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Workforce Development Issues in a Changing Automotive Industry

Automotive Site Guide 2012
Workers at Ford Cleveland Engine Plant #1 assemble Duratec V-6s.
Workers at Ford Cleveland Engine Plant #1 assemble Duratec V-6s.
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Life-Long Learning/ Continuous Skills Development
The best-trained workers are provided continuous learning opportunities throughout their adult lives. As stated previously, because of advancing technologies, evolving company processes, and increasing knowledge requirements for manufacturing jobs today, modern manufacturers place a premium on mature, reliable, longer-term employees. They favor a more highly trained, skilled, and educated labor force; however, the speed with which manufacturing evolves is outpacing the skill levels of many people - especially if they have had the misfortune of a time lapse due to a layoff or plant shut down. Therefore, look to communities and states that recognize the importance of providing post-employment training assistance not just as an effective recruitment tool for new manufacturers, but also as a powerful tool that helps companies constantly upgrade and improve their employees' skill sets.

In some cases this means grants, tax credits, and/or financial assistance; however, most of the time, this simply involves the recognition that educational institutions and businesses must ensure the alignment between a wide variety of learning sources - including K-12, vocational schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and practical on-the-job training. It sounds relatively simple but, in practice, it is seldom accomplished.

Public-Private Cooperative Endeavors
The integration of education and workforce development by both the public and private sector is crucial for all involved. Initiatives to look for - or ask for if they are not present - include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Educational advisory boards that are comprised of local businesspeople and leaders that bring real-world expertise

  • Local companies providing real-world problems and learning environments for problem-solving opportunities

  • Research and development activities at the educational institution's research park in collaboration with industry

  • Schools offering programs commissioned directly by Companies

  • A high request by companies for student interns with an equally high saturation rate

  • Faculty networking with industry colleagues and community leaders taking place both formally and on an individual ad hoc basis

  • Schools interacting with the community by providing resources or hosting events for the general public (e.g., public seminars and competitions)

  • Frequent outreach to high schools, with faculty in universities producing course modules or facilitating workshops for high school teachers

  • Recruiting events offering opportunities for connecting with the public

  • Start-up companies using technologies developed at universities and creating connections between the school and the community

  • Available grants for expanding educational programs - or those that can be created quickly

  • Outreach made possible for engineering classes for unemployed and employed engineers as well as for college students

  • Consortiums to pursue grants, create programs, or address workforce issues

A red flag should be recognized immediately if there is little or no activity such as those mentioned above.

In Sum
The pace with which industry is changing is speeding up at an ever-increasing rate. As a result, workforce skills that are sufficient today will most likely be either outdated or obsolete in the not-too-distant future. The need to identify locations where a partnership is forged between the public and private sectors is an increasingly important factor in site selection. Investigation into the availability of skilled workers is as important as the location's capacity to feed the pipeline through the K-12 system all the way through the university and post-graduate programs.

A multifunctional and multi-skilled workforce is a mandate required of the industry that will provide a competitive advantage to the companies and communities/ states that can foster this environment. The successful companies will be those that engage the local leadership to develop and enhance workforce development capacity and delivery systems - whether they are a company looking for a place to land or a company already landed.

1 In many locations the community/state offers prospective companies the ability to screen and perform "pre-employment training" to assess the employee candidate's suitability before an actual job offer is presented.
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