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A Closer Look at STEM Collaboration in Phoenix

March 10, 2017
PING, a manufacturer of golf equipment, says that many of its team members with STEM training were attracted by the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of technological innovation.

IndustryWeek talked to Dawn Grove who is corporate counsel at Karsten Manufacturing Corp., the parent company of PING,  one of three golf equipment brand producers in the U.S., about the programs and processes it implements to attract STEM employees.

IW: What types of programs have you implemented with respect to attracting and retaining STEM employees?

PING: Many of our team members with STEM training were attracted by the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of technological innovation in golf club design and to produce the next generation of premium, custom-fit and custom-built golf equipment.Our founder, Karsten Solheim, revolutionized the golf industry both with his engineering designs as well as his manufacturing processes.  Prior to Karsten entering the golf equipment manufacturing market, most golf club manufacturers used a less accurate forging method of making clubs.  Karsten chose the more expensive method of investment casting his club heads for greater precision and quality, and the golf industry followed. 

All PING product development comes from our Phoenix headquarters, supported by a team of more than 60 engineers and researchers, and we have a team of over 800 Arizona employees. 

IW: Do you have metrics on how these programs are working?

PING: Yes, we have been blessed with fantastic retention of a highly skilled workforce.  Nearly 60% of our PING workforce has been with us 10 years or more, and nearly 30% has worked with us 20 years or more.

IW: Are you working with any specific educational institutions (universities, community and technical college)?

PING: We are very proud of Arizona’s excellent universities and community colleges and have had a long history of friendship and support.  Many of our engineers, including President, John K. Solheim, received their engineering degrees from Arizona State University and other esteemed Arizona institutions.

We are encouraged by the plans of EWI (a non-profit, engineering leader in developing innovative technologies for manufacturers) to expand into Arizona and help manufacturers and educators work together even more effectively to achieve technological innovations in manufacturing processes.  We were also pleased to hear of the Maricopa Community Colleges new Center for Manufacturing Excellence, and appreciate their dedication to training the next generation of skilled manufacturing workers.  

Manufacturing is the engine that drives Arizona’s economy and produces good, career track jobs. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that manufacturing jobs in Arizona pay over 75% above Arizona’s average annual compensation for non-manufacturing jobs.

IW: What type of best practices can you offer other companies?

PING: We have experienced success using a temporary hiring service to get to know and train potential new team members and give them a chance to get to know us.  While other golf club manufacturers made a practice of hiring then laying off large numbers of workers depending on the cyclical nature of the golf business, we aimed to devote ourselves fully to our employees and pay extra for temporary workers during high demand times.   

I recall a most touching moment at one of our employee meetings some years ago during the depth of the recession, when our CEO, John A. Solheim, told our team members that he felt sad he had no bonus to give them.  One of the employees, recognizing that PING had sacrificed to avoid layoffs, shouted from the back, “Thanks for the jobs, John.”  There’s a real trust that has developed over the years that team members know we have each other’s backs. 

See Also Phoenix STEM Workforce is Supporting US Manufacturing Growth

IW: As Vice-Chairman of the Arizona Manufacturers Council can you talk about some of the specific services you offer to employer?

PING: One terrific offering available to manufacturers and other businesses is direct access to the Arizona@Work Job Centers.  Think of it as a one-stop shop for both job seekers and job creators.  Job creators can work with Arizona@Work staff to let them know of job openings and the skills and credentials needed for those particular jobs.  The Arizona@Work staff then work with job seekers to identify those qualified workers ready to fill those jobs, or work with workforce developers and other community partners to provide the skills and training needed by local job seekers to meet local employers’ needs.  Best of all, there is no charge to the employer for this service.

IW: What new types of programs are you looking into? 

PING: The bipartisan federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (“WIOA”) is a new act that requires new actions of Arizona’s many constituents: the business community, academia, workforce developers, DES and other government leaders.  We are in the process of setting up new self-sustaining structures, allowing timely data sharing while preserving confidentiality, establishing metrics for measuring success in serving both job seekers and job creators, and ensuring accountability that provides the most efficient and effective use of resources in providing opportunity for all. 

Once the new structures are in place to ensure compliance with WIOA’s new requirements at the state, county and local levels, the data sharing and metrics will bring to light the most effective programs implemented throughout the state.  We are exploring increased usage of apprenticeships, possible innovation connections through creation of a Manufacturing USA center in Phoenix, and growing creative hands-on CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs. 

We are also improving connections with the business community to keep a pulse on their current and upcoming needs through enhanced engagement with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Arizona Manufacturers Council, Arizona Technology Council, Arizona Manufacturing Partnership, etc., as well as many local business associations such as the Tucson Hispanic Chamber. 

IW: What has been your success rate with these programs?

PING: We have some incredibly talented individuals from leading businesses such as IBM, who are volunteering their time and expertise on the Workforce Arizona Council and its committees, developing metrics and capture-at-a-glance dashboards to evaluate the success of the new programs being implemented. 

While Arizona has some of the most talented educators and workforce developers anywhere in the world, they have not always had the input from the business community to know upcoming job openings and the specific training and skills needed for those jobs.  That disconnect where employers resorted to hiring workers from other states and often other countries while Arizona job seekers were obtaining skills other than those needed by local employers, is one of the important items being addressed by the Council.

One program I was blessed to see in action is the excellent work being done by West-MEC in their aviation mechanics and electronics programs for both high school and college students. Their aviation programs have resulted in 100% job placement of those seeking jobs following program completion, and has filled an important need faced by our Arizona aerospace and defense employers.  

IW: What is the level of co-operation between different cities, counties and regional agencies?

PING: I have been thrilled to see the incredible caliber of professionalism, experience and wisdom represented on the Workforce Arizona Council as we cooperate together in our various roles to collectively solve a common problem -- that of Arizona job seekers unable to find employment and Arizona job creators unable to find local skilled workers. The Council includes accomplished Arizona business and manufacturing leaders, House and Senate state legislative leaders, a city mayor, a county supervisor, as well as leaders from unions, trade associations, medical providers, military programs, and others all combining efforts with the Department of Education and the Department of Economic Security to reduce poverty in Arizona. 

Representatives from cities, counties and regional agencies worked together with other government and business leaders to develop a new Arizona State Plan that complied with WIOA’s new requirements and provided a comprehensive new vision and direction for how Arizona holistically serves constituents and meets the needs of job seekers and job creators.  I am very proud of the collaborative work accomplished in developing Arizona’s new State Plan which synthesized requirements from the several hundred page WIOA and its additional 2,600 pages of federal regulations, and in developing a succinct Executive Overview so that the State Plan can be readily understood and implemented statewide.

We are also collaborating on local workforce policies and on development and coordination of Local Plans.  It takes time, intentional listening, coordinated problem-solving and willingness to innovate, but the end result is exponentially greater when we each voluntarily bring our skills and networks together to achieve a common goal.  While the process has not been without hiccups, we are quickly growing into a healthy body working with coordinated effort to reduce poverty in Arizona.

IW: What best practices can you offer to other regions who are just starting to offer these types of workforce programs to manufacturers?

PING: The key is collaboration and a willingness to make the changes needed to address each other’s needs holistically.  California has worked hard to develop its state plan under WIOA, but since California government is driving its job creators away through burdensome taxes and regulations, to the tune of some 12,000 jobs picked up by Arizona from California alone over the past eight years, it may be offering training for jobs that won’t be there tomorrow.

Add in an incredible network of academic offerings, not just in our acclaimed state universities, but also in our community colleges, growing private universities, and trade schools; plus Arizona’s K-12 educators are exploring new ways of preparing students for the workforce of tomorrow in our district, charter and private high schools, and both secondary and undergraduate educators are incorporating feedback from manufacturers and businesses concerning skills training desired. 

Now multiply that by government, business and non-profit programs working together to assist our esteemed veterans, help underserved populations, including the mentally and physically disabled, the downtrodden and disenfranchised, and youth that have dropped out of school.  Exponentially multiply that by our experienced and dedicated teams of Local Workforce Developers receiving real time information regarding jobs being created locally and providing the specific training needed to meet those job requirements.

If we all continue to work together, we will achieve huge success in boosting employment, meeting employers’ needs and reducing poverty in Arizona.  And Arizona’s story will be a blockbuster worth watching and a best practice worth emulating.

Note: In 2015, Grove was appointed to the U.S. Manufacturing Council, which directly advises the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and other cabinet members on issues related to strengthening U.S. manufacturers and achieving policy solutions that allow them to remain globally competitive.

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