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2013: Skills Gap or Training Gap? The Role of Manufacturers in Solving the Skills-Gap Problem

Co-Learning Plan - 2013

Authors: Carolyn Hatch, Michigan State University


This research focuses on the skills gap in the Michigan manufacturing sector, with an emphasis on how producer firms can play a role to address workforce development obstacles by collaborating with institutions and actors in their local supply chains and industrial clusters.

Project Updated As Of September 30th, 2013


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Author Information

Carolyn HatchCarolyn Hatch, Michigan State University

Carolyn J. Hatch is a Visiting Scholar at the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University (MSU) and recently completed her PhD in Planning at the University of Toronto (U of T). She has a research background in regional development with an emphasis on the local / global dynamics of contemporary economies and their social foundations. Her doctoral work examined the learning dynamics underpinning the resurgence of Canada's high-end office furniture sector, and focused on the institutional foundations of innovation, the role of design and quality in enhancing the sector's competitiveness, and how furniture producers learn from their users. During her tenure at U of T, she was involved in projects of the Innovation Systems Research Network which has worked to advance public policy understanding of the social dynamics of innovation and creativity in city-regions.

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Overview Video

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Detailed Description

The "Skills Gap or Training Gap?" Co-Learning Plan, authored by Dr. Carolyn Hatch in 2013 was an investigation into the cause of the Skills gap problem. While manufacturing continues to be a catalyst in Michigan's industrial economy, manufacturing companies are finding it more and more difficult to find specialized skilled labor. With 67% of manufacturers reporting a moderate to severe shortage of qualified workers, and five percent of manufacturing jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers there clearly seems to be a problem. But what exactly is the problem?

Dr. Hatch found that Michigan has the highest growth in manufacturing jobs, and had the most open jobs in the skilled trades industry. This is good and bad news, on one hand, we are currently wasting a lot of employment opportunities, but on the other hand, there is a great opportunity to make changes in the accessibility of workforce training which would lead to higher production capabilities and more steady employment.

After assessing the problem, Dr. Hatch came up with key partnership opportunities that could go a long way in matching more open jobs with skilled workers. These include building alliances between industry and college, emphasizing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, conduct outreach to attract and retain talent, and to adopt a "High Road" manufacturing strategy, where employees are invested in (training), compensated well, have a high level of job security, and are seen as high value assets to the firm. Her Co-Learning plan shows that conditions can be improved if manufacturers can collaborate with other institutions and most importantly, fully invest in their workforce, and train them as often as necessary to reduce turnover and strengthen the firm's most important asset; the skilled worker. The report stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and each case must be carefully evaluated before jumping into partnerships and investing in training. In summary, her report states that in order to make the highest returns for the community and the manufacturer, the firm needs to invest in their skilled employees as if they were long term assets, because in order to run a smooth and productive operation, you need stability in your workforce.

Since completing her Co-Learning Plan, Dr. Hatch has built a cross-state team of community development extension professionals and succeeded in securing a $60,000 grant from the Rural Futures Institute. The grant has allowed her team to embark on a two year project intended to research best practices in community-based rural skills development in an age of reshoring. The two year project will be completed in June 2016, and will address ways to combat the skills gap issue. Dr. Hatch's team is working on an in depth website that will feature data from her project. Her webinar continues to be one of the most frequently viewed videos on the MSU CCED YouTube channel. Overall, this Co-Learning Plan resulted in a greater awareness of the importance of attracting and retaining manufacturing talent through competitive wages and other non-monetary benefits such as opportunities for in-house training, upskilling, job rotation, and stable, high quality employment opportunities.

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