Challenges, Opportunities in Restarting Advanced Manufacturing Program

MERCER, Pa. – In a strike of irony, Mercer County Career Center administrators said they could help address one of the local manufacturing industry’s priority workforce challenges if industry leaders helped them fill one of their key positions first – a qualified instructor.

Representatives from the recently formed Lawrence Mercer Manufacturers Coalition recently met with administrators at MCCC to discuss how the organization could be more involved in reviving its high school industrial machining program. MCCC discontinued the program in recent years due to low student enrollment.

Despite record overall enrollment at the school, the high school machining program wasn’t drawing interest, said Tony Miller, MCCC administrative director. It was also a challenge to find an instructor.

Help Needed: Machinists

Industry’s need for machinists and other advanced manufacturing skills persists, however. What’s the reason for the declining interest at the youth level?

“There’s still some backlash and misperceptions from the older segment of our population about what manufacturing is today,” said Chris Becker, president of G.W. Becker.

“What’s visible to kids is what interests them, and machining isn’t something they’re familiar with,” said Anna Barensfeld, vice president of strategic initiatives at Ellwood.

“There’s an overall lack of awareness about manufacturing careers among our young people,” said Quyrus Epps, director of team member relations at Ellwood.

Appealing to Job Seekers

Improving awareness of the rewarding career opportunities in manufacturing, as well as dispelling misconceptions about the industry, are among the priority initiatives being taken on by LMMC.

Understanding the demand, the school has been making plans and purchasing equipment to introduce an adult education curriculum specific to building manufacturing skills. About 20 percent of jobs in Mercer County are in manufacturing, but an aging population, combined with a low birth rate, portends the urgent need to develop a future workforce.

“The overall goal is to provide an entry point into the modern manufacturing careers,” said Aaron Kline, assistant director of MCCC. “Once it gets up and running, then we can bring kids in on tours and show them what it is and get them interested in it. Then we can build it back into the secondary education part.”

Meeting participants discussed the specific blend of technical and “soft skills” most desired by employers that they would like incorporated into the curriculum, from applied mathematics to blueprint reading to measuring tolerances to OSHA 10 to entry-level CNC and PLC operation.

“If someone comes in with these basics, that’s a win to employers,” Epps said.

Industry representatives envisioned leveraging the school for upskilling its existing workforce in addition to recruiting graduates into entry-level jobs.

Challenges Exist

Miller reiterated the challenges that exist in finding an instructor to lead and build the adult education curriculum. The school has posted the advanced manufacturing program coordinator position on more than one occasion and hasn’t gotten a response.

LMMC representatives understand the concern and recognize the ideal candidate with the requisite skills is likely working in a lucrative position at an area manufacturer. It might also be a recent retiree with some time and a desire to give back to the industry in this way.

The school and LMMC representatives agreed to continue the discussion and collaborate on promoting the instructor position among their respective networks.

“Pulling us all together is going to make it more impactful, and we want to be a great partner,” Miller said. “If we can start chipping away at the demand, then we want to be part of it.”

LMMC representatives from Ellwood, G.W. Becker and Hall Industries participated in the meeting.

Story provided by Houck Agency.

Pictured at top: LMMC representatives tour the welding and former machining labs at MCCC. From left are Tony Miller of MCCC, Dave Douglass of Hall Industries, Anna Barensfeld of Ellwood, Quyrus Epps of Ellwood and Chris Becker of G.W. Becker.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.