When deciding to expand or relocate, manufacturers always ask about the depth and quality of a prospective region’s available workforce.
Northern Kentucky leaders are hoping a collaborative, education-based jobs push will address the need for skilled workers by improving the talent pipeline. Heading up the initiative is Northern Kentucky’s chapter of the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education
(FAME), a partnership among 18 area businesses, allied groups and academic institutions.
In late 2014, the partner organizations introduced the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Development Coalition to tackle gaps in the region’s manufacturing workforce. Using grants obtained by member-organization Gateway Community & Technical College
, the coalition launched a $110,000 marketing campaign to boost interest in the dual-track, five-semester Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) certificate program offered by Gateway and a number of other local institutions.
“We’re one of seven regions in the country taking part in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Talent Pipeline Management
program,” says Duke Energy’s Rhonda Whitaker, who serves as a coalition representative. “We’re using supply chain management techniques to analyze talent-flow and hiring practices. We want to understand where we’ve been finding our workers and how we can allocate resources so that the sectors with need get the most bang for their buck.”
FAME organizers hope that sponsoring more qualified manufacturing students (and eventual workers) will also serve the wider goals of elevating Northern Kentucky’s investor profile and expanding the region’s manufacturing base.
Incentives for institutions and students alike
FAME partners with trade and technical institutions across the state to implement the AMT program, whose study-two/work-three weekday format lets students apply the skills they’ve learned immediately to paid positions. Another attractive feature is the AMT’s 24-student cohort model that offers team experience and a support network for those targeting top manufacturing jobs.
FAME launched Passport to Manufacturing in mid-October with an invitation for high school students and their parents to visit five of Northern Kentucky’s leading manufacturing facilities — Robert Bosch Automotive Steering, Linamar, Safran, Steinert and Steinkamp — for expert-led discussions, student-faculty networking and an insider look at advanced manufacturing.
Upon completing the AMT program, graduates receive an Associate of Applied Science degree and, in the case of those who go to work for Bosch, are certified to work in Europe per agreements with the company’s Germany-based headquarters.
“Coming out of high school and into the AMT program, I never would have realized two years later I would have a full-time job at Toyota making good wages and having a career ahead of me that’s so bright,” says John Blevins, a KY FAME graduate who now works as part of a Toyota maintenance team. “One good thing about the AMT degree is that it’s multi-skilled with concentrations in electrical, programmable logic controllers, robotics, mechanics, plumbing and fluid power.”
That multi-disciplinary approach appeals to both students and employers, but the AMT takes cross-training a step further by pairing students with mentors who assist with everything from academic setbacks to behavioral and interpersonal obstacles that could threaten workplace success.
For FAME representatives like Mary Grace Cassar, safeguarding the program’s reputation for quality means recruiting internally from their own companies — in her case, Bosch
, which sponsors up to 10 AMT candidates per year — as well as in person from high schools across Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.
“When we go in and meet with superintendents and counselors, we’re looking for the top-third echelon in rankings and students with backgrounds in STEM subjects,” Cassar says. “We want successful students. There is no remedial coursework in this curriculum.”
Students are rewarded in many cases by graduating free of debt and first in line for highly competitive positions.
“It’s not ‘old-school’ manufacturing,” Cassar says. “When we talk about modern manufacturing, we’re talking about highly digitized, next-generation technology. These are mini research labs and robots that manufacturers need to understand how to program and maintain.”
NKY’s manufacturing big picture
Manufacturing is one of Northern Kentucky’s strongest sectors, with more than 250 operations employing 18,000 people — or 11 percent of the total workforce. A diverse list of focus areas includes automotive, machine tool, aerospace and food/beverage. The chemical/flavorings space has seen particularly rapid growth, and demand is increasing across all sectors, with 6,000 new manufacturing positions expected to become available by 2022.
In 2014, Kentucky was awarded the Governor’s Cup and ranked #1 by Site Selection
corporate real estate magazine for new and expanded industry activity per capita. The year prior, Southern Business & Development
magazine named Northern Kentucky Mid-Market of the Year in its “Top Deals and Hot Markets in the South” feature.
In its efforts to support that type of positive recognition, manufacturing leaders have already begun looking to the future.
“FAME and the AMT model are just the beginning,” says Wade Williams, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Northern Kentucky Tri-ED
, who is largely responsible for sharing the successes and potential for FAME and various manufacturing initiatives in Northern Kentucky.
“We are already working with Gateway on a new certificate program that will address one of the greatest needs in manufacturing, enhanced operators,” Williams says. “The program will train individuals over a one semester to gain skills beyond the traditional operator jobs of yesterday. These multi-skilled, multi-craft operators will be capable of operating today’s complex machinery in manufacturing facilities across Northern Kentucky.”
A version of this story first appeared in NKY Thrives, a website published by Soapbox Media in partnership with Northern Kentucky Tri-ED.