Work Together at the Local Level to Fill the Skills Gap

A collaborative, grassroots effort helps to build a pipeline of qualified, future manufacturing professionals.


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Some people just talk the talk. Some people go further and walk the walk. By that, I mean that some people put themselves out there, take risks and make things happen. I can confidently say that I see that quality in many of the mold builders I meet, but one man stands out to me who effectively works to solve our skilled-workforce dilemma.

I’m referring to Ray Coombs, president of Westminster Tool in Plainfield, Connecticut. Ever since his company won our Leadtime Leader Awards competition back in 2014, I’ve discovered how passionate he is about our next-generation manufacturing workforce, and how tirelessly he works to do something  about the problem and not just talk about it. 
Ray believes strongly in focusing on “the why that inspires you to do what you do,” as expressed by Simon Sinek, a trained ethnographer (one who performs the systematic study of peoples and cultures), who has devoted his life to sharing his thinking to help other leaders and organizations inspire action. In Ray’s words, that means, “People buy why you do something and not how you do it or what you do.” Therefore, he believes that sharing a common crusade will get things done. The moldmaking industry and the manufacturing industry overall need to crusade for more people. Let’s face it, solving this workforce issue requires action, and the most compelling action would come from a ground-up, collaborative effort.

It is this need that motivated Ray to take the crusade from just plastics and expand into general manufacturing, focusing locally through the Eastern Advance Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA). He literally hit the streets, banging on doors of local manufacturers and inviting them to join his cause. Check out this month’s Moldmakers Choose Different Pathways to Workforce Development for the final installment of our Education/Training Series. It includes a look at unique ways that mold builders are doing their part to fill the skills gap, which includes Ray’s story on building a manufacturing pipeline of skilled talent for Eastern Connecticut.

The key, according to Ray, is collaboration. “It takes a grassroots effort with a common cause to hold people together, so if one person goes away, the whole thing doesn’t fall apart.” Now we just need to replicate what he has built with his collaborators across the continent.

According to Ray, here are some steps you can take to get your local effort off the ground:

  • Leverage existing efforts and relationships before creating something new.
  • Band together with your competition, schools, local government and other associations. 
  • Establish trust with your partnering organizations, especially schools, so when things get tough, they stand by the cause.
  • Acknowledge that it may take luck and good timing to get things moving.
  • Apply a business mindset to the effort.
  • Establish short- and long-term goals as a group. 
  • Be ready to put in the volunteer time outside of work. 

Will you join the crusade?