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Hail the Community College

Mike Papp
By Mike Papp VP of Manufacturing and Module Center Operations, Pratt & Whitney

It’s the perfect storm for manufacturers: Thousands of skilled Baby Boomer workers have begun retiring, and digitization of the manufacturing process is sweeping nearly all areas of the industry. The Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute 2017 study predicts a shortage of two million workers in the next decade.

Pratt & Whitney, a 92-year-old manufacturer, is staring down the storm: To meet our contracts for our newest generation of commercial and military jets, we need to double production again—and again—in the years to come. Between ramping up to meet this demand and replacing retirees, we will need to hire hundreds of people each year over the next decade.

But the skills gap is no surprise, and we’ve taken strong actions to recruit and train the workers we need to operate the advanced machinery in our plants. While there are multiple strategies manufacturers must take, one is literally right next door: the training power of the community college.

Longer than five years ago, we set out to join forces with local community colleges near our largest plants to help us develop the skills of new machinists and other manufacturing workers critical to our growth. We contribute to these partnerships by providing the colleges with “teaching machines” (like CNCs), faculty (current or retired employees) and sometimes, funding to invest in facilities.

A productive example of this process can be found at our North Berwick, ME, plant, the largest manufacturing facility in the state with more than 1000 employees, producing components for commercial and military jet engines. It runs 24/7. Maine is not a state that inherently has a lot of young people looking for manufacturing jobs. We had reached the end of the line in terms of recruiting from local companies and concluded we had to reach out in a more creative way.

So we called on York County Community College (YCCC) in Wells, ME, the state Community College System and the Department of Labor to form a public-private partnership that has yielded two programs helping us train the entry level machinists with the skills we need. The first, a six-week onboarding course, focuses on providing introductory skills in precision machining and measurement technology, math, blueprints, as well as classes in effect communications essential to become an effective machine operator. Students are trained in a variety of grinding, milling and lathe centers at our plant and at YCCC’s machine shop. More than 150 new employees completed onboarding, and all have received jobs at our plant.

The YCCC partnership also produced a more extensive, 8000-hour apprenticeship program that requires select employees to participate in a technology curriculum leading to an associate degree in trade & technical occupations. The manufacturing technologist machinist is assigned to major standard work groups to expand specialized machining skills, product knowledge and leadership development. Rotational assignments at the North Berwick plant include various machining and assembly centers. Quality, manufacturing engineering and tool services are also a requirement of the apprenticeship, as are academic studies. In May 2017, the first class of 14 employees graduated with an associate’s degree in trade & technical occupations after completing the apprenticeship program.

Working with YCCC, our North Berwick management is better able to meet its personnel needs by customizing YCCC’s curriculum to the skills needed at our plant. Similar partnerships that support our other plants are operating with Goodwin College in E. Hartford, CT; Asnuntuck College in Enfield, CT; Columbus Tech in Columbus, GA; and Palm Beach State College in Florida.

As manufacturing technology continues to become more digitized, we have no doubt that our community college partners will be there to help us meet the challenge of training technically skilled machine operators, whether it is a CNC, a robotics system or a 3D printer. This is one very localized way to manage the skills gap storm and keep American manufacturing humming.

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