Use education and training to elimate the skilled labor shortage

March 10, 2011
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, says community colleges and associations are joining the maintenance recruitment campaign.

As a result of the economic downturn, a major obstacle that inhibited development of qualified technicians is disappearing quickly. Because of the stigmas and stereotypes of industrial environments, academic curricula and student skill sets rarely align to what employers needed. Because funds aren’t flowing to government coffers and state and federal funding sources are being cut back, schools must be more responsive and are now listening to the area business needs to fill in financial funding gaps.

Innovative colleges are providing on-site training. Robeson Community College in Lumberton, North Carolina, is helping to upgrade communication skills and offering robotic maintenance classes to Campbell Soup employees while at work.

After hearing extensive requests from food processors, Sampson Community College in Clinton, North Carolina, developed a multi-million-dollar ammonia refrigeration training facility. Steve Matthis, dean of industrial education, says, “We didn’t design this training facility; industry did.” Industry isn’t supporting the college’s ideas, but their own. As a result, the college is receiving interest in this unique program from around the country.

Special educational tools are being developed to attract students. For example, Lincoln Electric developed a virtual welding system to enhance welding skills before actually using heat, gas, or burning any consumables. Interest is already heating up across the country from schools eager to learn how this virtual welding system technology works. I’m now organizing a six-campus tour of the VRTEX 360 across North Carolina.

Recently, I visited a major employer and asked a manager how many people worked there. He quickly quipped, “Oh, about half of them.” When I asked why he felt his workforce wasn’t performing at their best, he told me a big reason is the yearly performance reviews. He pointed it out it is hard to remove slackers or push those who need help to get more training when they received top performance reviews in the past from over-sympathetic supervisors.


To avoid that problem, more companies are contracting third parties to perform workforce skills assessments and evaluations. Bobby Edwards, vice president at MPACT Solutions, uses his extensive technical and management experience to provide training tests that gauge talent and determine what gaps need to be filled to achieve competent performance. MPACT assessments cover more than 141 subjects.

To turn this economic shortfall to their advantage, companies that provide grants to community colleges have more control and influence over program content and have an edge in attracting new qualified talent to their ranks. You might want to assess your staff’s current and future needs and develop plans to fill any skill gaps.

To help retain and attract more jobs, many states will subsidize training needs. We need to encourage more suppliers to contribute, as well. Grainger donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to community college scholarships to help build the next generation of skilled workers. Hopefully, more suppliers and industry associations will get involved with community colleges education to help schools do the work much needed to advance our skill performance levels.

The Association for Facilities Engineering offers quarterly Certified Plant Maintenance Manager reviews at Fayetteville Technical Community College in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals plans to become more involved with community colleges and more institutions at its annual conference in Greensboro, North Carolina, Oct. 17-20.

Building on its 2010 inaugural success, the 2nd USA Science and Engineering Festival should inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers with school programs and nationwide contests throughout the school year and the finale expo in Washington, D.C., in Spring 2012. The expo is the nation’s largest celebration of all things science and engineering and features more than 1,500 hands-on activities and 75 performances on multiple stages. The first festival attracted 500,000 people of all ages and had strong government support. I encourage you to attend and support this important event.

When I started actively fighting the Maintenance Crisis, getting the attention of educational centers was difficult. Now, the pendulum is swinging as more leaders recognize and value the contribution of maintenance and reliability professionals. More realize that if we’re going to keep a strong economy, it must have a strong feeder system. This is your chance to garner the influence and support you need to advance your operations. I hope that you can take advantage of this precious window of opportunity.

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

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