thumbnail group

Connect With Us:

ME Channels / Workforce Development

Workforce Development: Investing to Foster an Agile Ecosystem


By Ryan Kish

Workforce development is one of the most wide-reaching education challenges that exist today for both businesses and individuals alike. The professional and financial future of people, the growth of industry, and the health of the global economy all depend, in part, on the successful education, training and development of the workforce.

A popular term in business today is “agile,” which is one lens through which to view workforce development. That said, there is much debate as to what it truly means for a company to be agile as it relates to workforce development. The view of Alcoa Foundation is agility is achieved when a company has a system in place to easily find and/or develop exceptional talent so that both individuals and therefore the larger organization have a competitive advantage; not just for current needs but with an eye to the future.
Workforce Pipeline
When it comes to manufacturing, the increasing pace of technology innovations and newly discovered opportunities means that agility is more important than ever. Companies that want to compete at a world-class level in advanced manufacturing need to invest in workforce development and develop a thoughtful approach regarding how investing in people is investing in the business—in short, workforce development creates workforce agility. Without it, companies will one day realize their facilities are full of workers that are unprepared for the jobs of the future and that their competitors are attracting and growing the best talent.


An Ecosystem Approach

Investing in workforce development should not be done in a vacuum but rather with an eye toward the entire relevant ecosystem. Business and community leaders, employees and other key stakeholders should all be engaged and asked to share their voice and perspective on how to best prepare for the future. A common challenge that organizations face, including Alcoa Inc. and Alcoa Foundation, is a lack of existing networks or coordination between different groups. Organizations including SME Education Foundation, Hope Street Group, Institute of International Education and The Manufacturing Institute are finding ways to create collaboration opportunities and integrate the concerns and needs of various stakeholders.

Alcoa Foundation’s partnership with SME Education Foundation illustrates how the idea of fostering an agile workforce development ecosystem can be brought to life. The organizations have partnered to bring SME’s Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) initiative to Alcoa communities in Ohio and Southern California. The $750,000 investment in the PRIME initiative through 2018 will result in not just an overhaul of the equipment and technology at high schools in selected locations, it will create something far more sustainable: an inclusive approach to workforce development. This inclusive model fosters regular and open communication between stakeholders and thereby creates a more flexible, responsive workforce development program. The SME Education Foundation staff has worked tirelessly to bring the manufacturing industry, educators, administrators, students, parents, and local officials together to give everyone a voice in shaping local manufacturing education. Though in its early stages in the greater Barberton area of Ohio, PRIME has already had an impact on student and parent awareness of the training opportunities available and the myriad careers available at Alcoa and other local manufacturers. Workforce 2

Other outstanding partners are also making great strides in taking an ecosystem based approach to further workforce development. Hope Street Group has conducted a detailed research study to better understand what makes employees successful in an advanced manufacturing workplace. Many manufacturers shared information so that knowledge could be distributed freely and openly across segments and geographies to benefit the industry as a whole. The study will be released shortly and will be available to educators and manufacturers as a tool to both contribute to and spark dialogue on identifying and supporting workforce development programs that produce relevant and measurable outcomes.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) also brings a unique professional experience opportunity to youth in select communities worldwide. IIE helped to create the Alcoa Foundation Global Internship Program for Unemployed Youth which pairs local nonprofits and the manufacturing community to provide workplace skills training and real-world work experiences to youth, thereby enhancing and expanding their career options. Nearly 500 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 participated in the first two years of the program and with the collaboration of the nonprofits, students, and manufacturers a clearer picture of local workforce development needs came to light.

Another example of innovation to marry business needs with human development is a program developed by The Manufacturing Institute. The Institute has launched an initiative to create entry-level aerospace industry career pathways at community colleges near aerospace industry hubs. This effort will link student education and training directly with the most pressing needs of local employers by creating an ecosystem encouraging communication between higher education and business.

Innovation is the lifeblood of competitiveness in today’s economy and especially in advanced manufacturing. Given that innovation is dependent on people’s talents and abilities, there is tremendous need and focus on workforce development as the above partnerships/programs demonstrate. While there is still much that can and will be done, the great work that has brought us this far will no doubt continue to bear fruit to benefit industry, communities and individuals. We should all be diligent and carefully consider how we can contribute to agile ecosystems for workforce development in both our local and global community—the future depends on it.


Ryan Kish, Education and Workforce Development Program Manager, Alcoa Foundation. Alcoa Foundation is one oRyan Kishf the largest corporate foundations in the US, with assets of approximately $480 million. Founded 64 years ago, Alcoa Foundation has invested more than $635 million in communities worldwide. In 2015, Alcoa Foundation contributed more than $22 million to nonprofit organizations throughout the world, building innovative partnerships to improve the environment and educate tomorrow’s leaders for careers in manufacturing and engineering.



This article was first published in the February 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.

Published Date : 2/1/2016

Editor's Picks

Advanced Manufacturing Media - SME
U.S. Office  |  One SME Drive, Dearborn, MI 48128  |  Customer Care: 800.733.4763  |  313.425.3000
Canadian Office  |  7100 Woodbine Avenue, Suite 312, Markham, ON, L3R 5J2  888.322.7333
Tooling U  |   3615 Superior Avenue East, Building 44, 6th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114  |  866.706.8665