The Make It In America Agenda is Working At Altec
DIXON, CA – At his semi-annual Manufacturing Advisory Committee meeting at Altec Industries in Dixon, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, Davis, Yuba City, CA) noted that just four years ago, he attended its ribbon cutting and that today, Altec has created over 200 jobs. Altec displays the best in American businesses, using advanced technology to manufacture green vehicles. For example, PG&E, California’s largest utility, is addressing the climate change challenge with green technology in its boom trucks manufactured at Altec.
“It’s about building the American manufacturing sector – all the pieces of the puzzle. For example, Altec has learned how to merge green technology and put it in a heavy duty vehicle. It’s this type of innovation that will keep American manufacturing competitive in the 21st century. This is how we Make It In America,” Garamendi said.
Garamendi put forth a plan to gather specific job openings and skill requirements from all the participants so that a critical mass of skillsets can be created and addressed by community colleges and other employment preparation programs, thus meeting the requirements of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Following introductions by Congressman Garamendi and representatives from Altec, the conversation largely focused on a key concern of all the participants: the necessity to find and keep skilled workers. Overcoming these challenges is a critical component of the Congressman’s Make It In America agenda. More than three dozen community leaders participated in the discussion.
“I’ve noticed a constant theme in all our Manufacturing Advisory Committee meetings: how do you find the skilled workers you need to create a quality product, expand your businesses, and bring your products to market,” he added. “It’s my hope that this opportunity to collaborate and discuss best practices will benefit manufacturers throughout our region. How can we connect your needs as an employer to other employers to build the critical mass necessary to expand the qualified labor pool?”
Following opening remarks by representatives from Altec and Congressman Garamendi, Trish Kelly with Valley Vision, a non-profit focused on economic development in the Central Valley, discussed their Capital Region Cluster Workforce Action Plan. It focuses on assessing occupational demand in the Sacramento Valley, identifying critical skills gaps in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, clean energy, education, information and communication technologies, and life sciences. Their work is trying to connect more than 300 businesses, institutions of higher learning, non-profits, and other organizations relevant to regional job creation.
In advanced manufacturing, they found that mechanical engineers, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers, electrical engineers, front-line supervisors of production and operation workers, and machinists are the most in demand positions.
In agriculture, they found a shortage of qualified food scientists, control processing technicians, and mechanics. There is also insufficient STEM-track education with a focus on agriculture.
Following Valley Vision’s presentation, Audrey Taylor with the North State Grow Manufacturing Initiative discussed what her organization is doing to help manufacturers in the North State. She noted that manufacturers contribute more to the economy per employee than any other sector, making it very important for the region to attract and retain businesses in the sector. Their mission is three-fold: inspire 21st century workforce by supporting schools and building student awareness, build government relations, and create strong manufacturing networks, to “be a voice of manufacturing.”
Taylor noted that most kids today are comfortable with and knowledgeable of technology, but most don’t make the connection that they can utilize these skills to pursue a rewarding career in manufacturing.
One major goal they have, given the large rural pockets that encompass the North State, is a “mobile makerspace” that would be able to reach rural schools and employment agencies for work-based certificates and skills training.
These presentations served as the springboard to a group conversation among the Manufacturing Advisory Committee members. Highlights of the conversation included:
· A representative from a major beverage manufacturer noted that due to a recent expansion, they currently have 20 openings and $2 million in unfulfilled wages. They have recruited workers from as far north as Oregon to find qualified talent.
· A local liquid filtration system company representative noted a problem his company faces is retaining talent. It’s hard to recruit people from Solano County, he said, and when they find qualified people elsewhere, their lack of longstanding roots in the community can lead to turnover that is disruptive to business.
· A vocational education instructor at a community college noted that they are partnering with four local high schools to offer direct training in welding and fabrication.
· A representative from an organization trying to help manufacturers noted that more community colleges would follow this example if provided encouragement by local manufacturers.
· A representative from a large advanced manufacturer encouraged creativity when appealing to students, since many of the best potential employees may not find a college track appealing but can fall in love with an active manufacturing floor.
· A representative from a skilled labor union urged businesses to be more proactive at the high school level, to remind teachers that some students are not a good fit for college but can find inspiration with hands-on vocational education.