A recent column by Joe Nocera in the New York Times described his encounter with the president of Year Up – an organization that works with impoverished high school students to provide them with job skills and experience. Mr. Nocera learned that Year Up graduates gain marketable skills, college credit, job experience, self-confidence, and a professional network when they are enrolled in the program. While they are with Year Up, the students must also be enrolled in a community college. Most Year Up participants do their internships with financial, healthcare, technology or retail service-oriented institutions, and end up staying on as employees once the internship is completed. No manufacturers were on the list of business partners, as Year Up does not provide students with the technical skills manufacturers require.
But I can’t help thinking that of those 100+ Year Up business partners, small manufacturers could really benefit from the “try it out” model that Year Up represents. While many MEP centers have partnerships with education institutions, only a small fraction of U.S. manufacturers really participate in an internship or apprenticeship model. One MEP center that does offer something like Year Up is the Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center (NEPIRC).
NEPIRC recently added a staff member as a youth apprentice program coordinator to be a liaison between the manufacturing industry, high schools and high school students, and to create, administer and staff youth apprentice positions for regional manufacturers. This program will become part of a continuing collaborative effort between NEPIRC and the Northern Tier Industry & Education Consortium (NTIEC). NTIEC’s successful youth apprentice, job shadowing, educator-in-the-workplace programs will be replicated by NEPIRC throughout its region in the northern tier of Pennsylvania.
At a national level, the U.S. Department of Labor’s apprenticeship program is a combination of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction in which individuals learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs are sponsored by joint employer and labor groups, individual employers, and/or employer associations. Apprenticeship programs and apprentices have been registered in 23 states.
On the private sector side, SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit that helps teachers prepare high school and college students for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations. With programs and conferences across the country, SkillsUSA is a great resource for the temporary employment of young people in manufacturing jobs.
So, there are Year Up-type resources available to SMEs, but for some reason, even in the midst of our national skills gap dilemma, manufacturers are going wanting. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness that manufacturing “try it on programs” are out there. But one thing is for sure, there are some really great opportunities for young adults today to get the skills and experience they’ll need to be valuable manufacturing employees. It’s never too early to try on a career or to let someone who’s experienced help adjust the fit.