Minnesota manufacturers face a tough hurdle.
As baby boomers retire, demographers predict factory job vacancies will swell to 53,000 openings by 2024.
The dilemma means huge opportunities for job hunters, provided they know what manufacturing skills are in hot demand and where to get training.
The state’s economic development arm, educators, community groups and manufacturers are working together like never before to create on-the-job training and neighborhood-based classes in areas such as machining, circuit-board soldering, electrical assembly, welding and robotics.
Four weeks ago at CAPI USA in Minneapolis, Tou Vang, 25, was finishing the two-month class that taught him to map and wire circuit boards using a microscope, soldering gun and blueprints. “This is hands-on training, and I love that,” said the father of three. “It’s awesome and a great opportunity for anybody who wants to pursue their manufacturing skills like me. I want to work for Honeywell.”
Vang, currently an Auto Zone sales clerk making $14 an hour, is following in the steps of his wife, Khou Xiong. She graduated from the same course with an industry IPC-J certificate in September. She attended CAPI’s career fair and was hired at General Dynamics at $19 an hour. Her last job paid $13.
Soldering instructor Tieng Vang said graduates of his and other certified training programs often get hired at good salaries at Aerotek, General Dynamics, Delkor and government contractors.
In addition to grant-funded outfits like CAPI, some factories now offer manufacturing apprenticeships and more trade schools are customizing job-training programs for corporations.
“Employers, especially in manufacturing, are really having a hard time getting trained workers. So it’s really important to get the message out that there is training,” said Mary Nienaber, dean of continuing education for Century College. “There is so much work out there, and it’s good work,” often paying $20 to $35 an hour.
For a long time, plant managers rejected the idea of training their own workers. “The concept of offering apprenticeships is becoming very popular again,” Nienaber said. “It’s a way to increase the skill and wages of your incumbent workforce, and it’s a hiring funnel.”
Manufacturers report needing employees who understand math and measuring and who can program machinery, fix robots, work with 3-D computer models and electrical systems and make aerospace and medical components with strict tolerances.
That’s where Larry Raddatz steps in. He is Century College’s customized training director, who hires instructors to teach hands-on, high-tech manufacturing classes in factories, community centers and colleges around the state. “Manufacturers are desperately seeking skilled workers. Many positions go unfilled for months, which is affecting their ability to meet customer needs,” Raddatz said.
Job training is seen as the solution. It’s often funded by grants or employers bent on providing small classes and short-term, hands-on instruction that ends with students receiving industry credentials that are instantly marketable.
“Students need to get a job as soon as possible, and employers can’t wait two years for them to complete an [associate’s] degree,” Raddatz said. “So we cram as much as we can into a short training period. After that, employers provide on-the-job training and support employees who want to obtain a two-year degree down the road.”
Government grants for several programs are expanding the pipeline of future manufacturing workers.
On Oct. 26, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced a $5 million federally funded Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative that will train 1,000 Minnesotans at 100 companies. It also issued 17 new Low Income Training Grants worth $2.1 million to help 1,881 employees or students at factories and community outfits. Training will be done at Precision Gasket, Mission Foods, Advanced Molding, Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, Minnesota Innovation Institute in Bemidji, Leech Lake Education Division and Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis.
On Nov. 15, DEED awarded $8.1 million in job training and “equity” grants to 50 organizations. If successful, the training will lessen Minnesota’s searing racial-unemployment disparities and give minorities, women and veterans the very credentials coveted by factory heads, state officials said.
Century College is using its DEED grants to teach control-panel assembly, mechanical maintenance and soldering around the state. Other recipients, such as Dunwoody College, Pine Technical College, Project For Pride in Living and the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) are using their grants to teach job seekers business math, “CNC” computer-controlled machining, welding, blue print reading and other skills.
In Minneapolis, nonprofits Emerge, Urban League, Stair Step Foundation and Sabathani Community Center recently received a joint federal grant worth $4.3 million to teach area residents manufacturing, warehouse and accounting skills. In October, Sabathani also won an $85,000 state grant to teach 360 local residents to drive forklifts, manage corporate inventory, bill customers and pay suppliers.
Word spread across Minnesota’s Workforce Centers, Facebook and fliers posted in Sabathani’s food shelf and tax assistance offices. Its free classes began this summer and ended with participants getting jobs at Amazon in Shakopee and Menards lumberyards paying $16 to $22 an hour. “It’s very exciting for our community,” said Sabathani Executive Director Cindy Booker. “About 60 percent of our graduates are making more money after our program than before.”
Raddatz started soldering classes for Asian, Somali and other local residents at CAPI USA in Minneapolis and control box assembly classes at Neighborhood House on the West Side of St. Paul.
In May, Jayden Lee enrolled in Raddatz’s machinery repair “mechatronics” class at Neighborhood House and learned to fix listless machines; calibrate gears; wire and program machines, and about OSHA laws. The training was sponsored by Resource Inc., an agency that trains 800 a year so they can get better jobs.
Armed with his mechatronics credential, Lee snapped up a job at Missions Foods that he learned about at the program’s job fair. Resource job counselor Christine Law Chapman wasn’t surprised. After seeing his training, the Mission recruiter steered him from an entry-level job paying $13 an hour to a technician job starting at $18. Now Lee is eligible for further training inside Mission Foods and has full benefits.
“When he got the job, I was excited, as if I had gotten the job myself. It was just so awesome,” Law Chapman said. “Jayden came to our program underemployed but through his hard work he completed the training and now has this great opportunity. This couldn’t have come at a better time. He just became a new father.”