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Guest Columnist: Jack Healy

How Leadership Built a Skills Pipeline

Several years ago I attended an AIM Manufacturing Roundtable meeting where the managers in attendance discussed the seriousness of the lack of available job candidates and the difficulties various firms were having maintaining their respective businesses. Having heard this discussion at previous meetings, I did not anticipate there would be any follow up on the subject.

Tom Wesley, then Director of Strategic Planning at Waters Corp., spoke at the meeting about the consequences that a lack of skills would mean for his company, both directly and within the Water's supply chain. Tom left the meeting with a determination to do something to correct this situation. Two days later, he and his management team met with Ted Bauer, MassMEP's Director of Workforce Strategies, to discuss to the opportunities that were open to Water's Corporations relative to the skills deficit. Ted explained about the formation of the Manufacturing Advancement Center's Workforce Innovation Collaborative (MACWIC) and its development of an employer-driven, standardized, and competency-based advanced manufacturing curriculum that was under development.

Tom recognized the challenges this kind of project would present for an employer-led organization. So he immediately volunteered that Waters Corp. join the MACWIC effort; he would also become personally active. 

Tom values action over words and subsequently assumed the chairmanship of the MACWIC Steering Committee. Under his Chairmanship, the MACWIC has evolved to more than 225 members, including manufacturers and industrial/technical training providers. MACWIC's manufacturing members alone represent over 27,000 employees and $8.65 billion in gross sales for the state.

Tom likes to point out that the MACWIC is a collaboration of many members, which makes it a collaboration that produces results. The determination of MACWIC members, working through its Education Committee, quickly produced a standardized list of competencies and a validation test for the Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway Certification.

Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway Certification
MACWIC Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway Certification

Approval by Dept. of Education
Thanks to the efforts of Bryant LaFlamme, Chairman of the MACWIC Education Committee, this standardized list of competencies and the associated credentials was approved by the Massachusetts Dept. of Education and incorporated into the frameworks for vocational training statewide. Currently, 29 out of the 33 technical vocational schools are testing to the MACWIC Level One and Level Two competencies throughout the state. 

The MassMEP has developed and provided curriculum for each of the Levels One and Two subjects to the interested schools. Through our partner, WPI, access to an online machining program has also been made available. Through a supporting grant from MassDevelopment, MassMEP provides proctored testing at each of the schools, ensuring a standard by which employers can readily determine the skills level from the MACWIC certification presented by the job applicant. 

The state's appreciation of this MACWIC system was noted by Secretary of Education Jim Peyser who stated, "This idea of [creating a set of certifications and credentials] being an employer driven process, rather than one that is initiated in colleges or high school, is a tremendous approach that we ought to replicate in other sectors."

Tom Wesley is most proud of the accomplishments of other MACWIC  member's relative to establishing this career pathway as a statewide skills certification, from high school through a degree. Tom noted that other states have not gotten this right and he did not intend to follow their example.

University and Community College Partnerships
Kathy Rentsch, MACWIC member and Dean at Quinsigamond Community College (QCC), has been a key player in this effort, spending many hours helping to establish the Applied Manufacturing Technology Pathway Certification in the state's community colleges. Kathy also was successful in utilizing the MACWIC curriculum as the foundation for her school's degree in Applied Manufacturing Technology. This is a first in the state where college credits are given for applied manufacturing work experience.

As pointed out by Tom Wesley, the MACWIC credential has also been used by both WPI and UMass – Lowell, who are providing the actual CNC training to job candidates. The MACWIC Level Three machining curriculum (Accelerated CNC Skills training) is delivered by another MACWIC member, Torbjorn Bergstrom, WPI's Director of the Haas Technical Education Center.  MassMEP, WPI, and QCC have collaborated to design a program that has allowed hundreds of dislocated workers to be retrained, credentialed, and hired for machining positions in a number of MACWIC firms.

MassMEP Training Outcomes
MassMEP Training Locations
MassMEP training outcomes in Massachusetts

As stated by WPI President Laurie Leshin, "The reality is that too many young people across the state and too many adults do not have the skills and training to advance in today's world of work." This is what WPI, in partnership with MACWIC and MassMEP, is working to correct.

This MACWIC training partnership, has been successful in providing a jobs training program that is addressing the skills deficit in Massachusetts. The program places over 90% of its graduates. We also have ample evidence of how effective this program is among the MACWIC members. One MACWIC member stated, "Approximately 25% of our current production workforce has come out of the MACWIC/MassMEP training program and we are planning to hire more." It is doubtful that a statement like this could be made by manufacturers who have not participated with MACWIC. Tom points out that hiring someone without a MACWIC skills competency certificate is like hiring blind. He said, "The MACWIC Skills based certification is something that you can trust."

There has been much talk over the past year about the German apprenticeship model and the need to establish something similar in our state. A review of the MACWIC Apprentice program was held with representatives of the German Embassy and the German Federal Institute of Education and Training. They were concerned about whether Massachusetts had an adequately trained workforce to support the skills needs of German firms possibly interested in locating enterprises here. Their comments relative to the MACWIC were very favorable and they noted that it takes the initiative of a company to become involved and to access the opportunity offered by the MACWIC for workforce training and education. They believed that the MACWIC—with its vocational technical schools, community colleges, universities, and workforce organizations—provided an agile infrastructure that can meet the needs of a given company or sector. They concluded that if it is industry-led and it works, why change anything?

Tom Wesley with Rep John Fernades
Tom Wesley (left) with Rep John Fernandes (center).

Tom Wesley points out that executives around the world indicated in Deloitte's Global Manufacturing Competitive Index that "talent was considered to be the leading factor in determining manufacturing competitiveness." This is the ability to build a highly skilled workforce at a number of levels in the organization. 

Join Us…
On behalf of the MACWIC, Tom extends an invitation to any Massachusetts manufacturer interested in further developing the state's manufacturing talent pipeline. Get involved by contacting Leslie Parady at lesliep@massmep.org. And join us at our I <3 MACWIC 5th Anniversary celebration on February 14, 2017.

Join us at the next MACWIC Job Fairs at U-Mass Lowell and WPI. You must preregister to participate. Contact Karen Myhaver at 508-831-7020 x44 or email karenm@massmep.org

MACWIC Job Fairs

Thanks to the leadership of Tom Wesley and the efforts of the many other volunteers, MACWIC is a unique organization that allows our manufacturers to compete by providing a way to adapt to today's rapidly changing manufacturing skills requirements.

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