Got Skill?

Part one of a three-part series by Colleen DeJong. ERP outsourcing is currently gaining a tremendous momentum in industry because it frees up the intellectual capital of a company's senior management and Information Technology department, while ensuring the strategic goal of keeping the ERP system up and running.

"Brain Has Replaced Brawn"

This simple statement—according to GM's chief executive, Jack Smith—sums up the state of the industry's workforce at this moment. Speaking at the May 17 gathering of the National Skills Standards Board (NSSB; Washington, DC), Smith went on to point out that as the auto world becomes leaner and meaner, the workforce must have the knowledge and ability to become smarter and more capable to deal with it. As it stands now, the world's pool of labor is under-manned and under-educated. And the U.S. is no exception.

There aren't enough people to fill available jobs as it is, and there has been no incentive or outlet for those current personnel to improve proficiency. The auto industry does not have exclusive rights to this problem. It affects the manufacturing industry in total, as well as the retail and service arms of the American economy (just to name a few).

Cyber Tools

www.msscusa.org — Pretty basic site tells you everything you need to know, including the MSSC's goals, basic plan of action, and progress so far. What more do you need, right? How about contact information if you want to get involved? It's all in there.

www.nssb.org— Official site of the NSSB. It includes a comprehensive outline of the organization's goals, initiatives, and to-date progress. One of the cornerstones of this site is a clearing house of pertinent literature spanning several industries. There's also an extensive list of related sites. It's a great place to start looking for any programs and/or systems of skills testing that may be out there already.

www.aacc.nche.edu— The American Association of Community Colleges website is a great place to start looking for local training resources of your own (never hurts to be ahead of the crowd). There's even a community college finder which searches out colleges by state. Another great resource on this page is the initiative section, which has general information about several on-going workforce education enterprises the AACC sponsors.

Acknowledging this nationwide, multi-industry lack of skilled personnel, Congress passed the National Skill Standards Act in 1994 to authorize a non-partisan body charged with instigating a network of voluntary programs of standardized skills development and evaluation. From this stemmed the NSSB, which is charged with the task of achieving the act's ultimate goal of a unified system of recruiting, training, and evaluating the American labor force.

The automotive industry jumped in with both feet, establishing an action group to create a skill assessment program for the manufacturing, installation, and repair arms of the automotive industry. This group, the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC), was founded last year. An aggressive group consisting of representatives from both OEMs and suppliers, it announced earlier this year plans to get everyone on the same page of the training manual by the end of this year.

To do so, the group has initiated the following plan of action:

Round I—Identify critical functions and key activities of today's manufacturing workplace. This was completed in May and June. Those key functions are as follows:

  • Manufacturing Production Process Development
  • Production
  • Logistics & Inventory Control
  • Maintenance, Installation and Repair
  • Production Quality Assurance
  • Health, Safety and Environmental Assurance

Round II—Identify a method of assessing when work is being done well. This task is being completed right now.

Round III—Based on knowledge gained from rounds one and two, develop the specific elements of the standards. To be completed in August.

  • Introduction of validated standards will begin this fall.

Union Support

Standards training and testing entity is the support and involvement of key union organizations. Present at the NSSB meeting in May was AFL-CIO representative Paul F. Cole. He indicated that the unions see great promise in such a program. First, he said, it gives "the guy who dropped out of the 10th grade in 1968 to work in the same plant as his dad," an opportunity to upgrade his skills, boosting both "employability" as well as a sense of self-worth.

Really?
On the average, 26-year old precision machinists/toolmakers* make $10,000** more annually than their front-office counterparts with business degrees.—National Tooling & Manufacturing Association

*No tie required
**Includes base pay plus overtime.

Also, as young people join the labor force, there will be a clearly defined method of training them and keeping them trained.

Lastly, he says, skills certification means that as different sectors of the manufacturing industry ebb and flow, it will be easier to keep skilled labor working, moving from industry to industry like the journeymen of previous eras. "No economic sector booms forever," said Cole. "And laid-off workers able to knock on another factory's door with a piece of paper saying they can do the job is like money in the bank."

The Big Picture

As these organizations gear up to put a skills qualification system into place, it's easy to get lost in the specifics of who needs to know what to do which thing. What's more important, though, is that a knowledgeable workforce will be able to more efficiently use the tools at hand, and more quickly implement new technologies and processes as they are introduced. Such a well-educated group may even put the U.S. back on top of that workforce totem pole. You know, where we used to be…