The Road to A Competitive Manufacturing Workforce
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Last Thursday over 100 manufacturers from SW Washington and Portland Metro area gathered to discuss the importance of strengthening our manufacturing workforce. Flanked by workforce partners in Portland and SW Washington, OMEP was pleased to participate in this crucial event.

Event speaker Ken Madden discussed the importance of changing the image of manufacturing. Jennifer McNelley, President of the Manufacturing Institute, also shared a call to action for manufacturers to get involved at the community level.
“You manage every other part of the supply chain. Why not the most important part, your people? … In Portland and SW Washington, you are a beacon to the nation.” 

In October 2013, the Regional Manufacturing Workforce Plan was launched by the Columbia Willamette Workforce Collaborative  in the attempt to identify top workforce challenges and remove barriers that stand in the way of cultivating and sustaining a skilled workforce. Identified challenges for 2013-2015 were as follows:

  • Manufacturers are concerned about the quality and number of young workers entering the industry
  • Available labor does not have the skills needed for current and projected jobs
  • Small manufacturing need greater access to continuous improvement training

Today’s Issues

Throughout the event, a live poll was conducted, indicating the majority of manufacturers in attendance are ready and willing to work with the millennial generation. In response to the question, “where do you anticipate the biggest talent shortage over the next five years?” the majority in attendance replied, “Skilled Production Workers.”

A sense of urgency could be felt, as manufacturers indicated top challenges to focus on for the updated plan, including:

  • Connecting to skilled workers now
  • Increasing the pipeline of new workers
  • Strengthening the existing workforce
  • Lean training

After a panel of industry experts discussed their workforce challenges and strategies, individual table discussions expanded on these concepts. We are taking the data we gathered to update the plan, and will present a revised version in a few months. Jesse Aronson of Worksystems Inc summed the event up nicely. “You don’t have to go down the workforce road alone.  There is a lot of great work being done already which will only get better when you’re on board. “ 

Jesse discussed the progress on this plan.

Building a Labor Pipeline

The plan’s youth goal is to build a labor pipeline by attracting interested, committed youth.  We’re doing this primarily through facilitating career exposure activities. Our strategy is to help industry offer a continuum of activities from job shadows, to company tours, to paid internships.

Manufacturing Day

A recent example of these opportunities to attract youth is MFG Day 2014. We coordinated a series of events including company tours, a Maker Fair hosted by the Center for Advanced Learning and Pathways to Manufacturing and an OMEP Showing of “American Made Movie.” 35 companies were involved in highlighting the wide variety of mfg. careers to more than 600 students.

Youth Internships

As a region, we connect between 800 and 1,000 students to internships each year. This summer we will be putting 800 young people to work, however, few of them will be on a manufacturing floor.  We’ve surpassed our plan goal of 100 manufacturing internships but this number needs to TRIPLE if you’re committed to drawing young people to your industry.

Regional Manufacturing CTE Advisory Board

In Oregon and Washington we make meaningful connections that improve manufacturing programs. To achieve this, we’ve convened a regional CTE industry advisory board, which consists of career technical education coordinators, elected officials, community colleges and manufacturers.  Notable highlights from their work include the creation of a manufacturing career image campaign, the launching of MakeItOregon, and surpassing our goal of creating 1,000 manufacturing career exposure opportunities.

Strengthening the Manufacturing community

The final goal of the plan is to strengthen the manufacturing community through employed worker training.  We’ve done this by creating an Employee Training Assistance Fund and through consortium trainings that serve multiple companies with similar workforce needs.  Over the last three years, we’ve helped advance the skills of more than 3,000 employed manufacturing workers.  This includes classes such as OMEP’s Lean Fundamentals course, Manufacturing Roundtable events, and courses at PCC and Clark College.

How Can We Improve?

Finding Work Ready Candidates Now

Last year the Collaborative launched the Certified Production Technician credential. Our community colleges are now able to train and certify the manufacturing skills of workers in core knowledge areas like safety, quality and production processes. We now have the infrastructure for the certification request that you, as manufacturers ask for the CPT in job postings and consider graduates for hire.  Without industry demand, we’ll struggle to fill future classes.

Download OMEP’s Recruitment and Selection Guide Now


When the plan was first launched our intent was to build a Regional Manufacturing Recruitment Pool that companies could pull from when they needed to hire. WorkSource (Worksystems, Inc?) began building this pool using a new process to vet work readiness and technical skills to identify good manufacturing candidates.  However, we never “filled” the pool to our intended depth.  Our struggles here tell us that the skills gap is real and that the economy is turning around. Workers with solid technical skills were already working or quickly getting hired.  Our system did however, successfully fill many positions. We also supported On The Job Training for 520 workers, representing a direct training investment of roughly $2 million that went back to industry.

Read More at The Columbian Special thanks to Worksystems Inc., Workforce Investment Council of Clackamas County, SW Washington Workforce Development Council 

Want to get involved?

Email Jasmine for more information on internships, facility tours, manufacturing day, and CTE/STEM advocacy committee opportunities.

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  • Jasmine Agnor

    Jasmine Agnor, OMEP’s Senior Marketing and Events Manager, has more than ten years of experience supporting strategic marketing initiatives for both large and small businesses and organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest. Her background includes strategic communications, corporate branding, event planning and execution, campaign management, and print and web design. Before joining the OMEP team, Jasmine helped facilitate marketing and internal communications efforts for a seismic engineering firm as well as a safety consulting company.

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