Community college training connects candidates with manufacturers

Manufacturing today emphasizes automation. It’s how companies are keeping pace with competitors that have lower labor costs. But it’s raised the bar for candidates looking to get into the industry, and made finding qualified candidates a challenge for employers.

Smart Business spoke with Michael White, program manager of advanced manufacturing at Cuyahoga Community College’s Workforce, Community and Economic Development Division, about the needs of today’s manufacturers and how community colleges are connecting candidates and employers.

What skills are needed for candidates to work in the modern manufacturing sector?
Candidates need to be tech savvy. Much of their job now entails interfacing with computers and reacting quickly to change. They’ve got to have the ability to trouble shoot problems and work in a team environment, which means getting along with others.

Much of the labor is done with machines now, so the jobs aren’t as physical — there’s not as much lifting, pushing and carrying as there had been. Rather, there’s more measuring and recording, following standard procedures, communicating ideas to others. That puts knowledge at a premium.

Candidates need to understand equipment, such as CNC machines — how to mount tools, call up and run programs, inspect the parts, and generally interface with automation. There’s some handwork, but today’s jobs are more about directing the equipment what to do.

There’s also a need on the repair side — the people who maintain and repair equipment in factories. They need technical knowledge of hydraulics, pneumatics and electricity; the ability to work with tools; and an understanding of computers, sensors, and all the controls that keep the machines moving.

Teamwork skills are far more valuable now because everyone is working in teams. And troubleshooting skills, along with the ability to quickly react to change, are also important.

How can candidates acquire the necessary skills to compete for today’s jobs?
Those who have the potential, but not the skills, can be trained on the particulars.

There are different entry points in manufacturing. With just a basic understanding of math, someone with no machining background can take 180 hours of training to get the basic knowledge, then move on to an eight-week training internship with an on-the-job trainer and qualify for an entry-level position.

Community colleges are a good place to learn the skills needed to get into the industry. There are short-term certification and two-year degree programs that can provide people with the training they need to qualify for in-demand jobs.

Community colleges are interested in getting people into jobs, not just getting them through training. They’re always looking at combining training with an internship or a job at the end.

What can companies do to create a pipeline of candidates to fill open positions?
Companies should get involved with community colleges by taking a seat on an advisory committee or talking with a workforce development unit to see what can be done to gear a program toward a particular need.

These relationships help companies create a pipeline of qualified candidates. As the manufacturing workforce continues to retire in greater numbers, companies are realizing the importance of having a succession plan to fill holes and ensure valuable knowledge is transferred.

Companies aren’t likely to find candidates with all the skills they want. It takes a combination of outside and in-house training to get candidates up to speed on a company’s particular equipment and processes. So it pays to work in partnership with community colleges to create a training program that fills the pipeline with candidates who are prepared to work with a company’s specific equipment.

Manufacturing is a great career for those with a real interest in jobs with good pay and great benefits doing work that requires equal parts brains and hands. Community colleges can be the link that connects job candidates and employers so everyone gets what they need.

Insights Education is brought to you by Cuyahoga Community College.