CEO hypes jobs in manufacturing

October 15, 2012

From “Q & A Lindquist Machine Corp. CEO hypes jobs in manufacturing” — ASHWAUBENON — Each week, the Green Bay Press-Gazette talks to business leaders about their industries, the economy and other business issues.

Today, Mark Kaiser, president and CEO of Lindquist Machine Corp. and chairman of the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, talks about the alliance’s efforts to increase interest in manufacturing careers.

Q. Is NEW Manufacturing Alliance making progress in it efforts to promote manufacturing careers?

A. The Alliance has found an increased interest from K-12 in promoting manufacturing careers. The Green Bay and Howard-Suamico school districts worked with the Alliance this past year in having more than 100 educators tour manufacturing plants. Dialogue centered on understanding what a 21st century manufacturing company looks like compared to past stereotypes.

We heard comments from educators who taught math, science and social studies that they had no idea of the extent technology is used in manufacturing, and the clean, organized, well-lighted environment people work in.

This is one example of the Alliance’s efforts to develop relationships with educators to help them understand the opportunities available to students.

Q. The Manufacturing/Education Partnership Awards kickoff event seemed a success. What was your view of it and where does it go from here?

A. The dinner is another example of showcasing these careers to educators. The Alliance invited educators from throughout the region. There was time to network — another opportunity to build the relationships between educators and manufacturers. In addition, the event spotlighted education best practices, showcasing Brillion High School, where a significant number of students enroll in a tech-ed classes.

The primary goal of the event was to bring manufacturers and educators together to develop professional relationships. Manufacturers in the past have worked in “silos” and have not been engaged with our local schools. That is a mistake that the Alliance is attempting to change.

The awards spotlighted the 2013 All-Stars, who are the best and brightest manufacturing employees in the region between the ages of 18 and 35. The winners love their jobs, are proud of their work, and are examples for educators to see that these careers are rewarding.

We are hearing that local tech colleges are seeing increased enrollment in manufacturing-related courses, compared with other industry sectors. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, for example, had to add second-shift machining classes to meet the demand.

There are so many examples of great partnerships between manufacturers and educators that we can learn from. This event provided a vehicle to encourage those in attendance that are not engaged to become engaged with their local school district.

Next year, we plan to continue to spotlight best practices and have time in the program for further relationship development.

Q. Manufacturing employers have been concerned about lack of skilled workers for several years. Is that situation improving?

A. I believe that our message is getting out regarding the skills shortage; we see this at a local, state and national level.

This is the first step in solving the problem. The media has had numerous stories on the skills shortage. The public — and government — are starting to understand that there is a disconnect between people seeking employment and the jobs available.

Job seekers need to be retrained to have the skills required by industry. Technology and innovation will continue to rapidly advance, driving the skills gap as we move forward. The best way to continuously narrow the skills gap is for our region to adopt a ‘life-long learning’ strategy for all: students and workers, even when they are employed.

Many companies offer tuition reimbursement, however, not enough employees utilize this employer benefit.

The Alliance will be conducting the third annual Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Vitality Index study in November 2012. One of the questions asked is “are you anticipating having difficulty finding people to fill your open jobs?” In the 2011 study, 29 percent of companies replied “yes” and the 2012 study had 45 percent replying “yes.”

The next study will be released in December and we are very interested to see what the results will show. This will give us some indication if we are making progress.

Q. What are the skills most in need and what are employers doing to improve that situation?

A. Technical skills are extremely important, but we are hearing from employers a real need exists for soft skills.

The Alliance commissioned a study by UW-Oshkosh’s Business Success Center to better understand the skill gaps of the current production work force. The study found five main gaps: conflict resolution, problem solving/critical thinking, computer skills, leadership and working in an effective team.

Note that only one of the five is a technical skill.

The Alliance has been working with member manufacturers and Lakeshore Technical College in developing a Leadership Academy for front-line production workers addressing these specific skills. The six-month program — a pilot will begin in January — will bring employees from a variety of companies to work together on these skills.

The Alliance membership employs 30 percent of the work force in Northeastern Wisconsin. We believe that improving the soft skills of our members’ production workers will have a significant positive impact on our region’s workforce, which will make our companies more productive, competitive, and successful.

Q. This is Manufacturing Month. Why is manufacturing important to Wisconsin and the United States?

A. Number one is jobs. There has been a lot of discussion during the election season regarding jobs. Twenty-three percent of all of the jobs in Northeastern Wisconsin are manufacturing – one of the highest percentages in the country for a specific region.

Manufacturing jobs and companies provide a strong tax base that directly impacts schools and government, helping provide the financial resources they need. More importantly, these jobs are good-paying jobs with great benefits. Wages/benefits in manufacturing are in the top three for all industry sectors in each county of Northeastern Wisconsin.

Our country needs to have strong manufacturing to ensure we are not overly reliant on other countries for many (not all) of the items we consume in this country. We have experienced firsthand the problems associated with importing large quantities of oil from other countries. Most people don’t know that the United States is still the largest manufacturer in the world. Manufacturing has been a large part of providing our high standard of living as compared to other countries.


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