The subject of training for manufacturing was discussed at an Ulster County Workforce Development Board meeting last Tuesday afternoon on Boices Lane in the Town of Ulster. It’s a thorny topic. Even as their businesses are benefitting from a solid economy, Hudson Valley manufacturers have been having a hard time recruiting talent, especially young talent. Young people growing up in a gig economy don’t take easily to long training periods for what they perceive as repetitive and unchallenging work.
WDB member Frank Falatyn of Fala Technologies told the meeting that he was willing to work with unskilled people as long as they had a work ethic. Applicants needed to know that today’s manufacturing jobs required problem-solving skills and high-tech knowledge, he said. The ex-IBMer seemed more determined than ever to get his message across. “I’ll spend the rest of my career working on the education pipeline,” he promised.
Chris Marx, in charge of workforce, economic development and community partnerships at SUNY Ulster, agreed with Falatyn about the need for rigorous training. Today’s manufacturing was not “manufacturing as it used to be.”
Falatyn has been instrumental in pioneering a state-supported apprenticeship training program in the Hudson Valley. Given a guaranteed wage progression, registered apprentices complete from 18-month to four-year programs (up to 8,000 hours) of on-the-job training under a participating employer. Upon program completion, the employee gets a promised job. Positions were discussed at the meeting with salaries starting at $60,000 a year for a trained journeyman.
Many in Ulster County have seen the signs on Trailways buses advertising the need for trained diesel mechanics and bus drivers. Those positions were among the examples cited at the WDB meeting.
The word journeyman has both an older and newer meaning, the first with a more positive status than the second. The older: a skilled worker who has served an apprenticeship and works for someone else. The newer: A worker who is reliable but not outstanding.
“We need to get more people into training,” said WDB director Lisa Berger. “We don’t have enough applicants.”
Harold King, a New Paltz resident who runs the Council of Industry in Newburgh, knows more about today’s manufacturing jobs in the Hudson Valley than just about anyone. With the unemployment rate lower than it has been in a decade, his organization’s member companies are finding even greater difficulty in filling their job openings with qualified applicants and retaining a well-trained workforce.
That’s where a Council of Industry initiative comes in. King’s organization offers a collaborative recruiting initiative for Hudson Valley manufacturers to work together to attract job candidates for apprenticeships. The website acts as a job aggregator of on-line applications to job sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Hot Jobs, Moster, ZipRecuiter and Google Jobs. Hiring member companies can manage their own leads.
Ulster Boces deputy superintendent Jonah Schenker, who pioneered a program for manufacturing training and education for high school and community college students at the Hudson Valley Pathways Academy in Kingston, said that potential recruits needed to find the career opportunities in the new manufacturing attractive. And employers had to be willing to invest heavily in the training pipeline. It’s difficult for them to want to do so when only ten out of 150 candidates are “wonderful.”
Apprenticeship requires a major commitment on the part of both employer and employee. As an example, here’s how a supervised training program for a four-year 8,000-hour apprenticeship for an electronics technician’s job might break down: Applying technical knowledge 3,200 hours, troubleshooting 3,000 hours, operating computers and programming software 800 hours, performing maintenance 600 hours, electronics and workplace orientation 150 hours, safety and health 100 hours, and miscellaneous at the sponsor’s option 150 hours. Each year a minimum of 144 hours of related instruction will be required for each apprentice.
“Upon completion,” the local website describing the program says, “the apprentice will receive a nationally recognized accreditation as a journey-level worker.”
The Council of Industry reported initial success in the new program. In less than nine months, 20 apprentices in eight participating companies had signed up. As of March 1, the participating firms include Elna Magnetics, eMagin, Fair-Rite Products, Fala Technologies, MPI, President Container, Schatz Bearing, Selux, Viking, and Zierick Manufacturing.
A Federal Reserve Bank of New York February survey of the state’s manufacturers showed that job openings in the region were taking longer to fill and that starting pay was rising. Tony Marmo, who owns Normann Staffing in Kingston, wasn’t surprised by the pay increase. With the minimum New York wage $10.40 and going up to $11.10 at the end of this year, he said, “Every level needs to be moved up.”
No more than 10 percent of the jobs Marmo’s company handles are in manufacturing. Since Ulster County had in September 2017 only 3,373 manufacturing jobs in a labor force of 68,000, that proportion is not surprising. The very recent small upward bump in manufacturing jobs seems the result of a shift to increases in subsectors such as food and beverage.
Perhaps it’s the emphasis on extrinsic rewards (pay) that’s at fault. If the new manufacturing is so different from the old, the greater emphasis to secure greater participant engagement has to be on achievement, recognition, problem-solving and satisfaction. This is not a new perspective. A 1960s book called “The Human Side of Enterprise” by MIT management professor Doug McGregor had an enormous influence on American business education. Interestingly, most examples of the authoritarian management style in McGregor’s work came from stories of the factory floor. Most examples of the participative style came from knowledge work.
Look at it from today’s job-seeking millennial’s perspective. If you can start at 12 bucks an hour, possible bonuses and the promise of benefits soon to come at a local supermarket, office or restaurant, why sign up for an arduous four-year apprenticeship program with a not unlimited pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Even if a young person has always had a preference for making things work in a hands-on way, he or she may be reluctant to accept the constraints of doing so in what appears to be a distinctly hierarchical setting where little other than productivity seems to count.
Tony Marmo offered what seemed to me a great idea. As well as employing familiar techniques, why not explore the possibility of an alternative means of engaging potential recruits? Why not start with asking a local focus group of millennials what they think?