Posts Tagged ‘workforce skills’

Manufacturing employers have for some time lamented the fact that they have plenty of job openings – said to be in the hundreds of thousands nationwide — with a distinct lack of qualified candidates to fill these newer positions in advanced manufacturing.  Today we share the hope of progress as related in a recent Time magazine article (June 12, 2017).  One answer, it would appear, lies in the growing number of community colleges that are teaming up and evolving their curriculum with local businesses to produce job-ready graduates.

One such effort at the Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota boasts an 83% retention rate (the national average is 50%) and that 99% of its graduates found jobs or went on to four-year colleges.  Starting salaries for graduates is over the state median, and over 300 areas businesses are participating.

Unfortunately, LATI’s success is not universal.  Community colleges educate about 40% of all U.S. undergraduates according to Time, and fewer than 40% of students graduate.  Meanwhile, states are cutting funding, and with more of the financial burden being placed on students, fewer can afford them.

Fortunately, some states are taking steps to make community colleges more accessible.  Tennessee expanded its free community-college program to accept all adults in the state.  Other states including New York and Oregon are making free or low-cost (with conditions) higher education available.

Most critically, post-recession, these colleges are starting to take a more vocational approach, and are becoming a primary vehicle for workforce training in the country, according to the director of the Center for the Study of Community Colleges.  According to Georgetown University, 11.6 million jobs were created in the post-recession recovery, and all but 100,000 went to people with some college education.

Creative ideas for job-training abound.  In Texas, a community college repurposed a shopping mall to become a high-tech learning lab with over 600 computers.  George Mason Univ. worked with Northern Virginia Community College (second in size only to Indiana’s community college, Ivy Tech) to co-develop curriculum to make it easier for students to transfer from community to four-year college.

Colleges today like LATI “shape coursework around the needs of employers and [rely] on donations of heavy-duty machinery for classrooms.”  They use miniaturized assembly lines, robots, 3-D printers and LED panels to help students learn skills required to secure a well-paying job.  As one student there noted, “Most of my class already has jobs lined up, and it’s a month before graduation.”

Education Policy Researcher Carrie Fisker says “Community colleges are now seen as the primary vehicles for workforce training in this country.

And considering recent reports that half of all retail jobs will be disappearing in the years ahead, it’s news that can’t come too soon.


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As most of us have noticed by now, the pace of technology – long proceeding at a snail’s pace as generation after generation lived more or less as their parents had – has been accelerating at what to many feels like a breakneck rate.  We’ve gone from linear progress to exponential, moving from the industrial revolution to the current digital one at an ever-quickening pace.

Moore’s Law, now over 50 years old, postulated that the number of transistors per square inch on a circuit board would double every year or two since – and today, that continued pace means that exotic technologies that include AI (artificial intelligence), robots, cloud computing and 3-D printing systems are proliferating, evolving in many cases faster than we humans can keep up.  It seems like things keep getting faster, smaller and smarter.

And therein lies the downside of all this technical innovation, says Gary Smith, a logistics expert with the New York City Transit in a recent issue of APICS Magazine.  Smith believes that “the rate of technological change exceeds the rate at which we can absorb, understand and accept it.”  This is acutely true in the world of supply chain, with its deep reach into manufacturing, distribution and just business in general.

Most importantly he notes that “disruptive technologies require a workforce that adapts to new processes, new ways of learning and training systems.”  In that spirit, he suggests key considerations and qualities that are going to be important within supply chains of the future, ones that the next generation workforce can expect to have to incorporate into their work patterns.  Among them:

  • Data analysis and database development skills. The ability to analyze and produce actionable results from data using logic and fact with insightful opinions and interpretation of available data will be critical.
  • Critical thinking. It’s vital to data analysis and fact-based decision making.  The ability to quickly acquire knowledge and break it down into its logical components, and then analyze and drill for accurate and actionable conclusions matters.  You have to be able to take complex situations and break them down into their component tasks.  Or as Franklin Covey would say, “start with the end in mind.”  Critical thinking means “abstraction, systems thinking, experimentation and collaboration,” notes Gary Smith.  To wit:
  • Abstraction. The ability to discover patterns in data.  Often, lessons from one industry can be applied to another, for example.
  • Systems thinking. That is, viewing issues as a part of the whole – how issues relate to the rest of a system.  Often, the “good of the many outweighs the good of the few.”
  • Experimentation. Complex problems require trial and error, testing and experimentation.  It’s okay to fail, as that’s part of learning.  Fail fast, think differently and learn to adapt as new conditions present themselves.
  • Collaboration. It’s working with others toward the common goal.  Easier said than done.  It requires team-building and facilitation skills, along with everyone keeping their eyes on the prize.  Collaboration is particularly important in supply chain and ERP work, where silos need to be broken down and people need to cooperate and effectively communicate.

These are the critical skills companies will be looking for.  We see the need for it every day in ours, and we’re only one of many.  So in a very real sense, the future really is now.

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