Community Colleges and Inland Empire manufacturers build training center to close skills gap
(Photo Credit: California Steel Industries)
The electricians, machinists and mechanics that keep manufacturing moving in California are in short supply and have been for many years. Many of those currently working are “turning gray and there’s no one to replace them,” said Rod Hoover, manager of human resources at California Steel Industries (CSI), the leading producer of flat rolled steel in the Western United States.
For 17 years, Hoover and CSI have worked with area businesses to develop the Manufacturers' Council of the Inland Empire, a consortium of more than 50 companies from the region. Together, they identify the industry’s workforce requirements and collaborate with local community colleges to develop curricula and training for those ready to take on employment in manufacturing or improve their craft skills.
This innovative group joined with California Community Colleges’ Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy and public workforce partners, including the Workforce Investment Boards of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and the California Workforce Services division of the Economic Development Board and others, to invest $2 million to build, staff, and operate the InTech Center (Industrial Technical Learning Center) in Fontana.
The centrally located facility provides a wide range of skills training for those learning or improving a craft. This project is just one of the ways in which the California Community Colleges are responding statewide needs by working with business, industry and other workforce organizations to address the skills gap in California.
The Colleges' Strong Workforce Program is working to implement these types of regional coordination partnerships between industry and colleges, strengthen career pathways, and train more middle-skills workers in growth sectors in each region.
In the Inland Empire, the training offered at InTech prepares workers for jobs in manufacturing, building operations, construction, energy and utilities, facilities management, HVAC, and more. It’s exactly these career opportunities that have a shortage of qualified workers and which can offer a living wage to those willing to get the education. In addition, these kinds of workers help manufacturing companies stay productive and stay put.
“About 25 percent of my workforce is just here to keep the machines operational,” said Hoover of his staff at CSI. A machine shutdown of even a short period of time can cost a company thousands of dollars while repairs are being made. Having skilled workers who can address these issues quickly and safely is vital for manufacturers like CSI. “The more and more technology we have, the more we need highly skilled technicians to take care of the machinery,” Hoover said.
Since February, InTech has awarded 515 students with 1,500 recognized certifications. That means more than 500 local workers now have the hands-on education and skills to meet the growing requirements of Inland Empire manufacturing companies. InTech features both an electrical lab and a mechanical lab with plans for facilities and equipment to teach basic welding and machining. These kinds of skills can’t be taught in a classroom and that’s part of what makes InTech so valuable.
Before InTech, career technical education workers who wanted to improve their skills had to travel to classes offered at inconvenient locations and often inconvenient times for courses that didn’t always align with what employers needed. The custom-designed curriculum that meets prospective and current employer needs is available to trainees from Barstow to San Diego and points East.
But InTech doesn’t just wait for trainees to find them. In an effort to keep the pipeline of students filled, InTech visits community colleges to introduce students to the craft trades and the possibility of earning a solid wage for good, skilled work. Interested students take an aptitude test and have a technical interview before being invited to join the program.
The InTech training center is a key element in preparing new, skilled workers and keeping incumbent workers up-to-date and continually improving their skills. Manufacturers will continue to need the electricians, machinists and mechanics who can “keep us competitive and able to grow our business,” said Hoover.