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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.

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.

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