Capitol Hill Testimony: Advancing Apprenticeships for Small Business

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Chief Workforce Development Officer, SME on March 22, 2018

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce heard from a panel of witnesses on apprenticeship initiatives—specifically, the Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program.

Representing Tooling U-SME, I provided testimony along with three other ardent supporters of workforce development:

  • Tammy Simmons, Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing at Machine Specialties, Inc., in Whitsett, NC.
  • Jeffrey Forrest, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at the College of the Canyons, in Santa Clarita, CA. (Revisit our post on SWAG)
  • Jeff Mazur, Executive Director of LaunchCode, in St. Louis, MO.

It was a privilege to have the opportunity to discuss the impact of the skills gap on manufacturers and share how small businesses are often experiencing extreme challenges to the operation and growth of their organizations, which ultimately threatens our economic progress as an industry and nation.

“The Small Business Committee has heard many accounts of the skills gap and its detrimental impact on small businesses and the American economy,” said Subcommittee Chairman Steve Knight (R-CA). “To combat this issue, Americans need an arsenal of workforce development strategies that balance the immediate needs of employers, long-term career goals of employees, and the rapid evolution of technology.”

We couldn’t agree more. Since the workforce and skills gap challenge runs deep, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for small businesses. Rather, these manufacturers need several accessible, interwoven options, so they can address various needs as they arise and evolve.

This should include apprenticeship, a positive solution with a measurable return on investment. As we have written about before, Tooling U-SME supports nationwide Department of Labor apprenticeship programs with a competency-based approach to traditional apprenticeship models.

By establishing apprenticeship programs around industry-wide standards, U.S. employers who sponsor such programs can more quickly build a pipeline of skilled workers, boost retention, reduce recruiting costs and improve productivity. These are good jobs with good wages and benefits.

One example I presented was the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, known as MACNY, which represents more than 300 manufacturers and business organizations across Central and Upstate New York. These small- to mid-sized companies share the same challenge as bigger companies — a rapidly retiring workforce. But unlike bigger companies, they often don’t have the resources, time and money to start their own training program and address their workforce needs.

This consortium partnered with Tooling U-SME to define the standards of apprenticeship for its program, and to deploy training and measurement tools to both develop and assess apprentices. Tooling U-SME facilitated multiple workshops with MACNY stakeholders and representative employers to finalize the knowledge and skill requirements of each occupation.

In addition, Tooling U-SME designed a pre-apprenticeship program to help provide companies that were not quite ready for a full apprenticeship with an alternative to begin their workforce education and fill their pipelines. This program is focusing on high school students, dislocated workers and veterans.

Apprenticeships also help companies and employees in jobs historically not associated with these programs such as additive manufacturing or engineering level jobs. For instance, recently the South Bay Workforce Investment Board and the Aero-Flex Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee announced the successful registration of the first Aerospace Engineering Apprenticeship occupation in the U.S. Tooling U-SME is the sponsor of this new national learning program which will help attract and open more doors for individuals who want to pursue careers in aerospace engineering.

We believe that training and professional development is the key to the future success of manufacturing. Additionally, we believe that forward-thinking organizations like MACNY, as well as technical schools and community colleges are our critical partners in this effort.

The health of small businesses is vital to manufacturing’s success. The largest OEMs in the world rely on the supply chain of small businesses. All too often, we are hearing of small businesses turning down orders or delaying expansion because they don’t have the right talent in place. Apprenticeships are a proven and needed piece of a company’s workforce strategy to combat the skills gap.

At Tooling U-SME, all of us appreciate the Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce taking the time to better understand the important role apprenticeship plays as part of a strategic and multi-pronged attack on the skills gap.

You can watch the full hearing here:

Tags: "Aero-Flex Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee", "Aerospace Engineering Apprenticeship", apprentice, "College of the Canyons", "Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Program", "House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce", "Jeff Mazur", "Jeffrey Forrest", LaunchCode, "Machine Specialties", MACNY, "Manufacturers Association of Central New York", "South Bay Workforce Investment Board", "Tammy Simmons", "Tooling U-SME", "workforce development"