Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with executives of small and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the greater Louisville, Kentucky area. I was invited to speak at the Metro Manufacturing Alliance (MMA) annual summit at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, Indiana. My speech focused on workforce development and how important it is for small and mid-sized manufacturers to invest in developing a “farm team” of talented workers who can contribute to the long-term success of companies.
After the conference, I stayed for a smaller luncheon gathering of CEOs. Here’s where my fellow presenters and I were able to really get down to the heart of the matter. I learned:
- CEOs of small and mid-sized manufacturers are first and foremost members of their communities. They know their workers, their families, and their school systems.
- They are concerned that the education system, especially at the high school level, focus primarily on steering students toward college instead of the trades, even though skilled trade workers can make as much or more money than the average college-educated worker over their lifetimes.
- These CEOs are committed to their workers and are willing to make investments to ensure their success at their companies, but they also struggle with worker retention and want to know that investments they make are going to pay a return.
- They are working creatively to develop programs, such as apprenticeships, that train or retrain workers to have fulfilling careers with their companies.
- They are not only concerned about the skilled labor shortage, but also succession planning and developing management talent that can ensure the sustainability of their companies.
As we spoke, I was impressed by the sincerity and earnestness of all the people sitting around the table. I believe, with the help of organizations like the MMA and One Southern Indiana, they will be able to make something happen that will benefit their communities and their companies. Then I had to wonder, what is the role that the APICS Foundation should be playing? After all, education, like politics, is local.
Investing in Supply Chain Education and Training Programs
I come from a family of educators and am part of a generation of Americans raised to believe that college is the terminus of formal education. So I get a little uncomfortable when participating in discussions that suggest that all young people should not aspire to go to college. But my husband—the guidance counselor—tells me I am missing the point. True success, he says, depends on discerning the right path for the student based on their abilities and sensibilities. This is no easy task when government and parents are inclined to measure success by the number of college applications accepted. Add to that the enormous caseloads for guidance counselors and their inability to really know their students, and it is no wonder we tend to seek cookie cutter approaches to steering students in the directions of their futures.
Organizations such as APICS and the APICS Foundation can support local efforts by helping to build national and international awareness among teachers, guidance and career counselors, parents, and students about the many opportunities that exist in the world of manufacturing. Some of these opportunities can be found in trade and others in management. Regardless, they both require education and training beyond high school. They both can lead to fulfilling, life-long careers in manufacturing.
How can we start to change society’s views of success? What can APICS do to nurture the “farm team?”