Yes Virginia, U.S. Manufacturing Is Alive and Well
During a recent press tour with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, MMS Editor Emily Tudor got to see what the state was doing to strengthen manufacturing and train the next generation of skilled workers.
The state of Virginia is doing something right. Attracting and keeping viable manufacturing operations is a priority for the state as is evident from some of the facilities I visited during a recent press tour with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. In fact, the week after I visited the Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility in Prince George County, President Obama travelled to the facility and outlined his proposed National Manufacturing Innovation Network. We’re not exactly talking small potatoes now, are we? Manufacturing has fought its way into the news as a major mover and shaker of the U.S. economy, but with the lack of skilled employees, it seems the industry could be on shaky ground.
Here are some ways that facilities, schools and programs within the state are moving manufacturing in a more stable direction:
- Educating the future workforce at technical community colleges. John Tyler Community College (JTCC) works hard to teach students the skills they need to thrive in the manufacturing workforce. They have advisory councils that closely monitor the curriculum and make changes to meet industry and specific company needs. In fact, the college met with Rolls-Royce to show the curriculum they were teaching students. With Rolls-Royce’s help, the school was able to tweak their program to teach what students need to join their particular workforce. The college says that some of their first program graduates are working at Rolls-Royce today.
- Bridging the gap between universities and manufacturing facilities. The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) enables industry members to support direct and generic R&D initiatives at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Organizing industry members include Canon, Chromalloy, Newport News Shipbuilding, Rolls-Royce, Sandvik, Siemens and Sulzer Metco. CCAM will focus on two areas of advanced manufacturing research: manufacturing systems and surface engineering. As an added benefit, the companies learn who some of the best students are, which can help them find talented employees down the road.
- Employing traditional methods of teaching manufacturing skills through apprentice programs. Newport News Shipbuilding is the largest industrial employer in the state of Virginia with more than 20,000 employees. Of these employees, more than 2,800 are Apprentice School graduates. Over the last three years, the school has received almost 10,000 applications; however, about 200 students are accepted into the school each year. Newport News Shipbuilding, the City of Newport News and the Commonwealth of Virginia have partnered to build a new $70 million apprentice school campus that is scheduled for completion in 2013.
These three actions are not a panacea that will stop an aging workforce from retiring or fix the entire U.S. economy. But perhaps approaching these issues from multiple directions is the best solution. Virginia has proven that this can work. The state has become a virtual hotbed of advanced manufacturing and innovation. If we open as many routes of entry into the manufacturing industry as possible, we just might find the talent, innovation and creativity to light a spark in the future generations and keep manufacturing strong for years to come.