Filling the Skills Gap in Blue Collar Talent

June 19, 2012 by Wally Bock

Talk about a talent problem! Here’s how Vanessa Fuhrmans describes a big one.

“Though unemployment remains stuck above 8%, companies can’t find enough machinists, robotics specialists and other highly skilled workers to maintain their factory floors. An estimated 600,000 skilled, middle-class manufacturing jobs remain unfilled nationwide, even as millions of Americans search for work.”

That’s from a Wall Street Journal article titled: “Germany’s New Export: Jobs Training.” The Germans should know how to do it. Depending on whose estimate you read, fifty percent or more of the German workforce learns their job (including management) in some form of apprentice program.

American companies with German ties or pedigree have benefitted from this for decades. Bosch, for example, has run apprentice programs for its companies since the 1970s. It’s a way to grow your own skilled workforce and it runs counter to what Peter Cappelli sees as a dangerous trend.

“Unfortunately, American companies don’t seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Part of the problem may be that individual companies don’t have the resources to run effective apprenticeship programs. The solution to that problem could be a partnership similar to a program called “Apprenticeship 2000.”

It’s a partnership of several companies, the Central Piedmont Community College and the North Carolina Department of Labor. Men and women who go through the program get 8000 hours of training over four years with an AAS Degree and a job at the end. Companies wind up with workers who have the training they need.

Blum, Inc, one of the Apprenticeship 2000 partners invests about $100,000 per apprentice over the course of the four year program. There’s no requirement for graduates to stay with the company, but 80 percent do. Andreas Thurner, director of the apprenticeship program at Blum, sums up the benefit of the program this way: “We recognized we could not grow the business without this.”

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Talent Management

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