “Great Jobs Without A Four-Year Degree” project. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2018 Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. For permission to use or reprint this article please contact Nancy Huddleston, publications manager for Precision Manufacturing Journal.

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