Kevin: Four million U.S. manufacturing jobs need to be filled by 2030. And if we continue down the path we're on today, we won't have enough people with the right skills to fill them. What can we do to encourage more young people to consider manufacturing jobs? Do apprenticeships and other college alternatives present viable options? And if so, how can we ensure students in these programs get the well-rounded education they need to succeed in the long haul? This is "What I Want to Know."
And today I'm joined by Tony Davis of the Manufacturing Institute to find out. Tony Davis is a senior director of Workforce Initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute. He leads the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education Initiative, commonly known as FAME. FAME is the top U.S. program for training students who seek careers in manufacturing. Enrollees who completed earn associate degrees, certifications, and a competitive salary while working part-time in manufacturing facilities across the country. Tony also sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and is vice-chair of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. He is with us today to talk about apprenticeships and their role in American workforce development today.
Tony Davis, welcome to "What I Wanna Know." I've been looking forward to this program. Before we get into the work that you're doing with FAME and your work in this area, I did wanna talk to you about your upbringing in Louisiana, and what led you to this work. You're from Natchitoches, a Louisiana boy through and through. Talk about how you develop your skills that helped you understand the importance of the manufacturing industry job market.
Tony: It really began working with the Chamber of Commerce. I was president of the Chamber. And in my community, manufacturing jobs accounted for about 16% of the workforce, which is significant. And oftentimes people didn't know that. That was the most amazing thing to me, to see these large facilities, great employment numbers, good wages. And they were the big buildings back behind the tree lines, somewhere that no one really knew existed, but I knew, and learned quickly that if any of those went away, it would be detrimental to our community. It was really important. It didn't take long also to realize that workforce development, getting the right skills, getting the number of skills that we need, the number of people that we need was important. And this was a long time ago. So it's unfortunate how much more dire that is today. That really began an education of looking at how can we do more for workforce development. And as I dug into that, I realized development is just really education.
Kevin: I do want you to distinguish what are manufacturing jobs, for our listeners.
Tony: I think most people, when they do think about manufacturing, they're gonna think about a production worker or someone who's, you know, working an assembly line type operation. Many times these are outdated thinkings. You know, they have a visual that's really not applicable today. Many people, frankly, don't understand that we have a full spectrum of needs in manufacturing. It's a full sector. Whether you're standing and working at one machine in one part of a floor of operations, whether you're working on that machine through a maintenance role, whether you have leads management, whether it's middle management, whether you're moving into the accounting side of the house, the design side of the house, whether you're in marketing, communications, you know, we need all of these positions in modern manufacturing.
Kevin: And that leads me to FAME. So let's talk about that because, first, let's describe FAME for listeners, and the fact that every day it's changing lives. I saw some of the video footage of these young people talking about their ability to develop skills, to get hands-on experience, further their education, which is a big part of it. And you could see the confidence sort of exploding out of some of these young folks that you've worked with. So talk about FAME, how it got started in your role, and then how kids are getting involved and utilizing it every day.
Tony: Yeah. Certainly. So FAME is the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education. So it's an acronym. And we really focus on a multi-skilled maintenance training program in this... Toyota Motors North America, actually, TMNA, created this program for their own internal use. They did this 30 years ago. They recognized, "We've got to do more to make sure that we are creating the structure, the pipeline of talent that we need." Then about 10 years ago, they began to bring in other employers to work with them, and formed a collaborative of employers that would do this training for this, and that became the modern version of this, the chapters. Students can move into this program right out of high school, they can go enroll in the community college. They're gonna work three days a week. They're gonna go to school two days a week. And after five short semesters, they're gonna come out of this with some amazing technical skills, across the board skills too. So these are skills they can take with them anywhere, not just where they are locally, but anywhere they wanna go. We're gonna build out some really strong manufacturing core exercises, these lean elements that make them better at what they're doing, make them more acclimated to manufacturing, and we're gonna build professionals with that.
Kevin: But there's still that pressure pushing against people who...kids who may have certain talents or skills going into the trace, but that is part of the reality, particularly when you can go and get a computer science certification, and make more than someone who has a 4-year computer science degree in a matter of just a 18 months or so. How do we push against those perceptions?
Tony: It's more and more awareness. I think we have to just make more and more awareness. I know that within our program, and I certainly encourage it across the board, having students talk to other students and say, "This is what I'm doing. This is how great this is." Having employers say, "I need more of this." But the more that mom and dad, and they're really key roles in this, especially for our traditional students, mom and dad are the major gatekeepers here. They've got to be aware that there are opportunities, that there are opportunities for their son or their daughter. And what we mean by that is an opportunity to earn a degree. So, you know, certificates are wonderful and they can go a long way, to your point. Having a degree also means the opportunity to earn more degrees later. And that's a really big part of what we look at in this program, but having not only the educate pathways in front of you, but you're making really great money, helping them understand. And most importantly, the three words that come to mind all the time for mom and dad are dark, dirty, and dangerous. All right. So manufacturing, it's gonna be, you know, this really dangerous place. You're gonna head on the swivel, all this stuff. And that's because they haven't been in the facility. They don't know what that looks like. It's the boogieman in the closet in that regard, it's what they think it looks like.
Kevin: Are you sensing that more and more parents are beginning to believe that the skilled development track is an equally beneficial track as a four-year college track?
Tony:I'm gonna be optimistic and say that, yes, I'm seeing a few more...a trend in that direction. What I think we're seeing really is that more and more school systems are recognizing the value of education that can be seamless with the, you know, thinking about 13th and 14th year, so to speak. So moving out of high school into the next opportunity, thinking about dual enrollment. And because these are much larger systems that everyone are...so many people are involved in, it makes it easier to get that message in front of parents. And so parents begin to be a little bit more comfortable with this merging of education and where those pathways may lead to. And I think that is helpful. It's certainly not the panacea, but it does help that there's more and more conversations around how do you partner with community colleges, gain education in the short term to move into high-demand jobs? And we've got to be there to say, "Hey, these high demand jobs and best-paying jobs are right here at manufacturing as well," while we're at it.
Kevin: Well, what opened my eyes is at our company at Stripe, we have a career readiness program in several states. I'm gonna mention a couple, and you should add on, like a crane operator. I had this image that a crane operator would have to do the dark and dirty work that you alluded to. But then we realized that once you digitize the content, and work with the various Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade, work with the union, we developed a curriculum where 85%, 90% of the kids' time is online, learning through artificial intelligence, through drones, through virtual reality, how to operate a crane independent of having to sit in a warehouse and stumble through it.
Tony: Not to mention that it adds a little fidelity to that training in terms of how fast they can get there and try, and repeat, and try this again until they get it right. There's so much to be said for that. And I am very optimistic about the direction that we're going in that direction across the country. And to your point, and lots of different fields as well, you know, lots of different job occupations, the ability to add and take advantage of technology for the training is definitely a game-changer, and it's one that I think a lot of people are taking advantage of in good ways.
Kevin: One of the reasons why we need to focus on these manufacturing jobs is by 2030, we have hundreds of thousands of jobs to be filled, and right now we're tracking in a direction where they won't be filled. And so what's the alternative?
Tony: We've got to do more to get more individuals into these programs into manufacturing. And then we look at the literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of openings that we have right now today, and the potential to have millions of openings, how do we get more and more young people engaged? And that is through innovative technologies for training. And how can we speed up that process to move folks into these roles? How can we keep them engaged once they're in these roles and for continuous education, both for the roles that they're in, but also for themselves and professional growth?
Kevin: My sense is that students that are exposed to this as an option, the skill development, trade, skill acquisition, that they love it.
Tony: Yes, they do. If you get the opportunity to actually share this information, I mean, they love this. They get engaged with it. I think the challenge is making sure that we have presenters to share their information. Within our K-12 schools, for instance, there is the traditional support structure for saying, "Hey, here are the opportunities that you may have moving forward in your life." They're overwhelmed. You know, think about it in a high school setting, a career counselor or a high school counselor, that's some of the most overworked individuals that are out there. They have more and more duties piled onto what they have, and they just simply can't take the time to be able to really say, "Hey, you know what, Kevin, this is really good opportunities that are for you." Both for them to know about it, and then they have time to actually share it with you appropriately. I tell employers all the time that while, yes, as an employer and as HR in talent, you're very, very busy. You're gonna have to get a little busier.
Kevin: And to that point, FAME has had some success, a lot of success engaging in these partnerships. You've had relationships with over 400 private companies, 30 institutions of higher learning. You need more, but that one-on-one exposure that young people have with that executive, with that production manager, with that employer, it makes a huge difference. How do you recruit these companies? Because some companies are a little hesitant to invest the time and energy with, you know, middle schoolers, high schoolers because they have job and companies to run. How do you convince them that this is something that is worthy of the future?
Tony: Well, again, it kind of comes down to what's the alternative look like? Right now, any person in talent acquisition and in HR can tell you the challenges they're facing putting somebody into their facilities. And the higher the skill level, the harder that is to do. So when you look at a program like this, once they hear about the program, the employer say, "Hey. Yeah. This could definitely solve a problem that I've got. I like it." And we tell them upfront, "You've got to be heavily involved in the recruiting." For a lot of reasons, some of which we just talked about. So then when they get involved, it's easy the first year, "Well, I've got to get these seniors. It's a pretty small pool. I've just got to get seniors to get started in this program moving forward." But once they start year two and you say, "Hey, you see how they're doing?" "Yeah. They're doing great." "Awesome. Guess what? Now we got to start moving down, juniors and sophomores, and you got to start building out your pipeline." It's like anything else you do with a pipeline, you've got to go further back and begin to seed that. Prime the pump, so to speak, a little earlier. It doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen because you put 40 hours a week into it.
We work in a collaborative setting. So we have lots of employers and lots of representatives who can work, and they figure out the best logistics to minimize that touch, but to be able to have a consistent touch and build more and more awareness at earlier and earlier ages. Again, it doesn't have to happen overnight, but the trick there is building that intentionality of saying, "Hey. If we're gonna do this and do this right, if we're gonna continue to be able to have their attention to bring them in the facilities, to give them a chance to say, 'Aah, this would be great, I would love to do something like this,' we've got to work with them at earlier and earlier ages," which means you've got to start committing to taking the time and effort to make that happen. The alternative though, to your point, they have day jobs. There's lots going on in the facility at any given time, but there's a tremendous cost in turn. There's a tremendous cost in acquisition. And this is a way that while it is intensive, or at least it seems to be that way, it is not any more intensive than any other efforts that are ongoing right now to fill roles. But this is a much, much better return on that investment of time and effort.
Kevin: Yeah. So, Tony, I have one last question. This is what I really wanna know. How do these apprenticeship programs stack up against traditional degrees that one may get in a four-year institution?
Tony: Well, there's... It boils down to this. There's simply no substitution for experience. And so the program where you can go in and you can learn, and then you can go out and you can experience and you can explore, the ability then to really take information in, say, a classroom setting, and then go and work on a trainer or something like that, and then actually be in a facility and say, "Now I see what it looks like. I heard what they told me it was like, and I got the background and the theory. And then I went to a trainer, and it was nice, and neat, and clean. And then I got here in the facility, and I see the real world happening." To be able to begin to synthesize all those things on a regular basis, and then go back and say, "Now I've learned it, and here's how I can utilize that," there's no substitution for that.
For individuals to be able to have a work environment, and at the same time have an environment for strictly the learning aspect of this. And then they go and apply that knowledge on a regular rotation, consistent feedback, that's amazing. When you add in getting paid for that opportunity, I know that for our particular program, and I think this would go for many other apprenticeship style programs, we have overwhelming, I mean, 90% plus feedback of saying, "Hey. Most important thing is that job experience. I love getting paid for it." And I would tell anyone to go do the same thing. Like this is the way to go learn, to be paid to learn, and to go get to apply it every day while I'm doing my job.
Kevin: Beautiful thing. Very enlightening. Tony Davis, thank you for joining us on "What I Want to Know." Thanks for joining "What I Want to Know." Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review too. Explore other episodes and dive into our discussions on the future of education. I also encourage you to join the conversation, and let me know what you want to know using #WIWTK on social media. That's #WIWTK on social media. For more information on Stride, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want to Know."
Tony Davis is the Senior Director of Workforce Initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute. He leads the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education initiative, commonly known as FAME, which is the top U.S. program for training students who seek careers in manufacturing. Tony also sits on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and is Vice Chair of the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts.
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