Certification program considered to bridge skills gap

John Flanagan
John Flanagan
Rebekah Hutton
Rebekah Hutton

Phil Castle, The Business Times

A training and certification program under consideration in Mesa County could help bridge a skills gap in the manufacturing sector and in turn help employers fill openings and employees land jobs.

“This is a pretty important initiative,” said John Flanagan, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The center hosted a forum for local manufacturers to discuss programs and services to develop careers in advanced manufacturing. The effort is made possible by a $280,000 Sector Partnership National Emergency Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Flanagan said.

Part of the effort could include a program to train and certify production technicians, said Rebekah Hutton, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.

The first step, Flanagan said, is to gauge interest and assemble a panel of representatives from manufacturers to identify and address long-term needs. “We’re looking for feedback on how this is going to work.”

While the Mesa County Workforce Center provides a range of customized services to employers and job placement assistance to employees, Flanagan said a holistic approach is required to develop the work force to meet the needs of manufacturers and improve access to good jobs.

Hutton said the Certified Production Technician program is new to Colorado, but is used elsewhere across the country to prepare people for manufacturing jobs. The CPT program is one of two offered by the MSSC, a non-profit organization operating a training, assessment and certification system focused on the core skills and knowledge needed by production and material handling workers.

A total of about 900 high schools, community and vocational colleges and other providers across the United States offer CPT programs, she said.

Such companies as Caterpillar, Harley Davidson, Lockheed Martin and Toyota also participate in training and certification programs, Hutton said.

Work force development is crucial, she said, because of the importance of the manufacturing sector.

By one estimate, manufacturing contributes $2.17 trillion annually to the U.S. economy and employs 12 million people. Manufacturers also tend to pay  higher wages than other industry sectors, Hutton said.
“It’s a critical part of our economy.”

Manufacturers face a challenge, though, in finding sufficient labor, Hutton said. Because of the retirement of the baby boom generation, it’s forecast that manufacturers will need to fill 3.5 million positions by 2025 and 2 million jobs will go unfilled.

While high schools and vocational programs used to prepare students for jobs in manufacturing, fewer of those opportunities exist and fewer students are interested in careers in manufacturing, Hutton said.

The CPT program offers four modules covering safety, quality practices and maintenance, processes and production and maintenance awareness. The program also covers such “employability” skills as attitude, communication, punctuality and teamwork, she said.

A fifth and optional module covers so-called “green” manufacturing techniques that reduce environmental effects and waste, she said.

Each module takes about 40 hours to complete.

The program offers an overview that’s applicable to all types of manufacturing, Hutton said.

Along with training, the program includes assessments to evaluate and certify competency, she said.

The program offers benefits to employers and employees, Hutton said.

The program offers employers assurance new hires possess the skills they need to do the job. Moreover, employees who complete the program tend to remain on the job, in turn reducing the costs involved with turnover, she said.

The program offers employees higher job placement rates and wages as well as what’s typically more rapid advancement, she added.

Along with participating in training and assessment programs, manufacturers can take other steps to address long-term labor needs, Hutton said.

She encouraged manufacturers to host events and invite students, teachers and parents to explore their facilities and the operations that take place there. It’s especially important to engage middle school students. “Let kids see early how cool manufacturing jobs can be.”