Less talk, more action

Oct. 7, 2008
Contributing Editor Joel Leonard says cooperation with community colleges could help crack the crisis.

More business leaders are beginning to realize that we are no longer in an arms race, but a skills race, and the countries that will prosper will have an abundance of smart, nimble, skilled workers.

For years you’ve probably heard me write, rant and perhaps even sing about these issues. Now many people finally are agreeing that I’m not being a Chicken Little about the maintenance crisis. As more people recognize the problems generated by the maintenance crisis, more effort, energy and resources are being allocated to address these business and economic challenges.

However, the contributing causes are still wreaking havoc with our sustainability and future economic competitiveness. One contributor is the quality of our secondary education. In an effort to discover which community colleges and technical schools are actively engaged in upgrading the number of skilled workers, I recently designed a questionnaire and asked George Boggs, CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (www.aacc.nche.edu) to forward it to every community college president in the United States. Some of the questions are:

  • With the pending retirement of skilled workers nationwide, what is your institution doing to prevent the maintenance crisis?
  • How many students do you have enrolled in industrial maintenance classes?
  • How many students do you have enrolled in electrical classes?
  • How many students do you have enrolled in plumbing classes?
  • How many students do you have enrolled in HVAC classes?
  • How many students do you have learning about PLC/CNC and electronic equipment?
  • What is your community college doing to develop the skill sets of incumbent workers?
  • What does your community college do to offer fast-track development of qualified workers?
  • What is your community college doing to prepare workers for advanced manufacturing jobs?

We plan on sending out more questionnaires, so please share with us other pertinent questions that come to mind. As community college presidents complete this questionnaire, we’ll learn more about how our educational institutions are working to expand the pipeline to educate the future workforce to address the baby boomer (geezer-bust) generation. We’ll publish the answers in future articles, and will try to interview aggressive leaders of the fight against the maintenance crisis in future installments of SkillTV.net. Perhaps this will inspire more educators to fulfill their organizations’ original charters of developing technical skills and not just be preparatory schools for four-year colleges.

I also ask you to share specific steps you and your organization are taking to fight the maintenance crisis.

More plant and facility professionals should interact with future generations by mentoring future workers, provide tours to local leaders and to school-aged children, speak at schools to discuss the opportunities with teachers and PTAs, and, most importantly, set an admirable example by doing our jobs well with pride and enthusiasm.

More corporations should develop succession-development plans, work on retaining current workers, build stronger relationship with local community colleges so that skills training matches existing and future jobs, and, most importantly, recognize that the maintenance function isn’t a cost center, but a profit contributor.

More communities, regions and states should embrace skilled workers as a competitive advantage to retain and attract jobs and should provide capital to finance extensive workforce development programs for incumbent workers and future workers instead of providing tax incentives to new companies. They also should prevent gang activity by developing workers and develop pathways for ex-offenders, work to engage retiring workers and develop programs for them to mentor future workers and expand programs like YouthBuild U.S.A. (www.youthbuild.org) for the 30% of students who haven’t graduated from high school to engage this untapped talent pool. Most importantly, they should develop and maintain their infrastructure to support area business and industrial centers.

More media outlets should showcase the value contribution of engineering and maintenance, expose the revenue opportunities available in skilled occupations and glorify the real contributors to our economy: maintenance and reliability professionals, and not just athletes and musicians. Most importantly, the media need to continue to beat the drum by distributing informational to educate our populace that a skilled workforce is critical to a prosperous and secure economic future.

Please feel free to contact me to brainstorm further about how to propel maintenance forward.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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