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Skilled Workers Critical to Success

By David Goodreau Monday, August 6, 2012 - San Fernando Valley Business Journal

In 1996, I was at a small meeting of the founders of the Economic Alliance on how we wanted to write the economic development plan for the San Fernando Valley. I remember making a plea to develop the plan around a strategy that would create the most competitive manufacturing supply chain in the U.S. At that time, the greater San Fernando Valley region had the highest concentration of defense, space and aerospace suppliers in the U.S.

While the idea was not adopted, it is interesting to look back and see how these regional companies have adapted and what they are doing to compete in one of the biggest aerospace boom times in history.

What makes the San Fernando Valley region so unique is the small- to mid-sized nature of our local manufacturing companies. They are able to change and grow quickly — if they can find skilled employees. When one looks at the last 16 years in the Valley region, it is easy to see that the infrastructure that provided students with exposure to mechanical skill sets has been gutted by almost 75 percent. Budget cuts have been devastating to the large percentage of students that develop intellect from applied learning. Without new talent flowing into our companies, we create a barrier to the economic development that is possible from the $4.5 trillion market projected for new jetliners projected over the next 20 years.

Despite the political rhetoric one hears about the value of manufacturing jobs, the reality is those sound bites at press conferences can’t put this infrastructure back in place. The culture within our public institutions will continue to suffocate any meaningful financial support of the industrial arts until there are no resources or personnel to support economic growth.

A new vision is emerging that will create private-public partnerships to support high-growth manufacturing companies that have no choice but to get involved in education in a major and meaningful way.

Locally, companies are joining associations such as the Valley Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) to combine efforts to support the remaining machining programs at Van Nuys High School and Chatsworth High School. The NTMA actively places students into internships and they have created the Rothlisberger Machinist Training Endowment to provide financial resources for these struggling programs.

Manufacturing peer-group, the Southern California Manufacturing Group (SCMG) constantly hosts shop tours for these same local high schools and community colleges such as Los Angeles Valley College, Pierce College and College of the Canyons. The SCMG is exemplary on how they have taken the needs of their eight member companies, with more than 450 employees, and funded training specific to their needs. The result of their commitment towards process improvement and education is high growth and increasing sales from exceeding customer expectations.

Together with organizations like NTMA, the Small Manufacturers Institute (SMI) links industry to struggling manufacturing education programs to bring desperately needed renovations and revenue to regional training programs. As an example, both the SMI and NTMA provided $750,000 in matching funds to renovate the Van Nuys High School Manufacturing Academy. Today, those same stakeholders are working towards bringing National Metalworking Skills Certificates (NIMS) to local schools and companies that will change the way that we train our local students and machinists. These skill standards can link into higher education academic credits and students earn these credentials by demonstrating skills learned.

In rare cases, individuals saw this crisis and stepped up through action, not words. Gene Haas of the Gene Haas Foundation has been a shining example of one individual who has been loyal to his roots and provided equipment and resources to local schools because he understood the critical economic need of a strong manufacturing base. The foundation has donated millions of dollars around the region and the nation to offset the decline of manufacturing education programs.

Collectively, the efforts of many of us in the Valley have been exemplary even at a national level. But the tide that’s pulling resources out to sea is far too strong for local companies to fill in for a public infrastructure that no longer understands mechanical aptitude and the way it builds intellect in our youth.

Imagine that the largest regional infrastructure of aerospace and defense suppliers has only two high schools and three community colleges with functioning machining programs. Retaining these elementary resources is critical from this point forward. Our job as industry leaders is to define how we can create sustainable and supplemental resources that raise the quality of the programs and their training product to a world-class level. This is the key! We must create a self-serving system that gives back great entry-level employees to those firms that are willing to participate and contribute to the next generation private-public partnership.

Together, we must identify both growing manufacturing stakeholders and those retired business owners who have made their fortunes in manufacturing. Separately, organizations must provide a private support structure so they can create a sustainable legacy that will restore this once great industrial technical infrastructure to levels that match that original vision of a supply chain center of excellence in the Valley region.

David Goodreau is executive director of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association.

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