Brian Kingston, MC Assembly’s Human Resources Director, is determined to be part of the solution to a major problem the manufacturing industry is facing right now; the shortage of candidates with relevant skills to fill open manufacturing job vacancies.

“There’s a serious skill gap; in some places, companies can’t even find solderers to hire,” Kingston said. “About twenty years ago when the dot com boom happened, many high schools stopped teaching manufacturing related skills. There was no more wood shop, no more automotive, no more welding classes. Students were convinced that they needed to go to college for advanced degrees and manufacturing was no longer seen as an option.”

Kingston is a volunteer board member serving on the Advancing in Manufacturing (AIM) committee in Brevard County, Florida. For the past sixteen months, CareerSource Brevard (CSB), a regional workforce board, has been working with the manufacturing community through the AIM committee, to create an industry led sector strategy to identify skills gaps and build a talent pipeline to meet the current and future needs of the rapid expansion of manufacturing in Brevard County. The effort was made possible through a two-year Sector Strategy U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) National Emergency Grant for $765,000 from CareerSource Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), branded as AIM.

The AIM grant is a funding source to pay for building a sector strategy, provide skills training to unemployed workers and on the job training dollars to manufactures who hire eligible qualified candidates to offset the cost on onboarding new employees.

The funding for the AIM Grant was part of a 2015 U.S. DOL $150 million-dollar nationwide Sector Partnerships National Emergency Grant program to help states develop innovative employment and training services that focus on enhanced regional and industry-specific collaborations. $7 million-dollars from this program was awarded awarded to CareerSource Florida and the DEO to assess the needs of employers in advanced manufacturing. Twelve other counties in Florida also received this grant (in various amounts).

“The federal government is providing these grant training dollars because we are in a national crisis to find skilled workers to meet new advanced manufacturing labor needs,” said Tina Berger, Sector Strategy Program Manager for CSB and administrator of AIM “Twenty-five years ago, a high school graduate could follow an Industrial Arts career path which included blue print reading, welding and drafting classes and found good jobs in industry. As we offshored our manufacturing jobs, many high schools dismantled industrial vocational training. The staggering effect of off shoring those jobs is a 25 year skills gap in the US. The good news is that the jobs are coming back and we are now re-building career pathways.”

U.S. DOL statistics confirm there were about 324,000 manufacturing job vacancies in November 2016. The manufacturing skills gap in the Brevard area was further confirmed by a study commissioned by CareerSource Florida and FloridaMakes to understand the needs of manufacturers in the area. An industry survey conducted by the Economic Development Council of the Space Coast confirmed the regional needs with 90 percent of respondents believing their company’s workforce will expand in the next 2 years.

“There are over 574 manufacturers in this region, including many electronics manufacturing services contract manufacturers such as MC Assembly in Melbourne,” Berger said. “We have a high concentration of manufacturing companies that support the Space Center projects and numerous aerospace and defense contractors as industry drivers in the region. Sector strategy grants require that we identify skills gaps in training and education based on industry input. We must also look at the future needs of new companies moving into the county such as One Web that will build communication satellites, Blue Origin which will build orbital rockets and we are proud that Orion, the Mars space vessel, will be manufactured in Brevard County.”

Berger says these efforts help the Brevard community by providing career training services and resources to move local residents seeking employment into well-paying careers with a promising future in advanced manufacturing, while at the same time supporting the growth of manufacturing talent for the future, which will be in high demand.

Progress of AIM Meetings

In October 2015, AIM held its first meeting in partnership with Eastern Florida State College’s (EFSC) Manufacturing Advisory Council. Employers identified four specific skill sets that needed immediate attention- machinist, solderers, quality inspectors and welders.

Since then, CSB has been holding quarterly AIM meetings, with representatives from over 60 organizations in the community attending, including manufacturing businesses, economic development organizations and education institutions, to find solutions to the skills gap that is being seen in the local manufacturing industry. Industry volunteers actively participate in meetings dedicated to growing a talent pipeline, upgrade current employee skills, and improve education curriculums to address the workforce challenges in Brevard County.

“We’re taking a holistic approach to solving the problem,” Berger said. “You have to make sure that as people go through training, they come out with skills that are relevant to the manufacturer needs. The most dramatic example is a welding program which included 270 hours of pipe welding training, but there is little pipe welding in demand in this county. Industry involvement made all the difference in turning things around.”

Other proposed solutions AIM has considered include practical revisions in training, a heavy focus on education and skills development initiatives for high school and college students including internships, investing in on the job training programs, developing effective skills assessment tools, updating the image of manufacturing industry, creating education mapping and training, creating streamlined certification programs designed to facilitate the placement of qualified employees in critical job vacancies, and continually working with industry to identify skill gaps and industry needs by regional employers.

“The manufacturers and educators are in sync and cooperating and we’re having enormous success,” Berger said. “Thank goodness we have companies like MC Assembly who are enlightened, see the big picture and are willing to participate.”

AIM Results

Training Opportunities

One of the grant’s goals is to provide qualified unemployed career seekers with relevant training to ultimately provide employers with skilled labor. Since starting, AIM has served around 100 career seeker participants through Individual training classes, employed worker training and On the Job training funds to employers.

“MC Assembly is in the process of interviewing several soldering candidates who recently completed their J-STD and IPC-A-610 certification,” Kingston said. “We hope to hire several.”

EFSC Machining Shop

For nearly a decade, EFSC had a Machining Shop sitting idle. With the help of AIM’s advocacy, the college recently received $530,000 to refurbish and equip their new Manufacturing Training Center. EFSC also added new manufacturing themed programs with updated labs. AIM’s Manufacturing Occupation Subcommittee helped EFSC re-write curriculum changes in welding, machining and quality management inspection courses. EFSC accepted recommendations and is in the process of implementing them.

“EFSC responded quickly to the manufacturer’s critical skill challenges by offering training to meet immediate job opening needs,” Berger said.

Bayside High School Manufacturing Academy

With the help of AIM advocating on their behalf, Brevard Public Schools received a legislative award of $500,000 to open the Manufacturing Academy at Bayside High School and an Aerospace Academy at Eau Gallie. The funding provided money for equipment, training materials and a dedicated teacher with manufacturing experience.

AIM Champions helped design the lab space layout, determine what equipment was needed and advised on the curriculum program. Currently 85 students are enrolled in the Bayside High School Manufacturing Academy. The Academy offers online simulation CNC Machinist training and will soon offer a soldering/electronics program so the students can exit the program with experience and industry credentials which will be accepted for credit towards a degree at EFSC should the student want to continue their education. AIM also encourages employers to connect education with real world work environment.

Bayside High School teacher Ms. Mary McCormick and Dennis Sobolewski, from the Office of Career and Technical Education, recently toured MC Assembly to better understand employer’s need. As a result, the Academy will soon be offering soldering classes.

Kingston says MC Assembly highly values tour opportunities as ways to teach more people about modern electronics manufacturing work floor.

“When a teacher is able to visit a production facility they are able to learn what tools you use, what your work stations look like, what the facility in general looks like and so much more,” Kingston said. “A teacher can then directly convey this image and message to the students.”

Internship Programs

Changing the perceptions of manufacturing is a critical component to the sector strategy success. AIM’s Summer Youth Internship program is designed to expose high school students to career opportunities in manufacturing through direct engagement with companies.

Kingston says MC Assembly is excited to take part in AIM’s summer internship program this June and will host 2 high school student interns through the program for six weeks.

“We plan to greatly expand the program this year,” Berger said. “Manufacturing suffers from a perception problem due to offshoring jobs for 25 years. Most people perceive manufacturing as it was in the 70’s. Influencers are telling youth that it is dark, dirty and dangerous work with no job stability because of what happened to them with off shoring and increasing automation. We need to change that perception and get youth engaged.”

Automation and modern technology have modernized manufacturing facilities so they no longer resemble the outdated images most people remember. Most modern manufacturing facilities are well lit, safe and clean. The challenge is in showing younger workers that manufacturing can be a rewarding career path.

“The future is in preparing our youth for careers in robotics, nanotechnology, computerized machinery and technologies that are just emerging in the industry” Berger said. “Today’s manufactures are working more intelligently and efficiently and the jobs now are more about programming, quality assurance and lean manufacturing principles.”

Next Steps

The National Emergency Grant runs through June 30, 2017. CareerSource has applied for an extension to this grant for an additional year so they can continue work on apprenticeship programs and more occupation training challenges.

“It is very rewarding to have a small part in revitalizing the manufacturing industry that is the backbone to a strong US economy,” Berger said.

“I am very encouraged and excited with the progress AIM has made since we started,” Kingston said. “This program has given individuals the opportunity for training, certification, internships and employment opportunities in manufacturing. We have also made a direct impact with teaching manufacturing skills in our local schools again. We have helped bridge a gap with the students and manufacturing. Ultimately this will help manufacturing companies find and retain talent into the future.”

About MC Assembly MC Assembly (http://www.mcati.com), based in Melbourne, Fla., with operations in Billerica, Mass. and Zacatecas, Mexico, is a national leader in the contract manufacturing arena with annual revenues of approximately $200 million. It provides turnkey solutions to original equipment manufacturers and focuses on assembly of medium volume, medium mix printed circuit boards assemblies (PCBAs) and box builds. MC Assembly’s capabilities include surface mount and pin-through-hole interconnection technologies, PCB and box build DFM, DFT, DFA engineering, in-circuit, functional and environmental testing, full box-build and direct order fulfillment.

About CareerSource Brevard CareerSource Brevard administers The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Welfare Transition programs in Brevard County as well as grants and other employment support activities. CareerSource Brevard, formerly Brevard Workforce, is a non-profit, regional public/private partnership under CareerSource Florida. Workforce Boards create local workforce development systems through one-stop career centers which combine multiple federal, state, and local program funds, providing comprehensive services, labor market information and access to resources for businesses and career seekers. Visit www.careersourcebrevard.com or call (321) 504-7600 for more information about our services and resources. For more information on how you can get involved and have your company’s voice heard contact Tina Berger, Sector Strategy Program Manager 321-394-0515 or tberger@caereersourcebrevard.com.