Manufacturers will help employees get training and advanced degrees, avoiding the traditional pay-for-college route

In the spring of 2018, Walmart made national headlines when the retailer said it would pay for employees to obtain business degrees. These types of tuition assistance and educational reimbursement programs have become in vogue thanks to high-profile businesses like Amazon and Starbucks wanting to improve the quality of their workers’ training.

This, of course, isn’t news to the manufacturing industry, which has pioneered on-the-job training and educational assistance in order to keep good workers at their companies, advancing up the ladder as their skill sets grow. Companies team up with community colleges to develop brand new degrees, certificates and training programs based on the needs of employers. In New Hampshire, the Job Training Fund has allowed manufacturers to embrace new markets and upgrade the skills of incumbent workers.

Taking a lean management approach allows manufacturers to place greater emphasis on growth and efficiency. As manufacturers transition to smart manufacturing, many have taken to reaching out to educational institutions regarding curriculum adjustments designed to meet specific needs.

President of the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NHMEP) Zenagui Brahim cites the New Hampshire Sector Partnerships Initiative as a terrific example of how educational institutions and manufacturers can work together on the local or regional

level to create new programs. One such program enabled a joint training for employees from General Electric, Scotia Technology, Titeflex Aerospace, and Axenics Corp. regarding the fabrication of tubes for airplanes. Manchester Community College’s faculty was able to put together an impactful curriculum based on input from the four partners.

“Many manufacturers have some type of incentive for the new employees that they hire. Especially those interested in getting advanced degrees, we’re talking four-year degrees,” Brahim said.

He sees older employees taking advantage of these opportunities to advance their skills as well.

“When it comes to the older generation, there are two types of workers: those who are moving in as a second career and need basic train-ing, and those who are entering the next stage of their manufacturing careers and need training in industry leadership, super-visory skills, and management,” he says.

High schools are doing their part to ensure a new generation of manufacturing professionals will be at the ready when the workforce turns over. Douglas Cullen serves as the manager of career services for Pinkerton Academy, the largest comprehensive high school in New Hampshire, which has the largest career and technical education center in the state. Pinkerton offers an exploratory course to help students build a base in concert with the engi-neering and manufacturing design processes.

“The course provides perspective and experience with various materials and mediums to help stu-dents understand manufacturing on the most basic level. We are then able to tie that experience in with our industry partners in order to complement those skills,” Cullen says.

The typical Pinkerton student gains field experience at a company as early as sophomore year.

“There is more interest right now in gaining experience as it relates to career pathways than ever before. Students are finally asking us, ‘How do I get into industry?’” says Cullen.

This year, Cullen saw a substantial number of students graduate from Pinkerton with certifications and career-pathway enhancements in STEM-focused fields.

“We encourage industry to more aggressively engage with schools in their catchment area. This can be addressed in a variety of ways, but we need industries to reach out to schools. Bridges between education and industry must remain solid,” says Cullen.

Mark Pedersen is the director of secondary schools curriculum at Timberlane Regional High School where the faculty is passionate about exposing the next generation to manufacturing through an engineering partnership.

“Through the partnership, students have the opportunity to complete coursework and projects and then get feedback directly from engineers,” Pederson said.

Internships, CAD training, and the cultivation of an engineering mindset result in the frequent hiring of Timberlane’s students right out of high school. Timberlane has worked with a number of large operations including New Balance, Deka, and Air Rocket Works.

“They have opened up their doors and allowed our kids to tour their facilities to change the perception of what manufacturing looks like,” Pedersen says.

Brahim sees small innovative manufacturers like Whitney Brothers out of Keene as exemplars for companies looking to empower employees through education. Brahim praises Whitney Brothers’ ambition to make use of New Hampshire’s Job Training Fund and hopes that others will do the same, believing educational opportunities will be what vaults New Hampshire’s manufacturers into the global market.