Montez King and NIMS are upskilling the manufacturing workforce.
Montez King, executive director of the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS), grew up in a poor neighborhood in Baltimore. He was exposed to the world of machining at the age of 13.
“I started hanging around some kids who were talking about applying to a trade school,” he recalls. “I didn’t understand what all that meant, but I just followed the crowd because they seemed to be very positive. Considering where I grew up, I wanted to do something different with my life instead of becoming a statistic.”
King’s machine shop instructor, Benjamin Weber, was intimidating at first, but he began to show King what he could do with a machining career. “From that point on, it's where my life has been; I started machining and I've never done anything else,” King says. He was a work-study student from age 16 until he graduated from high school at 18. He went into an apprenticeship program until he was 22 years old.
It was after he finished a 10-year contract at Magna International that he ended up at NIMS. Magna offered him another project, but King wasn’t interested in relocating to another country. In 2013, NIMS’ executive director at the time offered King a position as director of credentialing. He accepted, and in 2017 the board elevated him to executive director.
Part of what drew King to NIMS was its mission: to strengthen the workforce so the U.S. can be globally competitive by validating skills through credentialing.
“We define industry-recognized standards; they're written by industry, but we're orchestrating the process,” he explains. “It's a rigorous process we use to help schools and training programs across the country align to what the industry says it’s looking for. Then we develop credentials to measure individuals against those standards.”
He adds that in the new economy, more than 50 percent of U.S. jobs will require something more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree—and more than half of those jobs will pay more than those requiring a four-year degree.
“An industry-recognized credential is how we prepare the modern workforce for those jobs,” King notes.
He explains that because of the rapid pace of technological changes, the modern manufacturing workforce cannot be the traditional journeyperson who masters an occupation. Today, occupations are meshing together through technology, moving workers toward specialized fields that require overlapping skills and teamwork to be globally competitive. “The way we train and teach has to be more modular, broken down much further, and credentialing fits that space,” he says.
It is valid for people starting in the industry, as well as machining veterans.
“There's wisdom, experience and knowledge that comes with 25 years in manufacturing,” he explains. “But it's more in the soft skills area—problem-solving, critical thinking, working with others. When it comes to technical skills, continued upskilling will be required to keep up with technology innovations. Credentialing is a way you can develop your skills and demonstrate your competencies in a more modular way, to continue your portfolio of knowledge and learning.”
King says it’s not enough to talk about technology changes; it’s more about a technology revolution. Industry 1.0 was the steam engine and creating power through steam. Industry 2.0 introduced electricity and assembly lines. Industry 3.0 saw the use of computers and networks.
“Today, we’re in Industry 4.0—cyber systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, the connectivity of things,” he explains. “You have to train toward the revolution we're in, rather than isolating training to traditional occupations. You have to start thinking Industry 4.0.”
NIMS also offers train-the-trainer sessions to turn “subject matter experts into trainers,” King says. “It’s a big part of our mission here at NIMS. So many people come into the machining industry that could walk away from it because of the trainers we're putting in front of them. Trainers need to be aware of students’ different learning styles. Our credentials have less value if our trainers aren't fully trained to impart the knowledge.”
King’s satisfaction comes from changing the lives of NIMS students. Says he: “I don't care what your circumstances are. If you have a good heart, the will and the aptitude for learning this industry, I can take you from poverty into the middle class in six months.”