Addressing the Future of Manufacturing at WESTEC

Posted By: Greg Surtman, Workforce Development Strategist, Tooling U-SME on December 04, 2019

Addressing the Future of Manufacturing at WESTEC

I was fortunate enough to not only attend WESTEC this year, but also participate as a panelist and moderator, serve as emcee and lead an interactive Knowledge Bar session. WESTEC has been the leading California manufacturing event for over 56 years. More than 8,000 manufacturers from the aerospace, medical, industrial machinery, automotive and fabricated metal industries come together to participate in world-class exhibits, industry-led education sessions, and networking events. The show spanned 91,000 square feet and hosted 425+ exhibiting companies.

Over the three days, I was pleased to personally interact with industry-leading experts and was especially impressed with the line-up of keynote speakers. Both on and off the show floor, the buzz was about advanced technology and its impact on the manufacturing workforce.

Our panel discussed ways to provide career exploration experiences in manufacturing. It is imperative that today’s youth get exposed to the world of manufacturing, especially the new technology, the new environment and the accompanying salaries. Panelists discussed “Innovative Ways to Build Your Workforce Supply Chain” and ways to engage the incoming workforce and provide skilled talent to an industry in need.” The conversations focused on the root causes of why manufacturers are unable to find the talent needed to maintain and grow their business, and the solutions that can address them.

Root Causes

  • The fast pace of new technology – From advanced robotics to artificial intelligence and data science, the new generations, given the opportunity, are poised to embrace these innovations and flourish in this manufacturing work environment, but need exposure to the industry to get started.
  • A retiring population – The “silver tsunami” is in full force, and the new career workforce needs to capture this departing knowledge while integrating their new ideas and flexible workforce lifestyle. Onboarding is the key to engaging this important workforce talent pool.
  • The inability to get our youth engaged in manufacturing careers . – Experiential learning is the way to young people’s psyches. Reaching them in middle school, providing them with industry tours of clean manufacturing environments, exposing the cool factor of robotics, and showing them a full career track rather than just an everyday factory job are ways to get them excited about a future in manufacturing.


Jeffrey Forrest, vice president of economic and workforce development, College of the Canyons (COC), talked about how the Strong Workforce Apprenticeship Group (SWAG) partners with the resources from COC to provide a model for apprenticeships specifically for Southern California. By using market data to identify industry shortages, SWAG and COC are better able to design custom career pathways for apprentices, showing students a direct line to job opportunities and helping potential employees eliminate the guesswork.

Julianna Kirby, director of client services/COO, Training Funding Partners, and Jessica Ku Kim, director of workforce development, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., showed us how Tooling U-SME’s strategic partner AeroFlex created pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs specifically for aerospace manufacturers. Training for an industry that works in complex systems of communication, autonomy, advanced manufacturing processes, robotics and artificial intelligence is exciting to the new tech-savvy individuals.

Don McKinzie, manager of production operations, Northrup Grumman, gave us an employer’s perspective. He found that pre-apprenticeship is a great way to give kids experience and encourage them to show up – which they did! Once McKinzie’s pre-apprenticeship had captured the kids’ attention, their transition to an apprenticeship program proved to be a viable way to meet his workforce needs.

Additional conversations and presentations that led to energized discussions throughout the conference:

  • Leaders from the greater Long Beach area came together to discuss how they could stimulate the local economy by attracting new high-tech manufacturing and providing online tools to increase access to local resources. One interesting approach was to maximize existing city assets, such as abandoned buildings, and use their infrastructure for future sites of new business.
  • The Knowledge Bar gave me an opportunity to lead an intimate discussion on how manufacturing can become more involved in providing career exploration to middle and high school students. The consensus again was youth engagement through experiences, with the most popular being manufacturer-hosted student visits.
  • Brian Beaulieu, CEO and chief economist for ITR Economics presented “The Economic Outlook for Manufacturing through 2023”. He shared insights on the impact of automation on the job supply and the imminent need for a higher skill set. Beaulieu also talked about how college degrees have changed, and how students should make choices centered on industry needs, evaluating whether their degree selections are in demand now and will be in the future.

WESTEC, once again, did not disappoint. With economic and industry leaders providing up-to-date insights, trends in manufacturing and advice on what not to do if you want to sustain in the future, the crowd was energized to move forward and continue to tackle the skills gap with new ideas and creative approaches to workforce challenges.

Tags: AeroFlex, aerospace, apprenticeship, "artificial intelligence", "career exploration", COC, "College of the Canyons", "economic outlook for manufacturing through 2023", "engaging the youth", "future of manufacturing", "Industry 4.0 new technology", pre-apprenticeship, "retiring population", robotics, "Strong Workforce Apprenticeship Group", SWAG, "Tooling U-SME", WESTEC, "workforce supply chain"