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Skills Gap Strength in Numbers

How trade associations can help with training, marketing and more.

Manufacturing has long been the backbone of the American culture and a word that instilled pride amongst a workforce for decades. People often remember U.S. history based on where the country was in their technology and manufacturing developments. Today, however, manufacturing seems to be in a bit of an identity crisis as companies are fighting to compete with automation, smart factories and new generations uninterested in working on a plant floor — not to mention trying to navigate growing government regulations and tariffs.

In these uncertain times, manufacturing associations are built to provide resources and tools. Members can find not only business intelligence, advocacy, networking and education, but also a group of subject matter experts working to make their lives easier.

So, let me ask you, do you leverage the services of your association?

Let’s take one issue that manufacturers across all industry sectors are facing: workforce. From a lack of interested candidates to maintaining a competitive work environment, manufacturing has not been deemed the sexiest of careers as of late, and thus companies are unable to get the work done. Working in marketing, I know for a fact that many smaller shops don’t have the resources, budget or understanding of how to reach potential employees and end up closing their doors because of this issue.

I am here to tell you that there are people out there dedicated to helping you find those next employees, but it takes the right equation and teamwork to make a difference.

Stewardship is a team effort

It is not just the job of the manufacturer to sell their industry to the workforce. It is also the job of the association that represents them, the education system and the communities that rely on these businesses for economic growth and prosperity. This is a group effort and it is time that manufacturers realize they have help, if they want, to save the future of their business.

Working with your trade association will allow you to develop tools you need to help market your business and your industry. The association that I work for, the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA), and the AGMA Foundation worked with committees comprised of members and a special design firm to develop a toolkit that has marketing materials for members to use at job fairs. The workforce issue was deemed a crisis for gear manufacturers (as with other industries) and so AGMA lead the way to creating a small but very impactful solution. The result? Members who could not afford marketing materials—brochures, PowerPoints, videos, posters, etc.—now have templates where all they have to do is put their logo on it.

Some might criticize that this effort is not enough. It isn’t lobbying or a million-dollar campaign that is going to drive thousands of jobs to the gear manufacturing companies. Well, probably not, but what it did do is save our members, on average, $6,000 in design and business fees, and now they have real resources ready to go present to the workforce. With over 100 downloads of those materials so far, our members in Chicago, St. Louis and other cities around the U.S. can attend job fairs and represent their company and industry with up-to-date materials. This was a big membership win for a small association investment.

Partnerships Divide the Workload

Recently, I was talking to the vice president of our education department and she told me that industry needs are what really should be driving educational curriculum. She is spot on. Long gone are the days where we learn something just to learn it. If we cannot immediately apply what we are learning in school directly to a job, people are less likely to make the investment on their education. This is especially true for those that are interested in working in manufacturing.

Establishing a partnership with your local community colleges, high schools or even middle schools will help your company feed the idea of a manufacturing career at an earlier age. From visiting these schools, to hosting tours at your facilities for students, getting involved at the educational level can really be the catalyst for developing the future workforce. Not to mention that partnering with already established schools and organizations helps you get the right people to be in front of.

Many trade associations offer some sort of education in business or trade skills, either on their own or by partnering with higher education. AGMA, for instance, just recently signed an agreement that partners with Richard J. Daley College of the City Colleges of Chicago to form the AGMA National Training Center. Gear education is now available to all who want to take it in the Chicago region. It provides students with a new opportunity and career option that they might not have known about, and it provides members with help from their association in building their workforce

Bring in the experts

One of the best ways that you can develop, grow and find your future workforce is by talking to the right people. We all like to think that we know what is best for our companies, but sometimes we don’t have all the answers. This is where your association can really assist you. Trade associations often have conferences, events and annual meetings where members go to network. These are great opportunities for subject matter experts to come in and give you some tips.

One recent event that I attended brought in human resources employees, staffing agencies and hiring managers to talk about what the current talent pool expects from a company. People were blown away at culture and work environment being so high on the demands list. It used to be about a paycheck and benefits, but now the workforce wants work/life balance. For a three-shift plant with around-the-clock demands, this is not always feasible.

Many members had to look into their own companies and evaluate if people would really want to work there.

Information is powerful—whether it’s through conferences, newsletters and blogs, or conversations with peers and experts. Even though we are going through a workforce crisis, manufacturers do not need to start from scratch on how to fix it – chances are that someone has an answer.

Challenge your association

You pay dues for a reason. If you find that your association isn’t meeting the needs of your company or cannot help supply you with the tools you need to find and retain talent, then talk to them. It is the association’s job to relieve stress and work together with those in the field to make sure that they are getting what they need.

Rebecca Brinkley is director of marketing and communications at the American Gear Manufacturers Association.

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