By: James A. Mitchell

Any tradesman knows that tools and skills only work if properly applied to a commonly understood blueprint. It’s that kind of plan that the educators tasked with filling the manufacturing skilled-trades pipeline have used to identify the qualifications workers will need industry-wide.

“We’re trying to drive a systemic change in the way we connect individuals into training,” said Tom Crampton, executive dean of regional technology initiatives at Mott Community College.

Mott is among eight member colleges of the Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing, a consortium that includes workforce development agencies. Since its launch in 2013 – funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant – the MCAM has focused on training trade workers based on industry standards.

“We’re looking at credentialing our students with what they need to become a favored candidate among employers,” Crampton said. “We’re also working with employers to help them understand what the credentials mean.”

Welder education training

In response to workforce demands, educators initially focused on four “high impact” areas: Welding, machining, mechatronics and production fields. Training and coursework has filled both short- and long-term needs for both employers and students, including those who had lost employment during the recession.

“Sometimes people need to get to work right away because of life circumstances,” Crampton said. “They might need a job for short time, even entry-level, but they’re also being counseled to leverage this investment of their time and energy with an understanding of what the career pathway looks like. They leave with credentials that are good no matter where they go.”

Educators said that meeting employer needs didn’t require reinvention of the wheel. The need for qualified welders, for example, was met by Schoolcraft Community College with a streamlined version of programs that had already been in place.

“It was in direct response to iron workers’ need for getting people into apprenticeships,” said Amy Jones, associate dean of occupational programs at Schoolcraft. “We didn’t develop new courses but repackaged existing courses that provide stackable credentials.”

Continued implementation of MCAM initiatives includes a certificate program for iron work that was introduced in the fall 2015 semester.

“This is an opportunity for students to earn a one-year certificate,” Jones said. “They can also get into an apprenticeship and earn while learning.”

Jones said that Schoolcraft is currently developing multi-skill technician pathways that provide staffing to businesses in need, earning potential for working students en route to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

“The common problem is workers who don’t have real experience that are aligned with industry credentials,” Jones said. “We’re trying real hard to get students real work experience while going to school.”

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