Working the Case for Workforce Development

Working the Case for Workforce Development

This piece was originally published in the October 2016 issue of electroindustry.

Jonathan Stewart, Government Relations Manager, NEMA

Woman engineer checking wind turbines.

In July, the NEMA Board of Governors approved a strategic initiative for 2017 that will address a major challenge facing today’s electrical manufacturing industry: workforce development.

Despite real advancements in manufacturing technologies such as systems automation and 3D printing, the age-old axiom that a company is only as good as its employees still holds true. Some might even argue that it is precisely because of burgeoning new technologies that a material portion of today’s workforce finds its existing skill set and knowledge base increasingly irrelevant.

Did educational institutions do enough yesterday to educate the workforce for today? What are they doing today to prepare workers for tomorrow?

To be sure, this is a complex issue with many faces; causation cannot be placed squarely on the shoulders of educational institutions. Indeed, employers themselves have been more aware than most of where the industry is headed but, perhaps, have not invested enough in on-the-job training (e.g., earn-and-learn programs) to repurpose existing personnel and resources. This is to say nothing of competing industries with their own, unique workforce demands that draw would-be applicants away from manufacturing hubs and into places like Silicon Valley and Research Triangle.

With more than one manifestation and no single causation, the potential for solutions is wide open for discussions that could escalate into something overwhelming and unworkable. Accordingly, NEMA’s approach will focus on prioritizing a limited number of specific yet common workforce gaps (i.e., areas where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified workers) across the industry and then devising a strategy to address them explicitly.

Potential gaps could be at varying levels of employment, from entry-level, unskilled labor to mid-level technicians to highly trained engineers. These gaps may also lie outside the brick-and-mortar manufacturers and reside more within the ranks of electricians or building inspectors.

Once NEMA identifies target needs, it will work with NEMA members, industry stakeholders, and outside expertise to compile an industry strategy to fill identified gaps. For example, if the solution pertains to curriculum development, one step could be a survey to identify academic courses already in existence and integrate them into a single pathway.

Whatever strategy is employed, it is likely to entail marketing, education, and training components, as well as cost and timing estimates. NEMA staff will submit the resulting strategy to the board of governors in 2017 for implementation in 2018.

Read the October 2016 issue of electroindustry.

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