Creating a culture of learning is at the heart of this entrepreneur’s business.
Combining her zeal for education technology with a family background in advanced manufacturing, Kim Taylor launched her workforce development venture, Cluster, to focus on matching experienced workers with specialized engineering jobs in Southern California’s aviation, aerospace, defense and automotive industries.
“The idea that we're helping design the future of work, reframing what it means to go to work, be happy and have a great outcome, is what drives us,” CEO Taylor says. “I don't think there is a more important problem in America than enjoying what you do.”
After selling her first venture-backed edtech company, Taylor researched the labor market—underemployment, American class structure, the skills gap—and gravitated back to the industrial manufacturing market she grew up in. Her stepfather was the CEO of a metal injection molding company in Waukesha County, Wis., a big manufacturing hub. Her brother worked in the tool-and-die industry before becoming a CNC programmer. “As a child, I never thought of it as manufacturing; it was just something that was around me all the time,” she recalls.
“Yes, it’s important to bring new people in, but when you look at all these folks who plan to retire, they are not going to be replaced with 22-year-olds. We choose to focus on how people already working in the industry can evolve, get promoted and earn higher wages, not on the entry-level piece.”
Taylor doesn’t see her year-old company as only a job-recruitment site; her goal is for it to become a vertical marketplace for highly skilled workers in highly specialized industries to learn and grow in their careers. However, she and her staff are still in the process of understanding and organizing the workforce development information they’ve collected.
“People who work in specific industries want to connect with other people who deeply understand what they do, even beyond getting a job,” she says. “I believe we're all seeking out better, contextual information. We want Cluster to be the industrial marketplace—whether you want to get a job or a new skill or find out what the new roles in the industry are going to look like.”
With so much emphasis on recruiting new workers into the industrial tech space, Taylor believes existing workers are overlooked.
“To me, the bigger problem is underemployment and upskilling the people who are already in the industry,” she says. “Yes, it’s important to bring new people in, but when you look at all these folks who plan to retire, they are not going to be replaced with 22-year-olds. We choose to focus on how people already working in the industry can evolve, get promoted and earn higher wages, not on the entry-level piece.”
The No. 1 reason people leave jobs is for lack of career advancement, she adds, so upward mobility and the means to accomplish it are important to anyone in the workforce. And with the evolution of manufacturing technology, retraining workers to design, manage, troubleshoot and repair automation systems and robotics is an increasing need in the industry.
“About 99 percent of employers I talk to are very concerned about retraining and upskilling,” Taylor says. “Today, jobs are always changing. It is very different than it was 30 years ago. Research has generally proven that the best time to retrain people is when they're currently employed, so I believe it's critical to make training part of our DNA, to create a culture of learning.”