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Manufacturing execs get creative on workforce development

By Liz Segrist
Published March 21, 2013

Universities need to create a manufacturing degree, according to a S.C. manufacturing executive Thursday in Greenville.

Bryan Dods, GE Energy Power and Water’s manufacturing technology leader, said engineers that come to work for GE are highly intelligent, but are not necessarily trained in the day-to-day operations of skilled manufacturing, such as how to operate cutting tools or how to lift 350-ton products.

A manufacturing degree, or an engineering degree with a manufacturing minor, would be very beneficial to manufacturers across the state, Dods said.

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Several S.C. manufacturing executives shared their insights, best practices and challenges regarding workforce development at the Silver Crescent Foundation’s 2013 Silver Crescent Best Practices Forum. SC Biz News, the parent company of GSA Business, is a sponsor of the foundation’s Salute to Manufacturing.

The executives discussed creative ways to tackle workforce development, such as creating new degrees; implementing ongoing and internal training at facilities; and creating creative campaigns to attract 20-somethings to the sector.

For continued workforce development once an employee is on the job, John Stewart, the plant manager of Bridgestone Americas’ Aiken facility, advocated that each employee undergo cross training.

“Some only want to run one machine. We tell them from the beginning that we’re gong to push them to learn other machines,” Stewart said. “If you invest in cross training when you don’t need it, it’ll be there when you do need it, like when someone is out sick.”

He also said it’s worthwhile for the company to invest in technical training to keep its technicians up to speed on new technologies.

Workforce development continues to be top of mind for manufacturers throughout the state.

The conversation of manufacturing can begin in the K-12 scene, speakers said. Industry representatives can speak to classes or give tours of their facility as a way to promote manufacturing as a successful career path to youth.

It can also start at home with parents talking to their kids, which can help remove the stigma of manufacturing as an unenlightened career option.

There’s also an entire sect of the population that could be ideal candidates for further training and future advanced positions at these manufacturing firms — those in their early to mid 20s.

“We do need to get into K-12 and change that manufacturing image, but we’re missing a constituency,” said Fred Dedrick, the executive director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. “By 2020, 80% of those kids today will have already left high school. How do we reach them?”

Dedrick said he’s not sure how to reach them yet, but he knows industry professionals, educators and economic developers need to get creative to grab their attention.

Technical colleges could help spread the word, as could campaigns via social media or YouTube, or even a TV show showing manufacturing as a cool, viable industry.

“A seventh-grader might not be ready for the message, but a 23-year-old working at a bar or a retail place looking for something more — they’re ready to hear that message. We just need to figure out how to reach them,” Dedrick said.

Subscribe to GSA Business to read the full coverage of the Best Practices Forum in the April 8 issue.