Building a 21st Century Workforce

Suppliers and manufacturers meet to discuss critical workforce issues.

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Does manufacturing have a future in the United States? This was the kickoff question posed by Sandvik Coromant Productivity Center and Training Manager Robert Page during the “Bridging the Skills Gap” event at the company’s Schaumburg, Illinois facility.

Sandvik Coromant, a leading producer of cutting tools, hosted the April 20th workshop as part of its series of Smart Events for customers. Stephen Mandes, Executive Director at the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, joined Sandvik Coromant training personnel in presentations that explored the relationship between a skilled workforce and a thriving industry. More than 60 manufacturing industry professionals were on hand to discuss the realities and misperceptions surrounding workforce training issues; the event also included technical information, machine demonstrations, and networking opportunities.

Over the past 30 years, huge advances in automation have helped the U.S. maintain a global leadership position while reducing its manufacturing workforce; “what took 1000 workers to make in 1950 took only 184 workers to produce in 2009,” explained Sandvik Training Specialist John Pusatera. This leap in worker productivity is good for the industry—leading to higher wages, increased profits, and more job security—but as automation limits are reached, companies need new ways to increase worker productivity and remain competitive. The key is skills training.

The Right Skills, the Right People
The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) is the nation’s only ANSI accredited developer of precision manufacturing skill standards and competency assessments, with a stakeholder base of more than 6,000 metalworking companies. NIMS offers 52 skills credentials in seven occupation areas, said Executive Director Stephen Mandes. Skills testing is competency-based; applicants must create actual parts to stringent specifications, as well as pass an online theory exam, to earn certification. NIMS also provides accreditation for educational programs; they audit the facility, interview faculty, assess equipment, and ensure safety practices.

To help ensure the strength of tomorrow’s manufacturers, NIMS is creating new competency-based apprenticeships designed for the 21st century workforce. “Apprenticeships used to be hours-based,” Mandes said, “but in the new program, workers move forward at their own pace to meet performance benchmarks.” 

To round out the Bridging the Skills Gap event program, training experts from Sandvik Coromant discussed Metal Cutting Technology (MTC), a brand-neutral training course designed to help boost productivity and maximize machine investment. The MTC program is structured in three levels: Level 1 provides fundamental knowledge; Level 2, advanced knowledge; and Level 3 provides expert knowledge addressing specific applications and solutions. The program serves customers, schools, and Sandvik Coromant personnel, and may be offered on-site at customer facilities, or at one of more than 20 Productivity Centers around the world. Much of the training in the MTC program is offered at no cost.

According to Page, bridging the skills gap is about developing workers – building knowledge, transferring knowledge, and using available resources like MTC and NIMS training to strengthen individual companies and the industry as a whole. “Training is the bottom line,” he told attendees. “Doing nothing is basically losing ground.”