Filling the workforce pipeline of tomorrow

Michael Boyd

The economic health of a geographical region relies on the strength of its incumbent workforce. The future economic health of our region rests on filling the pipeline with skilled workers ready to take the baton.

Employers, educators, economic developers and government agencies each have a role in creating and sustaining the workforce. The keys to winning the race are collaboration, cooperation and preparation.

Employers, by collaborating with educators help to guide students toward careers in industries such as transportation, manufacturing and health care, to name a few.

For example, many of today’s manufacturers offer well-paying jobs, but finding the workers to fill those jobs is difficult due to preconceived notions. Through collaboration, employers can change the negative perception of manufacturing as a career goal.

As a result, many manufacturers are partnering with technical high schools and community colleges to assist future workers in identifying career goals and changing the perception of manufacturing as a dead-end job in a dirty environment with little social interaction or intellectual challenge. Now they get stackable industry certifications through these partnerships and, in the future, college degrees in certain manufacturing-related occupations.

“They really don’t know what the careers are or how much money they can make,” said Chuck Spangler, CEO and president of the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “Today, a technical college graduate with a CNC mechanics certificate can expect to make a starting salary of $50,000 to $55,000, while the starting salary of a first year teacher is $32,389 on average, depending on the district.”

Cooperation among the economic developers in a geographical region is essential in making a long-term strategic plan. Once educators at all levels — high school, trade school, community and four year college — come together to reduce redundancy and establish common benchmarks, academic synergy results. Getting input from employers and those nonprofits that serve the transitional workforce ensures that the curriculum is updated with current industry standards.

One example of collaboration between a public school district and the local chamber of commerce is the initiative developed in Baton Rouge, La. It was designed to increase awareness about various careers available in the geographical region.

“The initiative is called the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Teacher Externship Program; it targets the decision-makers within a school rather than the students,” said Ethan J. Melancon, Baton Rouge Area Chamber policy and research project manager. “Principals, counselors and teachers are placed in a week-long immersive experience with companies in the manufacturing, technology, construction and health care sectors. The education professionals learn the skills and educational requirements associated with high-demand occupations in each industry and receive professional training in relaying what they experienced to their students throughout the school year.”

Educators working with industry leaders paves the way for preparation. Preparing tomorrow’s workforce starts with an assessment. Academic records, as well as placement tests, help educators advise students in their choice of a career path.

Assessment tools however, help employers identify incumbent worker training needs. Through assessments, employers identify strengths as well as areas where supplemental training is needed. Assessing and investing in the incumbent workforce increases productivity, reduces turnover, and helps to fill the pipeline with future leaders.

The future economic health of our region is ours to control. In Washington County, Md., we are well represented by a variety of industries. Manufacturing, transportation, health care, hospitality, retail, tourism and agriculture provide a diverse economic base. Through collaboration, cooperation and preparation, we can fill our pipeline with a workforce ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Michael Boyd is the program manager for Business and Workforce Development at Hagerstown Community College. He can be reached at mdboyd@hagerstowncc.edu.