Workforce

Workforce

Primary Goals: NAM Hits the Road in 2024

a group of people standing in front of a building

As candidates look to claim the support of manufacturers in 2024, the NAM launched its year-long 2024 Competing to Win Tour in South Carolina, days ahead of the South Carolina GOP primary.

  • The tour spotlights the issues critical to winning not just manufacturers’ votes but also more manufacturing in the U.S.

Why it’s important: “We came to South Carolina to showcase the people and stories behind our industry and to translate their perspectives into action that will make our industry and country stronger,” said Johnson & Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Operations & Risk Officer and NAM Board Chair Kathy Wengel, who joined NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Morgan and South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance President and CEO Sara Hazzard on the first day of the tour.

  • “Building these strong relationships beyond Washington, D.C., in the cities and states driving our sector deepens our understanding of regional challenges and reinforces the NAM as the leading voice representing all manufacturers, large and small,” Wengel added.

The launch: The tour began at Milliken & Company’s headquarters in Spartanburg on Wednesday, a poignant reminder of the importance of just one global technology-based manufacturer to lives, innovation and progress.

a group of people standing in a room

  • The company’s 3,200 associates in the Palmetto State, as well as its broader U.S. and global team, make everything from safety gear and wound dressings and bandages to eco-conscious materials and technological innovations, such as digital printing, flooring, sustainable coating additives and more.
  • “The average person touches about 30 to 50 [Milliken products] a day,” said Milliken President and CEO Halsey Cook.
  • “Milliken embodies what we believe: manufacturing makes a positive difference. Their commitment to sustainability, ethics (named a World’s Most Ethical Company 17 years running) and a people-first workplace create a ripple effect,” said Timmons. “It’s why we need everyone supporting the success of manufacturers in South Carolina and the United States—to empower companies just like Milliken and help us grow more of them right here in America,” Morgan emphasized.
  • “Milliken is a remarkable brand ambassador for the entire manufacturing industry in the United States,” summed up NAM Managing Vice President of Brand Strategy Chrys Kefalas. “As Michael Brown, Milliken’s executive vice president of operations, conveyed to us, the company is showing that digital transformation and artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping its people leverage data analytics, for example, accelerating innovation and making modern manufacturing even more exciting for the next generation to be a part of.”

A boom story: Springs Creative Products Group CEO Derick Close, who heads several small enterprises in South Carolina, brought the NAM tour to Fort Lawn, South Carolina, where state-private partnerships and sound competitiveness policies have led to a boom in manufacturing investment and jobs.

  • According to Close, recent investments in the community exceed $2.5 billion and stand to add 1,500 new jobs.
  • Close, who is an economic development champion for South Carolina, took time to brief the group on how the area is ground zero as well in the story of the revival—and revolution—happening for the U.S. textile manufacturing sector, showing that U.S.-based textile manufacturers can compete against the rest of the world at quality, speed and price, so long as misguided policies don’t impede current advances. Springs Creative’s digital printing facility, which the NAM toured, is just one example. Springs Creative produces fabrics for such companies as Disney, Tempur-Pedic and Walmart.
  • An added highlight of Close’s showcase was a tour of the new 1.5-million-square-foot, $423 million E. & J. Gallo wine and spirits production and distribution center—a testament to U.S. ingenuity and the more than 275 jobs it’s already created (with more on the way) to produce the best-selling spirit in the U.S. 

The message: The discussions at Milliken and Springs Creative focused on the need for policies that support manufacturing’s growth, from R&D incentives and competitive taxes to sensible regulations, resilient supply chains and permitting reform, to workforce development, including immigration reform, and energy policy.

The platforms: As newsrooms dwindle, the NAM is stepping into the breach, using its platforms, like NAM.org, social media and its email newsletters, including Input, to amplify manufacturing’s narrative. It’s a bid to ensure that as policymakers and candidates court manufacturers, they’re armed with real stories and concrete policy needs from the ground.

Looking ahead: The tour will continue across the United States, gathering insights and stories to bolster the NAM’s advocacy efforts. Next up: the Competing to Win Tour brings the NAM State of Manufacturing Address to Roseville, Michigan, as well as to Sanders Chocolate and Triumph Gear Systems in Macomb County on Thursday.

Workforce

Can a Factory Offer Flexible Work Schedules?

Manufacturing operations are meticulously scheduled and dependent on consistent in-person labor—so how can employers in the sector give workers the flexibility that many want?

With competition for workers remaining fierce, it’s a question that the Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate) has started to tackle. Now, manufacturers looking into providing flexible options can consult a new MI whitepaper that draws on real companies’ experiences and decision-making processes. 

The new reality: Flexibility is a high priority for workers nowadays, as the MI’s own research shows.

  • “Nearly 50% of manufacturing employees cite flexibility as a reason they stay with their employer, with 63.5% reporting that they would look for more flexibility in their next role if they were to leave their current company.”

Figuring it out: So how are manufacturers adjusting? According to a working group of 17 companies convened by the MI, many manufacturers have started by surveying their workers and talking through options with them.

  • While feedback from current employees is often a prime motivator for companies considering flexible work arrangements, some manufacturers also pursue them to attract a wider pool of prospective workers—including parents of young children, who may put a premium on flexibility.

What’s on offer: As feedback from the working group showed, manufacturers are considering a wide range of creative options. The whitepaper cites several intriguing examples, which should give other manufacturers ideas for their own operations.

  • One manufacturer in the group was trying out different shift options, remarking that they’re “exploring 4–9s and 4–10s primarily as well as adding a Sunday second shift and having folks on rotating shifts.”
  • Other companies organized teams of “floaters.” At one firm, these employees work limited hours on different shifts and acquire a large variety of skills. While not full-time, such positions offer a viable option for workers in search of considerable flexibility.
  • Shift swapping was another option under discussion, with one company allowing workers to swap up to a week at a time, so long as a supervisor approved.

How to get started: Check out the full whitepaper for more useful tips, including a toolkit to help companies start making these complex decisions on their own.

  • Here is the recommended first step: “Identify the objectives that your company hopes to achieve in providing workplace flexibility by focusing on the challenges that you would like to solve, whether it’s increasing the number of applicants or reducing turnover and absenteeism. Establish your baseline by evaluating your company’s status on these metrics.”
  • Manufacturing employers can learn more about effective approaches to flexibility for production employees at the MI’s upcoming workshop March 19–20 in Washington, D.C. Check out more details from the MI here. 

The last word: As one working group participant said, “At our company, we’ve seen what workplace flexibility means for our production workers. The change in company culture is so valuable.” 

Workforce

How Pioneer Service Solves the Retention Puzzle

a couple of people that are standing in front of a building

For Pioneer Service President and Co-Owner Aneesa Muthana, having an engaged team is the key to solving the workforce retention puzzle. The Addison, Illinois–based, woman-owned company is among the many manufacturers that find retention, along with recruitment, to be top business challenges, as the NAM’s Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey shows. So how has Muthana gone about building such a team?

Where it all starts: For Muthana, meeting this challenge begins with upholding the company’s core values: integrity, diversity, leadership, outreach, stewardship, quality and learning.

  • These words appear on the shop floor, and every job candidate who comes in for an interview receives a handout outlining their importance. “These are more than just pretty words on a wall,” said Muthana. “We chose these values as a team because they pinpoint our path to success, both financially and ethically.”
  • “I give them a copy because I want them to understand the importance from the beginning,” said Muthana. “We want to plant the seed before they’re on our payroll that these are the expectations. Then it becomes fair to hold people accountable to them.”

Providing training opportunities: In keeping with its core values of stewardship and learning, Pioneer Service offers internal training opportunities for employees who express an interest.

  • “We offer training to anyone who raises their hand, whether it be in safety or leadership,” said Muthana. “It can also be very technical training on the shop floor. We also provide GD&T training, including for our sales team.”
  • GD&T, or geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, determines how parts fit together into an assembly to form a product.
  • The benefit of having a salesperson learn about GD&T? “A salesperson would be able to look at a customer print confidently and feel comfortable talking to the customer without needing to have an engineer in the room,” Muthana pointed out.

Offering support: Pioneer Service established a chaplaincy program, which connects employees and their families undergoing hardships—such as caring for an elderly parent, grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a personal struggle—with a chaplain who can provide counseling and offer spiritual and emotional support. Muthana says that the chaplaincy program is open to any employee, regardless of religious background or preference.

  • “The chaplain service is part of our team,” said Muthana. “We have one chaplain come in every week—one week a male and then the following week a female—who is available to meet with staff if needed.”
  • Muthana says she used the service a few years ago when her son, who is in the military, came back from Afghanistan. Many of his friends did not.​​​​​​​
  • “As a parent, you feel grateful that your child survived, but also guilty for feeling that way because a lot of his friends didn’t come home. The chaplain service provided me someone to talk to because I couldn’t talk to my family, and I couldn’t talk to my staff,” she recalls. “I developed a strong relationship with the chaplain that I feel never would have happened if I didn’t look out for my staff and implemented the service.”

Job shadowing: When Muthana goes to a speaking event or conference, she sometimes takes one or two of her staff with her so they’re able to benefit from attending. It’s also a way for her to get to know her staff on a more personal level, outside of the formal workplace setting.

The last word: Muthana shared some advice for companies struggling with workforce retention:

  • “Having an engaged team and workers only happens with a people-first mentality,” said Muthana. “When you take care of them, you become successful because you have an engaged team that has your back.”
  • “It’s harder to make a profit than ever. The only way that we’re going to be successful is by having an engaged team.”

Go deeper: The Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate) has many resources to help employers retain and develop their teams.

Workforce

Three Sisters Build Manufacturing Careers Together

a person standing in front of a building

For three sisters in Kentucky, manufacturing is a family affair.

Emily Bastin, Heather Craven and Hannah Geneve are all working in maintenance roles supporting various shops at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky. Growing up, they had disparate interests—while Emily had taken robotics classes in middle school and Heather had always enjoyed working with her hands, Hannah switched to manufacturing only after working in customer service. Today, all three of them are building careers in manufacturing together.

How they got here: Emily, Heather and Hannah found their way into manufacturing through FAME—an initiative for current and aspiring manufacturing workers that was founded by Toyota in 2010 and is operated today by the Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate.

  • The FAME Advanced Manufacturing Technician program offers on-the-job training and classroom education that combine technical training with professional practices and lean learnings to create world-class technicians. The two-year AMT program leads to an associate degree and the FAME certificate.
  • “They came to my school—the AMT program—and I was like, you know, let’s give this a shot,” said Emily. “I didn’t realize I would have that kind of potential. This was cool stuff.”

The family business: Emily was the first of the three sisters to graduate from FAME, and she has been helping her sisters as they work their way through the program. Both Hannah and Heather are enrolled in FAME while working at Toyota, and they expect to graduate in May 2025.

  • “We’re all working in the same plant, and if they need anything from me, I’m there to be supportive,” said Emily.
  • “With schoolwork, I try to help Heather, and she tries to help me,” said Hannah. “We all help where we can.”
  • “It’s nice to have that sister love to lean on,” said Heather. “They understand the frustration of school and work, and it’s been a pleasure to work with them.”

Opportunities abound: The sisters advise others who might not have considered manufacturing as a career—especially women—to give the industry a second look, emphasizing the sheer diversity of jobs on offer.

  • “Working in manufacturing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working on a factory floor,” said Hannah. “There’s an administrative side, an HR side—there’s a lot more to manufacturing than people expect.”
  • “I do see us being examples for women who might not normally see themselves in the field,” said Heather. “You want to see women come in and say, hey, I did it, and you can, too. It’s nice to see yourself reflected back.”

The community: It’s not just their family ties that keep the sisters in manufacturing. All three sisters have high praise for their fellow students and colleagues, and for the supportive culture they’ve encountered at Toyota.

  • “The mentorship I got helped me gain my confidence while I was learning,” said Emily. “And even now, the teamwork that goes into everything, every day—it’s been a nice surprise.”
  • “Everyone has been super nice, super helpful and super welcoming,” said Hannah. “When you start out, it can seem intimidating, but everyone’s willing to help you out. They really want you to succeed.”

The last word: “It’s nice to feel like you’re a part of that network—that family,” said Heather.

The MI’s 35×30 campaign aims to increase the share of women in manufacturing to 35% by 2030 and spotlights outstanding women in the industry like these sisters. To learn more about Women MAKE America and explore its many opportunities, including its new mentorship program, go here.

The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education provides global-best workforce development through strong technical training, integration of manufacturing core competencies, intensive professional practices and intentional hands-on experience to build the future of the modern manufacturing industry. Learn more here.

Workforce

How Mentorships Help Women Advance in Manufacturing

a person holding a sign posing for the camera

Jacqueline Cooley spends her days coaching manufacturing employees and helping them build better lives. So when she was looking to improve her professional skills and career trajectory, she knew it would be valuable to find her own coach or mentor.

Cooley found a great match through the Women MAKE Mentorship Program, a free initiative run by the Manufacturing Institute (the NAM’s workforce development and education affiliate), which aims to strengthen women’s careers in the industry by connecting them with peer advisers.

She recently told us about her experience with the program and what it has meant for her career so far.

A better life: Cooley is a better life coach at JBM Packaging, an “eco-friendly, flexible packaging” manufacturer in Lebanon, Ohio, which prioritizes hiring and supporting those who have been involved with the justice system. These “fair chance” hires make up about half the company’s approximately 160-person workforce.

  • “I haven’t really found anybody else who does what we do,” said Cooley, whose job entails management of the fair chance program and its participants. “We have life coaching, financial coaching, our Wheels [car leasing] program. We do parental coaching; there are loans [employees] can take out. It’s holistic.”

A coach finds a coach: “I saw [the mentorship program] on the MI’s website and was immediately interested because I’d been looking for a mentor,” Cooley told us.

  • “It has been really good. My mentor and I both work in human resources. She’s someone I can bounce ideas off.”
  • “I’m at a point in my career where I wanted somebody else’s guidance, wanted to get [the benefit of] their experience in the HR world and learn the steps they took to get to the next level,” she added.

How it works: The MI pairs its mentors—all of whom are volunteers—with mentees based on personal and professional goals and interests, communication style and a dozen other criteria provided through a self-assessment.

  • Cooley’s mentor—who works in human resources for another manufacturer—has already helped Cooley fulfill one of her primary goals: to broaden her network in the industry and meet more people.
  • “My mentor has been in HR for 20 years or so, and she has a lot of contacts in the [Cincinnati] area and is well-connected,” said Cooley. “She’s invited me to her [workplace], had me talk to other people there, invited me to other [events]. I’ve met a lot of people through her.”

What’s next: Cooley, who said she is considering becoming a mentor herself once she finishes the nine-month program, said more women in manufacturing should participate.

  • “It’s a great way to make connections with other women,” she said. “Don’t sell yourself short by thinking you don’t have anything to offer. The mentor can learn from the mentee as well as vice versa. It will open up opportunities for you.”

Dive deeper: To learn more about the MI’s free Women MAKE Mentorship Program, click here or contact the team at [email protected].

News

Manufacturers Should Think Local When Addressing the Workforce Crisis

No man is an island, and neither is any manufacturer. Indeed, local and regional ties have never been more important to the industry’s success, as companies seek to fill hundreds of thousands of open positions and secure a talent pipeline for the next decade.

That’s why building partnerships with local organizations, schools and leaders was a key topic at the Manufacturing Institute’s 2023 Workforce Summit in October.

  • As MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee put it, “The current state of the economy calls for new ideas for solutions…. We’ll need to build more diverse talent pipelines and connect with our partners in the workforce ecosystem.”

The problem has changed: “The workforce challenges we are seeing are not transitory; they’re structural,” emphasized MI Vice President of Workforce Solutions Gardner Carrick. “Addressing these structural challenges are going to require local, regional solutions.”

  • In this case, “regional” means approximately a 40-mile radius around a facility. Manufacturers should focus on sourcing the bulk of their workforce from this immediate area, said Carrick, since it is unlikely that workers outside of that radius would be willing to commute.
  • Carrick noted that manufacturers will need other organizations to help their outreach. “We need to collaborate. This is not a problem that can be solved individually.”

Which partners? Manufacturers should seek out economic development boards, education partners and community-based organizations, as well as individual leaders within their local communities.

  • “With every new partnership, identify the point person and the decision-makers,” Carrick advised. “Work with them to maximize the relationship. You want to build awareness and institutional memory of your company within that organization.”
  • In addition, manufacturers can seek out regional chapters of the MI’s Heroes MAKE America, Women MAKE America and FAME USA initiatives—which help members of the military community, women and others find rewarding manufacturing careers.

Connecting industries: Manufacturers can also find partners within their industry sectors and create relationships with local schools.

  • In another session at the summit, MI Director of Workforce Initiatives Pooja Tripathi pointed out that “A group of employers can sponsor a noncredit pathway—which is relatively inexpensive—at a community college, which can then use it to attract the workforce manufacturers are looking for.”
  • Fresno Business Council CEO Genelle Taylor Kumpe added that manufacturers could work with high school counselors to challenge perceptions of manufacturing and the need for a four-year college degree. “We’ve seen internships and other short-term exposure programs work in attracting youth to the manufacturing industry,” she noted.
  • Fresno Economic Development Corporation Vice President of Workforce Development Chris Zeitz gave general guidance on approaching industry partners: “Different manufacturers and organizations have different incentives and ropes to navigate. The speed at which different sectors like manufacturing, education and economic development boards make decisions and move can also vary.”

The final word: Caterpillar Foundation President Asha Varghese emphasized the importance of seeking local solutions for workforce challenges, a key element of the foundation’s efforts to strengthen communities nationwide. As she rightly noted, “A business cannot thrive unless the community is successful.”

Workforce

Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry Shifts Gears on Retention

Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry CEO Sachin Shivaram knew something had to change. It was 2021, and at one point that year, the turnover rate of new hires for his foundry’s finishing department reached 100%, hurting its on-time delivery rate to customers.

He was facing a business challenge that many manufacturers consistently cite as their number-one issue: workforce retention, along with recruitment.

Finding a solution: Tackling the issue required looking at all facets of WAF’s operations, including onboarding and training of new hires.

  • “What we found was we weren’t giving employees the proper environment to train on a new job,” said Shivaram. “We were putting them on the shop floor and telling them to learn while you work.”
  • This finding was underscored by a conversation Shivaram had with one of his employees, who had been with WAF for 25 years.
  • “He said when he first joined, he had no idea what he was doing in the first six months,” said Shivaram. “He would clock in and just watched what other people were doing and tried to get by and be productive. He didn’t speak the language and just stuck it out. And I thought to myself, with that sort of confusion among new employees, they will just stop coming.”

Fast Forward grant: Recognizing that WAF needed to train new hires without burdening experienced employees or slowing down its operations, the company applied for a Fast Forward grant through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in October 2021.

  • Thanks in large part to the $194,000 it received, WAF created a training center where entry-level employees can learn foundry basics, gain finishing and production skills, improve their understanding of customer specifications and acclimate to the physical demands of the job.
  • For employees whose first language is not English, the center provides full-time translators who speak Spanish or Hmong. The foundry also pays for English classes if employees want to take them.

The result? To date, WAF’s new hire turnover rate has dropped from 100% to 15%—an astonishing improvement.

Other benefits: For Shivaram, meeting the company’s retention challenge also means supporting employees “through their career cycle.”

WAF’s starting wage is roughly $25 an hour, plus a $1.25 shift premium. The foundry offers incentive plans, which give employees the opportunity to earn up to 5% additional pay. In addition, WAF pays $400 a month to anyone with young children to offset their expenses for child care—not just for formal day care but any child care expense.

  • “We have about 100 parents on that program, and that is huge,” said Shivaram. “People consistently mention to me that is a reason why they stay with us.”

Education: Shivaram notes that for anyone who wants to go back to school, even if it’s not exactly related to their career path, WAF supports that and will pay for part of it.

Feedback: While WAF performs annual employee surveys across all departments to garner feedback, as well as formal check-ins, Shivaram says that informal engagement—whether it’s participating in a company-wide event, such as a golf outing or pizza party, having lunch with an employee or just catching up with someone while walking through the plant—is really what gives him a pulse on the foundry.

  • “Informal engagement helps people feel valued because they feel like they have a connection with someone—a friendship even. That is hugely powerful,” he noted.

The last word: The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development recently recognized WAF for its workforce retention efforts—particularly its retention of minorities and women, who had been underrepresented at the foundry.

  • That’s no longer the case, Shivaram pointed out proudly—minorities now make up about 10% of WAF’s workforce, and the foundry now has 40 women on the shop floor.
  • “Improved employee retention has had a direct impact on the success of our business and our customers. It’s nice to have someone validate that we’re on the right path,” he concluded.
Workforce

A New Project Translates Military Experience for Manufacturing Employers

Manufacturers have long sourced great talent from the military community, helping transitioning and former military members apply their skills to America’s most pressing manufacturing challenges.

Through the Manufacturing Readiness Project, the Manufacturing Institute is now making it even easier for military veterans to find excellent civilian careers—and for manufacturers to build an outstanding and talented workforce.

The project: The Manufacturing Readiness Project aims to make military experience comprehensible to civilian employers via a digital credentialing system.

  • Military servicemembers are awarded digital badges—stored in digital wallets—based on their military occupation and the training they received, giving both them and future employers a clear way to understand how their military experience prepared them for a career in manufacturing.

The details: The badges include a range of certifications in areas like general safety, general quality and general maintenance.

  • Each badge includes a number of additional micro-badges signifying levels and types of achievement. General safety, for example, includes micro-badges in fields like workplace safety, environmental inspections and emergency response.
  • These badges are also aligned with more than 300 military occupation codes across all five branches of the military, thereby translating military experience into terms that civilian employers will recognize.

What it means: For the MI, the workforce development and education affiliate of the NAM, this project represents a critical opportunity to expand the military-to-manufacturing pipeline.

  • Currently, the MI’s Heroes MAKE America program trains transitioning military personnel in manufacturing skills and works to connect veterans to opportunities in manufacturing.
  • The Manufacturing Readiness Project will enhance this effort by providing an avenue for veterans and transitioning personnel to highlight their military experience and enter the MI’s military-to-manufacturing pathway.

Why it matters: This initiative is one of the first of its kind to combine the use of the newest labor market technology tools—Learning & Employment Records, digital badges and digital wallets—to help workers find employment.

  • This project is designed to be scalable across military occupations and civilian industries, thus opening the door to a broader range of servicemembers, veterans and employers.

What to expect: The pilot launched on Nov. 13—and within the first few weeks, more than 400 total badges have been awarded to transitioning and former servicemembers.

Learn more: For more information about the Manufacturing Readiness Project and the MI’s Heroes MAKE America program, please contact [email protected].

Workforce

A New Project Translates Military Experience for Manufacturing Employers

Manufacturers have long sourced great talent from the military community, helping transitioning and former military members apply their skills to America’s most pressing manufacturing challenges.

Through the Manufacturing Readiness Project, the Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education affiliate of the NAM, is making it even easier for military veterans to find excellent civilian careers—and for manufacturers to build an outstanding and talented workforce.

The project: The Manufacturing Readiness Project aims to make military experience comprehensible to civilian employers via a digital credentialing system.

  • Military servicemembers are awarded digital badges—stored in digital wallets—based on their military occupation and the training they received, giving both them and future employers a clear way to understand how their military experience prepared them for a job and a career in manufacturing.

The details: The badges include a range of certifications in areas like general safety, general quality and general maintenance.

  • Each badge includes a number of additional micro-badges signifying levels and types of achievement. General safety, for example, includes micro-badges in fields like workplace safety, environmental inspections and emergency response.
  • These badges are also aligned with more than 300 military occupation codes across all five branches of the military, thereby translating military experience into terms that civilian employers will recognize.

What it means: For the MI, this project represents a critical opportunity to expand the military-to-manufacturing pipeline.

Read the full story here.

Workforce

How One Manufacturer Is Building a Local Talent Pipeline

 

a group of people posing for a photo

The president of Connecticut-based outdoor lighting manufacturer Penn Globe recently oversaw the launch of a long-awaited passion project: the Manufacturing and Technical Community Hub, or MATCH, a New Haven, Connecticut–area nonprofit contract manufacturing organization and training program designed to fill job openings in the sector.

Seeing a need: “I am a manufacturer, and one of the things I saw missing from the various workforce training programs available was the manufacturers themselves,” LaFemina said. “They weren’t reaching [the participants] in these training programs. So I was a bit frustrated, but that frustration was good … because it led us to create a program with manufacturers training people for actual manufacturing jobs.”

  • In 2021, LaFemina and MATCH co-founder Lindy Lee Gold, senior regional manager of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, secured funding from partners including Lee’s agency, the city of New Haven, the Connecticut Department of Labor and numerous nonprofits.
  • This past June, after LaFemina—now MATCH board chair—and the rest of the organization’s board of directors signed a lease on a building, MATCH was born.

How it works: MATCH begins with a two-week, earn-as-you-learn program, offered in both English and Spanish.

  • The organization offers training in everything from basic welding to CNC machining, allowing participants to choose the type of manufacturing that interests them most.
  • Then, depending on the complexity of their chosen specialty, they may spend up to six additional weeks in paid, on-the-job training before being placed in jobs with local manufacturers.

Meeting the moment: Unlike job-training offerings that expect a certain level of familiarity with an industry, MATCH starts from scratch.

  • “Some places say, ‘Let’s test you on something you know nothing about,’” LaFemina told us. “We want to meet the moment. … We’re asking you to come in, give us two weeks and we will pay you minimum wage for the time that you’re here learning.”
  • “We’ll figure out what you like and what you’re good at, and as long as we have the workload to make things, you’ll have a job,” she continued.

Being accessible: MATCH also prides itself on seeking out potential employees, instead of waiting to be found.

  • “We wanted a building in a specific neighborhood in New Haven,” LaFemina said. “It’s where the majority of the social agencies are, the immigration services, the reentry services. I’d been hearing for two years about how people have [training] programs but couldn’t get participants because [the program locations] were difficult to get to. This one isn’t.”

Family friendly: One of MATCH’s main goals is to reach parents, many of them women, who have left the workforce due to difficulty securing child care. The program’s core hours are 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, in sync with those of most schools.

  • MATCH partners are already considering using the program’s New Haven facility as a training site for day care providers, to help alleviate the shortage of workers in that sector.
  • In addition, the program’s first cohort of students came from the New Haven Healthy Start’s Fatherhood Involvement project, one of several local initiatives with which the organization has ongoing relationships.

What’s next: MATCH is on track to be financially self-sustaining in three to five years—and LaFemina predicts big growth after that.

  • “I see multiple MATCHes down the road,” she said. “There’s already a call for more. My biggest goal is in a few years all of us older people, who leveraged our connections to make this happen, will turn it over to a younger group that will turn it into something even better than it already is.”
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