By Ken Datzman of Brevard Business News
ROCKLEDGE — As the job market rebounds, businesses are scrambling to find skilled talent to fill positions in order to stay competitive and grow their enterprises. For at least the last three years, research organizations have been ringing the alarm bell over concern of a coming skilled work–force shortage.
Surveys show a serious supply–chain skills–gap talent shortage in manufacturing, in welding, and in other production fields. The impact of fewer skilled workers is being felt in communities of all sizes. There are currently more than 600,000 jobs available in manufacturing in the U.S., with the expectation that number could grow by 2 million by 2025 because of an aging work force and new technologies that create more jobs, according to a report by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
“With the current unemployment rate in Brevard County sitting at 5 percent (4.8 percent for the state), the pool of available workers is much smaller than just a few years ago, especially for highly skilled talent,” said Judy Blanchard, the industry relations director for CareerSource Brevard, a regional public–private partnership under CareerSource Florida.
She said, “Manufacturing is the No. 1 industry right now in Brevard County, with companies like Northrop Grumman Corp. and Embraer leading the way.” The latter company just began the production of its Legacy 450 and Legacy 500 aircraft at its recently expanded facility, where the Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 are
already in production. Embraer added 236,000 square feet to its existing 213,000–square–foot campus at the Orlando–Melbourne International Airport. It also has expanded to Titusville and will be opening a manufacturing plant this summer.
“Occupation–wise, we have the biggest need for machinists among all the counties in Florida,” said Tina Berger, the sector strategy program manager for CareerSource Brevard. “While we have the most machining jobs, we also have a huge skills gap in the work force. The challenge is you just can’t take a couple of courses and go into machining. It takes years of experience to gain machining skills and expertise.”
Berger said CareerSource Brevard is committed to building an effective “sustainable” manufacturing “sector strategy” for Brevard. She manages the National Emergency Grant to address the skills gap in training and “pipeline talent” for manufacturing in the county.
Her organization is working closely with Eastern Florida State College’s Manufacturing Advisory Council, and manufacturers in the region, as well as educational and training partners,economic developers at county and municipal levels,community leaders, elected officials, and workforce development experts on a number of initiatives to reverse the shortage trend.
Collaboratively, they are working to identify and redesign training and educational initiatives needed to bridge the current and future manufacturing skills gap in the region. Over the last nine months, Berger said she has “engaged with at least 100 of the 574 manufacturers in Brevard, sitting down with them to figure out what their core needs are.” Originally, 13 critical occupations were defined by the manufacturing firms in the region. “We are now focusing on the top four occupations within that scope: machining, welding, quality assurance, and production assembly.”
She said a lot of manufacturing companies in the area “are ramping up in a big way” and the need for machinists and other skilled workers is growing every day, creating concern. “The average age of a machinist is between 45 and 54, and there is a 25–year gap in the talent pipeline. We have dismantled the vocational pathways in the high schools so we are not building a pipeline. The biggest issue facing the manufacturing industry is retirement, 35 to 40 percent of the highest–skilled work force is retiring. We have to attract young people to manufacturing careers.”
The Manufacturing Institute, in partnership with SkillsUSA and the Educational Research Center of America, released a new report identifying the “characteristics of experiences” that impact student career choices. The study found that 64 percent of students identified personal experiences as having the greatest influence over their career decisions.
The report also noted that students engaged in career and technical student organizations and activities are almost 50 percent more likely to pursue a technical career. Yet, less than 10 percent of students experienced internships, mentorships, or cooperative educational programs.
“The manufacturers in Brevard wanted to have a summer internship for high–school students and we have launched the inaugural program. A number of students started their internships at area companies about three weeks ago,” said Berger. Three manufacturing businesses — Mainstream Engineering Inc., Merritt Island Boatworks, and Knight’s Armament Co. — are participating in the internship program that is employing five or more students this summer.
Additionally, Brevard Public Schools was awarded a $500,000 grant to start an Aviation and Manufacturing Academy at Eau Gallie High School and at Bayside High School, in response to local and industry needs. “CareerSource Brevard was instrumental in helping BPS get grants for the two start–ups,” said Berger.
An increasing segment of manufacturers are struggling to find qualified applicants for open positions, according to data from the 2016 American Society for Quality’s “Manufacturing Outlook Survey.” Fifty–one percent of respondents say the lack of qualified applicants is their “greatest hurdle when hiring for vacant positions,” up from 44 percent in 2011 when ASQ last surveyed manufacturers about hiring challenges.
Blanchard says work–force agencies like hers must shift from offering “program solutions” to “sustainable solutions” that help businesses recruit and retain talent. “In order for work–force agencies to meet the talent needs of businesses — the employer is our customer — we must approach each company’s needs with a holistic, customized approach. This means we must go beyond simply offering our flagship recruitment, assessment, and training grants.”
She added, “We have to engage in meaningful conversations with our businesses, really listen to what their current and future work–force needs are, collaborate with our education partners and economic developers, and leverage resources and investments to deliver a ‘total talent solution’ unique to each business.”
And that’s what CareerSource Brevard has been doing as it hones specific sector strategies to help the future work–force needs of employers. Sector strategies are industry–led approaches to work force and economic development that align training to meet employer needs in regional labor markets.
“The first time I had actually heard about sector strategies is when I went to a Federal Reserve conference in 2012 in Kansas City,” said Marci Murphy, CareerSource Brevard vice president. “I was really excited about it. I thought it was a great concept, but the businesses and the grant community weren’t around it at that time. That has changed. Now we’re seeing businesses embrace it, and we received our first grant for the manufacturing sector strategy.”
Florida’s focus on building an increasingly competitive work force and enabling employers in advanced manufacturing and health care to stay current with marketplace changes is benefiting from a nearly $7 million federal grant to equip workers with the right skills for these growing industries. CareerSource Florida and the Department of Economic Development are using the grant to assess current and future needs of employers in advanced manufacturing and in health care. “In addition to manufacturing, we have a health–care sector strategy and within the next 90 days we will be hiring a manager for that sector,” said Murphy. “We have five or six goals we are addressing. We’re excited to be moving forward on our health–care sector strategy.”
Murphy is one of the candidates who has applied to succeed Lisa Rice, who has been president of CareerSource Brevard for more than a decade and is relocating to another state. Rice will step down in late July. A search committee has been formed and the process of intervieing candidates is underway. As vice president, Murphy was second in command and has worked under Rice the entire time she was president.
Today, finding skilled talent is among the highest priorities for businesses, said Blanchard. “Economic growth and business sustainability increasingly depend on the availability of a skilled work force, and the ability to ‘upskill’ the capabilities of incumbent workers.”
Blanchard said demonstrating that state and local work–force agencies can provide a “total talent solution” — an education and talent pipeline that delivers the skilled work force a business needs now, as well as in the future — “is paramount to the economic prosperity of a region.”
As part of the “Talent Team” established by Enterprise Florida and led by CareerSource Florida, CareerSource Brevard has been providing local support for Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Melbourne expansion by working to identify immediate, short–term, and future talent needs, said Blanchard.
Northrop Grumman was recently awarded a large U.S. Department of Defense contract and will need to recruit roughly 3,500 highly skilled employees by 2020,
she said, “with around 70 percent of the people being seasoned professionals with five to 10 years of experience and skill–sets in engineering and advanced manufacturing.”
CareerSource Brevard’s Industry Relations Team worked with Northrop Grumman’s recruitment team “to formulate a creative and innovative solutions–based work– force plan specifically to support the talent growth needs at the Melbourne operation,” said Blanchard.
She added, “We had to start thinking ‘outside–the–box.’ They have a staff of perhaps 25 to 30 recruiters who recruit eight to 10 hours a day, and they do it extremely well. So we didn’t go to the table thinking that we could solve their talent–recruitment needs. We went to the table suggesting that we could augment their work. Over the course of several weeks, we identified near–term and long–term recruitment needs and put together a plan to address their
current needs versus five years down the road.”
Considering Northrop Grumman’s top three areas of concern — talent–pipeline development, talent recruitment, and talent–relocation support — CareerSource Brevard developed a number of focus areas, one of which was marketing. The “Marketing Brevard Team” was launched to attract talent.
“There was a need for some type of marketing–outreach piece in order to try to attract millennial engineering talent to Melbourne, from California’s Silicon Valley, from Seattle, from Texas, from Colorado, from Washington, D.C., and from other areas,” said Berger. “Through a special grant we put together a ‘Millennial Talent Attraction’ video that we provided to Northrop Grumman for the company to use on its website and at its recruiting events.”
CareerSource Brevard also worked on a number of other programs and initiatives partnering with Northrop Grumman, including a new University of Central Florida internship. The on–the–job training program is set to debut late this summer, said Blanchard. “This will be part–time employment for third– and fourth–year engineering students at UCF who will be placed in jobs at the Melbourne campus of Northrop Grumman.”
With its manufacturing and health–care sector strategies unfolding in the region, CareerSource Brevard will be looking at expanding its reach in industry helping businesses meet talent shortfalls.
“The next sector strategy we’ll be targeting is aviation,” said Murphy. “Hopefully, we will be working with the Orlando–Melbourne International Airport on that initiative. Additionally, CareerSource Brevard has just decided to pursue a grant — partnering with Orlando and Volusia County — that will focus on the information– technology sector. The landscape is changing and we’re at the forefront of helping businesses meet work–force challenges. It’s an exciting time for CareerSource Brevard.”
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