Manufacturers, educators talk about workforce needs

Area manufacturers met with educators Tuesday morning at the second manufacturing summit meeting at the Elkhart Area Career Center.

Posted on Dec. 5, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 5, 2012 at 5:48 a.m.

ELKHART — Area manufacturers need employees who not only know trades, but can sort through and solve problems and who have basic, common sense approaches to work.

The Elkhart Area Career Center is trying to train not only teens but also adults to meet those needs.

That was the essence of the back-and-forth conversation Tuesday morning at the career center’s second manufacturing summit, an ongoing series of meetings between educators and manufacturers, said Bill Kovach, director of the career center. “It shows there’s an interest in doing it better,” he said.

He hopes the summits will address Elkhart County’s current problem where “we have positions available but we just can’t find people. We have people out there, but they just don’t understand these soft skills.”

During the meeting, Bob Anderson of Conn-Selmer got up and talked about re-working the instrument maker’s processes.

“Get rid of as many process steps as you can, or consolidate them,” he said. “Every process there are six ways to screw things up.”

He pointed out that screwing up isn’t anyone’s goal. “Nobody gets up in the morning wanting to do a bad job. The truth is the opposition is in us, as leaders,” Anderson said.

“If you don’t like where you are, the same thinking that got you there won’t get you out of there,” he said.

Anderson said the ideas weren’t new. “Most of these concepts were developed by us Americans, screwed up by us Americans and adopted by Asians.”

As they’ve worked to re-do how the company operates, he wants to make sure it grows. Anderson also talked about who he wants to hire. “I want to create jobs, not just make money,” he told the group of fellow manufacturers and educators.

He needs people who have problem-solving skills, he needs quality managers who can identify and fix problems, and he needs people with some Six Sigma training and the ability to think about operating with LEAN processes.

Many of the other business people in the room voiced a desire to hire people with so-called “soft skills,” things like showing up for work on time, ready to work, dressing and speaking appropriately and calling in when sick.

Those are skills the career center has been driving into their students for years, said Brenda Emerson of the career center.

Deb Weaver, director of adult education for Elkhart Community Schools, said they’re also rolling out “soft skills” training in all classes, a suggestion made by manufacturers at the initial summit in May.

The school system is also working to improve adult education, allowing participants to add a certification on top of their GED as they work on the GED. They’re rolling out certifications in welding and CNC (computer numerical control) machine operation, as well as certifications in hospitality and certified nursing assistant programs, Weaver said.

“This partnership with manufacturing is turning out great,” she said.

Kovach said, “I think we’re starting to formulate how we get this done to benefit each other.” The career center will hold another manufacturing summit later in the school year, and they also plan to have a manufacturing career day where students can meet with area employers and find out what they need to learn.

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