Where education meets jobs

Joel Leonard says Ohio is tackling the Maintenance Crisis with proactive training that meets companies' needs.

By Joel Leonard, contributing editor

Never have I been so optimistic about a constructive resolution to the ever-present Maintenance Crisis. Finally, government, business, and even academic leadership are hearing our cries and developing new initiatives to mitigate the effects of the increased need for response to the aging infrastructure, sophisticated equipment, retiring boomer workforce, and lack of qualified new workers to address these needs.

Unless the government hires the millions of unqualified applicants, recent grads still need to learn and build the skills to match employer needs.

However, some still don’t get it. During a recent presidential debate, a major candidate promised to make sure that every college graduate would have a job that they went to school for. The sad fact is that many schools’ coursework still doesn’t teach to the needs of the employers. Unless the government hires the millions of unqualified applicants, recent grads still need to learn and build the skills to match employer needs.

That step isn’t lost on the Ohio political leadership. Governor John Kasich deems education and workforce development his highest priorities. He recently interviewed a group of eighth-grade students about what would help them make better career-path decisions. This interview was conducted in the American Welding Society’s semi trailer with five Lincoln Electric VRTEX 360 virtual welding simulators. Dozens of kids, educators, and even government leaders were absolutely amazed by this tool and by the projected need for more than 250,000 new welders by 2018.

When Governor Kasich asked the students what would help them to make better decisions, they responded with calls for more exposure to the business and major manufacturers. The students said that just having someone speak at school doesn’t give them enough understanding of the roles, the challenges, and the opportunities in potential career paths. They want access to the job and to simulate the work experience as much as possible so they can begin to develop the skills needed for success.

Also during my visit to Ohio, I got to see the skunk works (R&D) at Lincoln Electric again to see its latest efforts to upgrade industry performance. To help remove the dusty, dangerous function of traditional welding, the group introduced its “wall of fume.” They’re in the process of rolling out a new line of fumigation systems designed to make welding jobs cleaner, safer, and more environmentally responsible. Lincoln Electric’s new offerings not only have some capable permanent mounted systems available but also several small portable systems that can be transported to where the work is performed.

Nicknamed the "Maintenance Evangelist," Joel Leonard has made it a personal mission to turn industry recruitment around and help management take maintenance seriously for business profitability.Nicknamed the "Maintenance Evangelist," Joel Leonard has made it a personal mission to turn industry recruitment around and help management take maintenance seriously for business profitability. His career has spanned teaching, consulting, senior management and public speaking. A former vice-president of the Association for Facilities Engineering, Joel graduated Elon University with a BS in Marketing. Soon after, he developed an appreciation for the maintenance field, and he's been an engineer at heart ever since. Joel served as a Maintenance Solutions Provider at Life Cycle Engineering and supported the growth of the MPACT Learning Center. Joel has often presented at and been the keynote speaker at national and international conventions since 1998. Email Joel Leonard at joel@skilltv.net.

Also with the recent acquisition of Torchmate Laser etcher and plasma metal cutter, Lincoln is helping show educational centers the merging of the fine and manual arts. I watched in awe as a technician pulled the SkillTV logo from the Web, sized it on a CAD drawing, and, moments later, cut that image into steel. The applications for new products are limited only by the imagination. They’re already etching parts numbers into metal casings to minimize future confusion as to parts identification.

I’m excited now to be serving on a workforce advisory committee in the National Defense Industrial Association (www.ndia.org), where we’re not just uncovering methods to advance performance of the military, but also involved in helping our returning veterans receive the training and resources to find viable, enriching opportunities as they return.

Also, when I shared with Stephen Holloway, special advisor to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, ideas about the potential power of Antech Systems’ video games for workforce development, he said, “The more efforts we can develop to get more people to drop their guns and pick up tools, the better our world will be.”

I’m also excited to report that the Guilford County Workforce Development Board asked me to conduct a gap analysis and determine the area’s current and future workforce needs, so that more educational programs can be developed to address the gap. I’m also delighted that more regions are seriously considering adding maintenance clusters to their economic development activities to not only attract business, but to retain current employers by addressing their maintenance deficiencies.

If we continue to make these strides, the Maintenance Crisis soon will fade to insignificance. But we still need your help to spread the word and let society know that maintenance is a profit contributor, not just a cost.

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