Repairing the jobs pipeline

There's been a lot of talk about the skills gap in the education/job pipeline, but Michael A. Lucas, the administrative director, aka, the principal of the North Montco Technical Career Center (aka, the vo-tech high school) told a group of local manufacturers on Wednesday that he'd do everything he could to close that gap.

The school's curriculum, he said, "is driven by industry and business input." If the region's businesses say they need workers trained on particular software or machinery, that can happen quickly. "It doesn't have to go into committees," and become mired in red tape for months. "We can customize that curriculum," he said.

Lucas also said that if a manufacturer comes and promises to guarantee a slot to a student who does "X-Y-Z," his school, located outside of Lansdale, will make sure it trains a student to be a pro at whatever "X-Y-Z" is.  Other vo-tech schools will do the same, he said.

The manufacturers, who sustained themselves on delicious pastries and quiche made by the school's culinary arts program, is a fledgling grassroots gathering of Montgomery and Bucks county manufacturers who have become increasingly concerned about a shortage of skilled manufacturing workers.

They have an older skilled workforce able to handle complex machining and toolmaking. But those people are in their 50s and 60s. Missing is the bench ready to fill those slots, due to years of downsizing, offshoring, and lack of interest on the part of young people, and their parents.

In some ways you can't blame them. A report today from the Philadelphia Comptroller's office says that the city alone lost 5,000 manufacturing jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007. It's difficult for a parent to urge a child find work in a sector when those jobs seem to be disappearing. Look at Delaware, where huge auto manufacturing plants closed their doors in the past several years.

Interestingly, the other problem they describe as a lack of "soft skills." These translate into coming to work on time, coming to work, period, and not being on drugs. Much moaning done on this issue on Wednesday!

Patrick Clancy,  regional head of Southeastern Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Boards, is handling administrative functions for the group, the Bux-Mont Manufacturing Consortium. It will meet again in April.