“In today’s economy, where 62 percent of executives believe they will need to retrain more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2030, upskilling has taken on a new urgency,” said Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce.
If you ask around, not a lot of people know what an industrial maintenance technician does for a living. They would not know that it is a difficult-to-fill position and requires a specialized certification. In addition, many would be completely unaware that a popular consumer-facing company, such as Frito-Lay, is facing a shortage of skilled industrial maintenance technicians.
Consider Frito-Lay’s Perry Plant in Georgia, where 300 million pounds of snacks are processed annually. The factory requires a 24-hour crew of industrial maintenance technicians to keep its 15 production lines running. Yet there is a shortage of skilled professionals with the technical education who can fill this role. That is why Frito-Lay began creating training programs with San Joaquin Valley College to not only help fill those positions, but also to show their current employees that they believe in a long-term approach to retaining them by investing in their education.
SJVC has already developed an Industrial Maintenance Technology program, which provides hands-on training with industrial systems where students can learn how to install, diagnose, operate and maintain a variety of equipment required for the operation of modern industrial facilities. Students can earn a certificate of completion in approximately seven months or an associate of science degree in approximately 14 months, fast-tracking their education so they can qualify to work in an environment such as Frito-Lay’s Perry Plant.
Leveraging existing programs at colleges can be vital to a company’s growth and improving employee retention. In fact, the Employee Training and Development Program at SJVC was specifically created to address the growing need for employers to invest in their employees and fulfill in-demand positions. By collaborating with SJVC to create their own customized IMT program, Frito-Lay was able to take advantage of its resources and establish a curriculum that helps to recruit — and retain — the talent they need to fill vacant positions. These students were able to study and master the basic principles, applications and functions of everything from hydraulic systems to power transmissions.
Frito-Lay is not alone in trying to fill the employment gap for industrial maintenance technicians. Which is why collaborating with colleges to create occupational pipelines is vital to building and maintaining a skilled workforce. And it’s not the only part that education providers can play in helping to maintain and develop an employer’s workforce.
How Colleges Help Secure Funding for Training Programs
The Employment Training Panel was created in 1982 by the California State Legislature and is funded by California employers through a special payroll tax. The ETP has a multilateral governing structure, which appoints various members representing business, unions and state government. The ETP is a funding agency, not a training agency, which is why businesses will still need to work with colleges to determine their own educational needs and how to provide training. The California ETP program specifically “helps to ensure that California businesses will have the skilled workers they need to remain competitive, as employers must be able to effectively train workers in response to changing business and industry needs.”
The ETP provides funding to employers to assist in upgrading the skills of their workers through training that leads to good paying, long-term jobs. As part of this there are several different options, such as funding for different employees to increase their skill sets, as well as funding for training new employees they just hired but who lack the skills necessary to advance into front-line positions. Industries the ETP is interested in providing funding for typically include:
- Allied healthcare
- Biotechnology and life sciences
- Goods movement and transportation logistics
- Green/clean technology
- Information technology services
- Manufacturing/food production
- Technical services
The ETP is interested in supporting employers that are adding jobs to these industries and helping to stabilize their markets. This includes companies such as Setton Farms and is a reason why career-focused colleges with a skills-based approach to education can play a major role in helping them secure funding.
Consider the work that Setton Farms has done with SJVC to secure ETP funding. Branded as “America’s Favorite Pistachio,” Setton Farms is one of the largest pistachio growers and an industry leader in harvesting, processing and packaging pistachios. It is a family-owned company specializing in the manufacturing of pistachio products, which employs hundreds of manufacturing and food processing professionals. These skilled trade positions are often in high demand, which is why Setton decided to partner with SJVC to not only secure ETP funding, but also manage the agreement and customize classes to their specific employment needs.
As part of the partnership, SJVC wrote and submitted the agreement for ETP funding. By outsourcing this work, Setton was able to stay focused on their daily operations and save costs from having to allocate time and resources. SJVC helped to manage the entire project, which included tracking everything from hours to the number of students included in the program. The college also assisted with filling out the paperwork, sending it in to ETP, and making sure the courses were carried out within the contractual timeline.
In addition to creating a customized curriculum, SJVC provided training for soft skills such as leadership, business management, and interpersonal skills that go beyond learning how to be a maintenance technician, hydraulic technician, machine operator or plant electrician. This was developed as part of an ongoing process to provide the supplementary skills their employees would need to further advance their careers and add value to the overall workforce.
Why Training Programs are Key to Gaining a Competitive Edge
According to Axonify’s 2018 study, “State of Workplace Training,” only 31 percent of the U.S. workforce receives formal job training. Job training is an important way to both attract and retain employees, though it is alarming to see that more companies aren’t embracing new approaches to learning as part of their overall strategy. Not providing a continued education to employees is a mistake as the right kind of formal workplace training can positively impact their engagement, giving the employer a competitive edge with a more productive workforce.
And despite the positive growth outlook many industries face, more and more organizations are confronted with endless recruitment challenges. Collaborating with educational institutions to train existing employees, recruit hard-to-fill positions, and improve the skills of new hires is crucial to the survival and success of today’s employers, particularly in trade industries already facing an employment gap.
Workforce development may begin with recruitment, but it continues throughout the employee lifecycle as more employers are appreciating the value of investing in their employees. A robust training program will show their employees that they are valued members of the organization, which will improve their engagement and performance expectations.
Educational institutions understand the need for companies to gain a competitive edge with the power of a strong training-based retention program. That is why more employers should consider partnering with those institutions to implement formal job training programs as a way to both attract and retain employees for gaining a key advantage over the competition.