Two manufacturing support organizations are ramping up efforts to measure the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs in the Philadelphia region and better train workers to fill those jobs.
The Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center has gotten $500,000 from the Lenfest Foundation to recruit retired Navy members to teach advanced manufacturing skills. The group plans to use the teachers in its Applied Engineering Technology program, which received $150,000 from the Lenfest Foundation in 2003.
The Urban Industry Initiative, meanwhile, contends that nearly all of the 1,300 manufacturing companies in Philadelphia have job openings. The assumption is that the companies could grow more quickly if they had a trained labor pool.
UII expects to complete a survey by the end of the year that will gauge the needs of the city’s manufacturers now, in the next three years, and five years from now.
The information gathered from the manufacturers will help UII connect the companies to private and public training resources, an often burdensome process, President/CEO Stephen Jurash said. UII will also use the information to try to shape programs offered by the region’s educational institutions to better serve the needs of the companies.
“We want to foster the kind of training that leads to degrees,” Jurash said. “I think it’s an old thought that the dumb kids go to [vocational and technical schools] — we need to get past that, manufacturing is changing and the level of training has to step up.”
Even with the movement toward automation and other technology, skilled labor will always be needed by the region’s manufacturers, said Anastasia Branco, senior manager of recruitment and retention at the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
“We do have a large applicant pool and sometimes the challenge is finding skilled people,” Branco said of the firm, which employs 1,200 locally.
UII is working to increase partnerships between the Philadelphia School District and the city’s manufacturing industry, which is the fourth largest contributor to the city’s wage tax. Mayor-elect Michael Nutter spoke about the need to improve vocational-technical training in the city school system Wednesday during a speech at the Franklin Institute.
“We need to bring that training back to school because I know for some young people, that may be the only reason to come to school in the first place,” said Nutter, who had cited the school district’s dropout rate of 45 percent earlier in his speech.
UII is also in discussions with the Community College of Philadelphia about the creation of an associate degree program for applied engineering.
Those workers in manufacturing had an average total compensation of $56,000 last year, 20 percent above that of U.S. workers overall, reported the DVIRC. Its CEO, Joseph Houldin, doesn’t believe more vo-tech schools are the answer. DVIRC is pushing an initiative with community colleges that focuses on STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math education.
“In this world of manufacturing there are virtually no entry-level jobs,” said Houldin, who estimates that 13,000 of the region’s 175,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled. “What we’re talking about is not training our way out of this, but educating our way out of this.”
While manufacturing jobs have declined in recent decades, retiring baby boomers are beginning to leave a vacuum and skilled replacements aren’t ready.
DVIRC’s AET program is designed to give young people the skills they need for today’s manufacturing jobs by offering them a curriculum that begins their junior year in high school, continues through their first two years in college or their entire stay at a community college, and ends with their last two years of college.
Students in the program can earn associate or bachelor’s degrees that allow them to work in modern factories, where people more commonly work with computer-controlled machines that do the labor, rather than doing the labor themselves.
The AET Program was kicked off in 2002 with a $500,000 Opportunity Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
It since has received $300,000 more from the DCED in a grant that provided money to Delaware and Montgomery county community colleges; $3 million from the U.S. Department of Labor; the initial grant from the Lenfest Foundation, which was more than matched by $300,000 from manufacturers; and the latest Lenfest Foundation grant.
The program has 2,153 students, of whom 1,134 are in participating high schools, 800 are in certificate and associate degree programs and 219 are in bachelor’s degree programs.
Eighteen high schools in Philadelphia and its four surrounding counties are involved, as are the community colleges that serve Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties, plus Pennsylvania State University’s Berks and Abington campuses and Drexel and Philadelphia universities.
The DVIRC wants to get 10,000 students in the program by 2010, but is concerned that when it does, the program won’t have enough people capable of teaching the applied skills the curriculum requires.
As it began looking for teachers with those skills, it talked to Bruce Melgary, the executive director of the Lenfest Foundation.
“He said, ‘We might be interested in providing you with more support on that if you were willing to take a look at retired Navy teaching people,” Houldin said.
One reason for the suggestion was that the Lenfest Foundation’s founder and namesake, cable-TV magnate H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, is fond of the Navy, having spent two years in it followed by 24 in the Navy Reserve. He commanded a reserve destroyer in Philadelphia and retired at the rank of captain.
Another was that not only would Navy trainers be familiar with applied skills, they would also be accustomed to working with young people from all types of backgrounds.
The DVIRC came up with a proposal for bringing ex-Navy people into the AET program, the Lenfest Foundation approved it, and the DVIRC is now beginning to work with the Navy on implementing it.
The DVIRC and the Navy should be able to tap into an existing program called Troops to Teachers. Funded by the U.S. departments of defense and education, it helps military personnel become public school teachers.
“Because Philadelphia is so much a Navy town, I’m sure there are lots of retired folks in the Philadelphia area that we’ll be going after,” Houldin said.
Aker Philadelphia Shipyard’s operations in the Philadelphia Navy Yard employs 1,300 workers, nearly half of which are subcontractors. While the work force is large enough to meet the company’s needs, Aker would like to reduce its reliance on subcontractors if not for the problem in finding qualified, skilled, local talent, said Tom Marinucci, business information specialist for the firm.
Aker is continually in need of skilled welders, fitters and machine operators and in 2004 founded an apprenticeship program, Marinucci said. By the end of this year, nearly 100 people are expected to have participated in the program, which will graduate its first class of professional shipbuilders next year.
“A lot of schools have stopped programs,” Jurash said of the shortage of trained manufacturing laborers. “These are good living wage jobs, but the problem is the work force that is out there is just largely untrained.”