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Changing Perceptions of Manufacturing in New Jersey

Oct. 4, 2019
An MEP shares its five approaches to tackling workforce development

Manufacturing Day, a national celebration of an industry recently forgotten. As the service industry and digital technology swept over the world and four-year degrees touted as the only path toward a “respectable” career, encouragement to join the manufacturing workforce all but faded away. Over the past few years, there has been a push to showcase the true face of manufacturing in the United States and it has begun changing young minds about manufacturing as a career. The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) has begun their own work focused on workforce development in the state of New Jersey and will be hosting their eighth annual New Jersey Manufacturing Day on October 4, where this workforce development arm will be heavily represented.

Since 2008, NJMEP has taken it upon themselves to host a Manufacturing Day celebration in the Garden State. The goal of the event is to bring together manufacturers and business leaders from related sectors to celebrate the industry and give recognition to manufacturers going above and beyond to drive manufacturing forward as a whole. Stand-out businesses that have implemented and applied revolutionary technology, taken a unique approach to operations, continuous improvement, management, supply chain, and workforce development are nominated for Manufacturer of the Year awards.

IndustryWeek recently cited a new study, the 2019 L2L Manufacturing Index, that showed how Generation Z and millennials differ when it comes to their exposure to the manufacturing industry. A whopping one-third of Generation Z, adults ages 18-22, have had manufacturing suggested to them as a career option. When looking at millennials, which make up 13% of the general population of adults, only 18% have ever been exposed to manufacturing as a career path. It is clear that the manufacturing industry is beginning to have an impact once again.

Manufacturing Day is the perfect time for the industry to show how far it has come over the past two decades. The vast amount of innovative technologies, managerial practices, culture shifts, and of course, transformative workforce development programs have ultimately transformed the way manufacturers produce their products. With all the incredible strides forward the industry has made, one area still seems to be a point of contention: workforce development. NJMEP wanted to create a program that gave manufacturers the ability to turn to a trusted and reliable partner in order to address their workforce needs. The NJMEP Pro-Action Education Network was developed to be this solution.

The Pro-Action Education Network will be highlighted significantly throughout New Jersey Manufacturing Day this year. It consists of five unique workforce development programs to be the complete solution to the New Jersey skills gap. Each program is listed below. Immediately after that overview, there will be a more in-depth look at how each individual aspect of the Pro-Action Education Network addresses employment at every level, from identifying and qualifying new hires to mentorship and leadership training for experienced employees.

  • Pre-Apprenticeship & Foundational Credentials
  • Open Enrollment Career Advancement Training
  • Assessment & On-the-Job Training (OJT)
  • USDOL Registered Apprenticeships
  • Train-the-Mentor

Pre-Apprenticeship & Foundational Credentials connects employers seeking new hires with a pre-qualified pool of manufacturing talent. Individuals interested in beginning a career in the manufacturing industry are assessed, trained, and connected with businesses actively looking to hire people with specific skills.

Open Enrollment ‘Career Advancement’ Training gives manufacturers the opportunity to upskill their current workforce. As manufacturers have come to realize, finding an employee that fits a specific mold is oftentimes just not possible. Instead, manufacturers can enroll incumbent workers into specific career advancement courses that cover subjects like Lean, Six Sigma, Cybersecurity awareness, blueprint reading, food regulations, and MSSC certification modules to create a more capable and experienced workforce.

Assessment & On-the-Job Training (OJT) allows manufacturers to choose from a pool of brand-new manufacturing talent. Furthermore, NJMEP can assist in the OJT curriculum to alleviate the stress of onboarding new employees.

USDOL Registered Apprenticeship from NJMEP are accelerated programs that Patricia Moran, NJMEP Director of Apprenticeships dubbed “the liberal arts” of apprenticeships. These programs offer the apprentices a comprehensive manufacturing education using the four MSSC modules, Safety, Quality, Process and Production, and Maintenance Awareness as a foundation.

Train-the-Mentor is a carefully crafted course specifically designed to give experienced leaders a comprehensive understanding surrounding the value and role of apprenticeships in the manufacturing space. Furthermore, experienced industry instructors provide actionable advice on how to handle the most delicate workforce conflicts. Participants can even bring real-life examples of challenges they are facing in the workplace and use the classroom as a thinktank to overcome real-world issues facing senior management.

Manufacturing Day is a time for manufacturers to open their doors and come together as a community. Manufacturers all over the country can use this nationally recognized celebration to share ideas, spread the word on how far the industry has come, and reach students and young adults. In New Jersey, NJMEP works tirelessly to ensure Manufacturing Day has the largest possible impact on the state. Workforce development has been a primary focus for the industry over the past few years and Manufacturing Day is the perfect time to show all the advantages that come along with a career in manufacturing.

The manufacturing industry is particularly close to my heart. Since graduating from college with a degree in New Marketing Methods, I began working at an advertising agency whose clients were made up of logistics and industrial manufacturing companies. I felt right at home. The terminology, the personalities, the challenges were all familiar. My parents are my role models and they were able to provide me with what I would consider a privileged life because of their work in the manufacturing industry. My mother is an accountant for a small metal fabricator located in New Jersey. My father is the National Sales Manager for a multi-billion-dollar American manufacturer and distributor of corrugate and displays. They may not be on the shop floor, but manufacturing is integral to what they do. It’s the foundation on which they were able to present me with all the opportunities I could have ever asked for. I went the four-year college route but immediately used those credentials to find my way back into manufacturing. From the advertising agency, I went to a manufacturer of STEM education products, and after that, I joined the NJMEP team.

Industrial production was never brought up as a potential career path while I was growing up in the early 2000’s. If it had been, there’s no telling where I would be today. If I’d had the chance to speak with the NJMEP apprentices, visit the absolutely spectacular manufacturers throughout New Jersey, and speak with the individuals that work and run these businesses, I would have without a doubt considered every last option.

It’s fantastic to see manufacturing beginning to rebuild its brand. As this trend continues and NJMEP works to break down the stigma in New Jersey, a bridge will form as the skills gap is closed.

Michael Womack is the marketing outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NJMEP).  NJEP provides consulting, education and training to New Jersey manufacturers.

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