Training Hires for a High-Tech World
Companies must rethink traditional job functions and hiring methods, while molding tomorrow's work force as they adjust to our ever-changing high-tech world.
Monique Wassenaar Silverio (June/July 10)
The mantra of the 2010 workplace may be "highly skilled and multifunctional," but what happens when the jobs become more highly skilled than workers' capabilities? Where can companies turn to find the types of workers that they need now and in the future?

Turning to "Green" Jobs
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement over "green" or cleantech jobs. Fields such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, transit and transportation, and the research, development, and deployment of cutting-edge clean-energy technologies are seeing workers - particularly those who have been laid off in the automotive and fossil-fuel-related industries - coming to them in droves.

A study recently conducted by the U.S. Green Building Council and Booz Allen Hamilton predicts that the green building industry alone will be responsible for the creation or support of 7.9 million jobs, contributing $554 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product, in the next four years. Yet, experts warn that prospective "green" industry workers need to stay grounded when it comes to clean-tech jobs. For one thing, "green-collar jobs" are not well defined. There are some professions that should clearly be considered "green," such as wind turbine manufacturers or "green building" designers. However, other traditional jobs, such as electricians, have been "upskilled" to take advantage of new technologies, such as learning how to install rooftop solar photovoltaic units.

The bottom line: don't let the "green" throw you. Business models may have changed, but it is still business, and companies need to find workers with the necessary skills to help them compete globally.

Transferable Skills
Although many workers may need further training and new credentials, they may already have had some "green" in their jobs without knowing it. Did they help their firms save money by increasing operating efficiency in such a way that also reduced waste or emissions, conserved energy or water, or used fewer resources in production or packaging? If so, your potential employee may have experience that can be used to your advantage.

And what about the growing number of displaced automotive industry workers? Many of the skills taught to production line and other workers in the automotive field are transferable to the cleantech industries, again with some additional training or certification.

For example, Michigan Technological University, General Motors Corp., and the Engineering Society of Detroit (ESD) have created a program to retrain displaced automotive engineers. The one-semester, three-credit course in advanced propulsion technology teaches the fundamentals of calibrating hybrid-vehicle powertrains in weekly classes at ESD headquarters. Online lectures as well as hands-on lab training at the GM Proving Grounds and GM's Powertrain Headquarters also are part of the program.

Work Force Training Organizations
Where else can companies find the workers that they need for high-tech manufacturing positions? Many companies are turning to their local work force training organizations (WTOs) for help.

The WTOs offer grants to help companies identify potential employees or train their workers to meet specific gaps in knowledge. Training grants are available for the following reasons:
• To attract new industry
• To upgrade the skill sets of a company so that it can remain in business
• To help with the expansion of a business
• To support a tax increment financing area (an area not conducive to growth)
• To improve the literacy skills of its employees

Innovative State Programs
In addition to grants, many states offer programs geared toward helping companies explore their current and future hiring and training needs.

Louisiana's FastStart: As reported in the February/March 2010 issue of Area Development magazine, Louisiana's FastStart program provides free customized recruitment, screening, and training to new and expanding eligible companies. The FastStart team crafts unique employment-related programs for companies. The relationship between the FastStart team and Louisiana companies is often multi-year, lasting until the final employee is hired and trained. One of the goals of the program is to attract manufacturing operations to the state.

Georgia Quick Start and Georgia Work Ready Programs: Founded in 1967, Quick Start has provided customized work force training, free-of-charge, to qualified businesses for more than four decades. As reported in Area Development magazine in February/March 2010, Quick Start provides work force consultation, pre-employment assessment and selection, customized post-employment and job-specific training, and leadership and professional development training that are integrated within the Technical College System of Georgia. Additionally, the Georgia Work Ready initiative helps Georgia's citizens match their abilities with job opportunities, and helps businesses match applicants with the skills the company needs.

Additionally, the Georgia Work Ready initiative helps Georgia's citizens match their abilities with job opportunities, and helps businesses match applicants with the skills the company needs.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills: Some 14 states (Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) are participating in a program that was developed to ensure that 21st century learning - such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills - is infused into classrooms and curricula. The goal is to provide students with the skills and knowledge that will help them succeed in our technology-driven global economy, where jobs are constantly advancing. Major corporations, including Microsoft, Apple, and Intel, also are involved in this initiative (

Virginia Jobs Investment Program: The state has implemented a New Jobs Program that targets the expansions of existing companies or new facility locations. Virginia also has a retraining program, which provides services and funding to manufacturing companies and distribution centers to assist in training their existing work force. To participate, companies should be undergoing an integration of new technology into their production processes, changing product lines to meet marketplace demands, or changing service delivery processes, requiring an assimilation of new skills and technological capabilities.

Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT): As reported in the February/March 2010 issue of Area Development, Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), which is an institution of the Alabama Community College System, provides a comprehensive work force delivery system at no cost to employers. Services include recruiting, screening, and training potential employees; developing and producing training materials; and providing training facilities.

Resurgence of Vocational Schools
Many vocational schools also are on the forefront of the new job revolution, providing practical training for workers of the future. These schools are a great resource for manufacturers seeking to expand their current high-tech worker pool.

In the 1960s, technical schools focused on short-term training, teaching trade skills to workers to enter the manufacturing and services work force. Recently, however, technical colleges have been reshaping their missions to provide intensive multi-skill training opportunities to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's employers. Here are some schools that have been reshaping their curricula to meet the increasing demand for more versatile, high-tech workers:

Florence-Darlington Technical College: This South Carolina technical college plans to open a three-phase, 320,000-square-foot, high-tech training facility that will offer advanced manufacturing training. The $34 million Southeastern Institute for Manufacturing and Technology is expected to generate graduates who can work in next-generation sophisticated, consumer-oriented manufacturing facilities.

Greenville Technical College: Also in South Carolina, this college has a successful retraining program called "Quick Jobs with a Future," which helps displaced workers get new skills to rejoin the work force. The program allows adults, or those in occupational transition, to quickly obtain skills matching the needs of local business and industry, with most courses lasting three months or less.

Austin Polytechnical Academy: This Chicago pre-engineering and manufacturing high school was designed to prepare students for highly skilled manufacturing jobs, as well as drawing manufacturers back into the community. It incorporates hands-on manufacturing experience into the traditional high school curriculum. The school has partnerships with 24 companies that plan to provide internships and summer jobs for students.

Community Colleges in Illinois and Ohio: Eight community colleges in Illinois and Ohio are part of a new $26 million national pilot program to retrain displaced workers who could help fill a growing shortage of high-tech manufacturing employees. The test project will provide computer, electronics, and other specialized training to 1,000 unemployed or underemployed workers over the next two years. The program is expected to fill critical positions at Illinois and Ohio plants, provide high-paying jobs for displaced workers, create a pool of skilled workers to keep jobs from leaving the state, and attract new industries. Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. was instrumental in developing the program, and will contribute $10 million toward the retraining effort.

Federal Grants for Companies
A great starting point to find and apply for federal government grants is, which lists discretionary grant competitions from across federal government lines. In general, grants:
• Typically are awarded to companies that are hiring new employees, expanding their business, or need to upgrade their employees' skill sets to remain competitive and stay in business;
• Often go to technical skill sets (e.g., upgrading your maintenance technicians' PLC or robotics skills)
• Typically are NOT awarded for "soft skills" or for hardware (e.g., motivating your work force or to buy new computers); and
• Require "matching" funding; this usually is shown in labor hours and materials purchased.

DOL Grant Programs
Following are some of the grants being offered by the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration. For more information, go to

High-Growth Training Initiative: Under this initiative, companies must (a) be projecting to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy or affect the growth of other industries; or (b) be existing or emerging businesses being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new skills sets for workers. Advanced manufacturing is one of the targeted sectors.

Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED): The WIRED initiative goes beyond traditional strategies for worker preparation by bringing together state, local, and federal entities; academic institutions (including K-12, community colleges, and universities); investment groups; foundations; and business and industry to address the challenges associated with building a globally competitive and prepared work force.

Community-Based Job Training Grants: These grants are employer-focused and build on the High-Growth Job Training Initiative. This program seeks to implement partnerships between the work force investment system, companies, and community colleges and other training providers. One goal of this program is to train new and experienced workers in identified high-growth, high-demand industries, with the aim of employing and/or increasing the retention and earnings of trained workers, while meeting the skill needs of businesses within targeted industries.

Wrapping It Up
The economic downturn that began in December 2007 was a mighty blow to U.S. workers and companies. In two years, the economy shed 7.2 million jobs, pushing the jobless rate from 5 percent to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

The severity of the recession has reshaped the labor market. Displaced workers, particularly those in manufacturing, are retooling their careers. They're exploring cleantech and other high-tech options, and gaining the necessary training to do so from state and federal programs, associations, and vocational schools.

Workers and companies alike must continue to rethink traditional job functions and hiring methods, and adjust to the ever-changing high-tech and cleantech world in which we live. One way to do that is for companies to get involved now in helping to mold the future work force.