This article originally appeared on Industry Week. Guest blog post by Michael Kelleher, Executive Director of the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MD MEP).
There were 5.8 million job openings at the beginning of 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). This represents a substantial increase over employment opportunities during the Great Recession (2007–2013), yet American employers increasingly say they can’t find workers with the skills needed to fill available jobs.
A recent poll conducted by Adecco found that the skills gap impacts U.S. manufacturing more than any other industry. Given this, how can U.S. manufacturers overcome a challenge that plagues companies both large and small regardless of location or products produced?
Dixon Valve is a 100-year-old manufacturer of hose couplings, valves, dry-disconnects, swivels and other fluid transfer and control products. The company has 350 employees and serves industries including petroleum, refining, transportation, chemical processing, food and beverage, and construction, among others. Like many manufacturers, Dixon struggled with training and retaining talented and skilled employees to work in its production facility. The company’s leadership team also realized their workforce was aging and nearing retirement. The company would soon lack enough skilled machinists, journeyman and production workers.
Dixon started exploring all options to develop the workforce of the future. Dixon Valve has always stressed the critical role its employees play in delivering quality products to its customers. As such, the company sought a solution that would align with its values, while delivering real business results.
The leadership team at Dixon Valve determined that an apprenticeship program could provide the skills necessary to meet the company’s needs. Apprenticeship programs are nothing new, but they have seen renewed interest in recent years. The DOL defines apprenticeship as an “earn and learn” training model that combines on-the-job training with related classroom-style instruction that benefits employees and companies alike. An Adecco poll of 500 executives found that 89% of respondents think that apprenticeship or training programs could help alleviate the skills gap.
Dixon Valve partnered with the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MD MEP), part of the MEP National NetworkTM, to explore apprenticeship training and develop and implement a registered apprenticeship program for the occupation of CNC machinist.
The apprenticeship program through MD MEP offered a competency-based approach. A competency-based apprenticeship program is focused on the demonstration of proficiency in a specific skill or competency in lieu of meeting time-based work experience. This allows apprentices to accelerate the rate of competency achievement or take additional time if needed due the open entry and exit design of the program.
As part of the apprenticeship development process, the MD MEP team conducted a full-scale job-task analysis of the existing facility and conducted a comprehensive skills assessment of more than 100 workers. Identifying which tasks are necessary for a qualified apprentice to perform in order to demonstrate competency is important to ensure the training meets the unique needs of the company. The Dixon Valve job-task analysis aided the development of job profiles for each position to better align the company's current needs with future training programs.
The MD MEP team used this information to help Dixon Valve register one of the first competency based apprenticeship programs in the state of Maryland. Dixon is currently training five apprenticeship candidates expected to complete the program. MD MEP is continuing to support the training, rollout and reporting of the program.
"MEP is helping us evaluate our current workforce, identify the skills training we need to provide, and the curriculum that is best suited for our needs,” said Chip Williams, vice president of human resources. “MEP’s training process and guidance will have a huge impact on our ability to meet our need for skilled employees."
Maryland MEP is the official representative of the MEP National Network in Maryland. The MEP National Network is a unique public-private partnership that helps small and medium-sized manufacturers generate business results and thrive in today’s technology-driven economy. The MEP National Network comprises the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP), the 51 MEP Centers located in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.