Happy manufacturing day! The last few days have been a whirlwind in Owensboro, Kentucky learning about innovative manufacturing education programs as part of JFF’s NSF-funded Jobs to Manufacturing Careers initiative. JFF joined a film crew from WGBH and VOX Television, along with our third-party evaluator Education Development Center, to capture each step in the process used by Owensboro Community and Technical College (OCTC) to design and deliver high-quality, work-based manufacturing education in partnership with local manufacturers. College leadership, faculty members, workers enrolled in work-based courses, their supervisors and learning mentors, and employer champions, shared their thoughts about what it takes to successfully transform existing manufacturing courses into ones where competencies are taught not only at the college but also on the job. Some key lessons include:
- OCTC has built strong relationships with companies based on their ability to be flexible and responsive to employer needs. The college understands what manufacturers are looking for because many of their faculty members came to OCTC after a career in industry. In addition, the college leadership is strongly committed to adapting educational delivery to meet changing economic needs in real time.
- Participating companies are eager to train their new and incumbent workers because they face a current talent shortage or recognize that it is right around the corner as their workers retire. They know that investing in new models of manufacturing education and training can deepen and accelerate the upskilling of their workforce. Several employers noted that this program is a great way to boost worker morale and retention.
- Starting up a work-based course or series of courses requires an intensive investment of upfront time for collaboration. Usually, this includes the college and employers engaging in a series of meetings to align competencies required on the job with course content and to develop a shared delivery plan.
- The first iteration of a new innovative program such as work-based courses will not be the final version. Start by establishing the model’s effectiveness with employers, and then the program can evolve and grow. Work-based courses have already been adapted in multiple ways. One company, Aleris, has stacked these courses into a long-term helper program where incumbent workers are transferred into the maintenance department. Other companies, including Omico and Kimberly Clark, joined a broader consortium that places new workers in companies while they earned a work-based Associate’s s degree.
At the core of the model, supervisors or other expert employees serve as mentors to help participating worker-students learn on the job. The most successful supervisors in this role have a personality that is open to being an instructor, are invested in the success of their co-workers, and see it as part of their job to facilitate learning. Companies can support these supervisors by selecting people who are best suited to the role, implementing flexible team assignments that allow the supervisor the time they need to provide instruction to trainees, or recognizing this mentorship role in formal work evaluations as a performance expectation. OCTC has also supported supervisor success informally and formally, and are now working to provide adjunct faculty wages for the learning mentors.
The value of this program is clear when looking at how it has already impacted participating students. After almost 10 years on the janitorial staff of a major manufacturer, Diana has been able to put her Industrial Maintenance diploma to use. Upon being accepted into her company’s work-based course program with OCTC, she received a raise and was transferred to the maintenance department. As she completes a series of work-based courses, she will advance in the company to become a permanent industrial maintenance technician.
Participating in GO FAME, an 18-month version of the program that stacks work-based courses into an Associate’s degree paired with concurrent employment as a manufacturing technician, Tyler is proud that the program “has changed my life.” Rather than settling for employment in a field that doesn’t interest him, work-based courses have given him a pathway not only to an Associate’s degree, but also towards his twin goals of earning a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and pursuing a lifelong career in manufacturing.
Photograph shows Owensboro Community and Technical College during filming for WGBH and VOX Television.