Quite a few community colleges are developing curriculum and training for employees in the additive manufacturing field, says a North Carolina economic development official, as more 3D printing firms move to the state.

How Greensboro Grows Its Skilled Workforce

March 2, 2019
Leaders in North Carolina's Greensboro-High Point area have stopped asking, “Why don’t we have the right talent?” and started saying, “Here’s how we’re going to create talent.”

If manufacturing is back and better than ever, then why do thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs go unfilled in communities across America? More importantly, what can communities and companies do to fill these important positions to keep their manufacturing sectors thriving?

As North Carolina’s No. 1 county for the number of manufacturing jobs—and the Southeast U.S.’s No. 3 – Guilford County has manufacturing in its DNA. The two leading cities in Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point, are home to a diverse array of manufacturing operations—ranging from Daimler’s Thomas Built Buses, which manufacturers the iconic yellow school buses, to Qorvo, which manufactures products that power everything from mobile devices to the most advanced defense systems.

But this manufacturing growth and expertise don’t mean we’re immune to the global talent shortage. Here are a few innovative (and practical) ways employers, educators and economic developers in our region are collaborating to create a talent pipeline for today, tomorrow and the next decade of growth.

Bridging the Talent Gap  

Machine Specialties Inc. (MSI) designs and manufactures parts for major companies like Boeing, Bell Helicopter, Honeywell, BASF and more. Since the company was founded by an Argentinian immigrant apprentice in 1969, MSI has become the industry leader—and expects to become a $50 million company by 2020. But like many manufacturers, MSI’s growth was threatened by an aging workforce and a lack of skilled talent to replace those workers, estimating that 15% of its employees would retire in five years.

Despite the global talent shortage, in 2016 President and CEO Rob Simmons took matters into his own hands: MSI launched an advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program with local schools. The Guilford Apprenticeship Program (GAP) pays students a competitive hourly wage while on the job and covers tuition for a community college degree. Now, with 38 apprentices on staff, MSI is planning to double the size of its factory next year.  

More than two dozen Guilford County companies have followed MSI’s lead and joined GAP—while  dozens of students have chosen the apprenticeship path. The program will grow to take on other in-demand industries, such as IT and cybersecurity. Instead of local employers struggling to recruit and train talent on their own, they realized they could do more together as a concerted effort.

Investing in the Right Talent Training Resources

For many communities, your technical schools are your talent and economic development’s secret weapon—make sure you’re investing in them.

Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC), the third largest community college in North Carolina, opened the Center for Advanced Manufacturing this fall. Leaders invested $33.5 million in the center, which is housed in a converted former bus manufacturing facility and features new state-of-the-art equipment ranging from robotic welding machines to a 3D printing lab. The center offers courses to train in-demand talent, such as mechanics, welders and machine operators. Students train on the same equipment they’ll encounter on the job. Companies send their employees to the center to get updated on innovative methods and tools.

In addition to investing in training, GTCC invests in changing perceptions of trade careers. GTCC faculty have experience in trade industries and share with students that today’s careers in manufacturing “are not your grandfather’s job”—they are clean, automated, innovative and offer highly-competitive pay.

Qorvo, Thomas Built Buses and HondaJet are among the manufacturers that have partnered with Guilford Tech for customized training.

Making Manufacturing More Accessible: Allow Talent to “Test Drive” Trade Careers

Choosing to enroll in technical school is a big commitment that usually takes place at only one life juncture (before graduating high school). But that’s not the only path. Other organizations in Guilford County have realized that exposure to manufacturing should be accessible for everyone at all stages of life.

Enter The Forge—one of the largest makerspaces in the Southeast. While The Forge originated as a hobbyist grassroots organization in 2014, it has since expanded its focus to help promote quality careers in trade industries. In addition to acting as a co-working space for entrepreneurial “makers,” The Forge offers trade industry classes at low cost. So far, thousands of individuals, from middle-schoolers to adults, have been exposed to trade careers such as welding and machining through these classes. For those taking classes who want to take their interest to the next level, The Forge now offers a pipeline to certificate and degree programs offered at nearby GTCC.

What Communities Can Learn from Guilford County

In the Greensboro-High Point region, leaders have stopped asking, “Why don’t we have the right talent?” and started saying, “Here’s how we’re going to create talent.”

When it comes to the manufacturing talent gap, no solution can be done in a silo. In fact, that’s why we have a “gap” in the first place—employers, educators and economic developers need to better communicate their needs for growth and collaborate on solutions.

Talent comes in many forms and that finding, choosing and training for an entirely new career is not easy. That’s why manufacturing training programs need to be people-focused. As an industry, manufacturing needs to change perceptions and become more accessible for all age, gender, racial and economic backgrounds. In order to bridge the gap, we first need to break down the walls that are keeping people from these rewarding careers.

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