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Arkansas Inc. Podcast - Workforce Priorities for Business Development

 October 03, 2017

Arkansas Inc Podcast with Danny Games

Danny Games, Executive Vice President of Global Business for Arkansas Economic Development Commission, discusses the workforce impact on business development, expansion, and relocation. His guests are Bill Goebel and Ken Stuckey. Bill Goebel is the President of MPACT Solutions, a workforce solutions company based in Greensboro, NC that provides talent assessments, education, and training in industrial and facility maintenance. Ken Stuckey is the Director of Talent Acquisition and Development at Pace Industries, the leading  die cast  manufacturer in North America, based in Fayetteville, AR.


Danny Games: Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. podcast, where we discuss the latest topics and trends in economic development from across the nation and around the world. I'm your host, Danny Games, Executive Vice President of Global Business for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Today, we'll be devoting some time to the most pressing topic in business retention, expansion, and relocation; workforce. Joining me today to talk workforce priorities, skills gaps, and training and development is Bill Goebel, President of MPACT Solutions, that's capital M-P-A-C-T. MPACT is workforce soltuions company based in Greensboro, North Carolina, that provides talet assessmetns, education, and training. We have Ken Stuckey, Driector of Talent Acquisition for Pace Industries, an integrated company providing die casting, manufacturing, and engineering solutions worldwide. Pace Industries is headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Bill Goebel: Good to be here. 
Ken Stuckey: Thank you for inviting us. 

Danny Games: Yes. According to a recent 2017 manufacturing report conducted by Sikich, 69% of manufacturers plan to add headcount in the next year, while at the same time, addressing workforce skills gaps remains a top priority for them. Ken and Bill, we want to ask you both for your specific recommendations to address this challenge, but let's start with a 30,000 foot view to get a lay of the land, and then we'll move into recommendations and solutions. From your perspectives, Ken and Bill, what are the top workforce priorities for businesses and educators today. 

Ken Stuckey: Danny, from my perspective as a director in a department that's in the trenches every day looking for talent, it's definitely sourcing and recruiting skilled workers that are really ready to step into our advanced manufacturing environment, because it's going to require specific knowledge and some experience working with our equipment, like robots, automation, CNC and CMM equipment, and tool and die just to mention a few. We're upscaling our own people while keeping new talent coming into our plants is a huge challenge. Our goal is to make progress every day in workforce development, and we track that with certain metrics that keep us on course. 

Danny Games: Sounds like a two-fold challenge, both upscaling your existing workforce and then also attracting new workforce to backfill your pipeline.

Ken Stuckey: Correct, yeah. 

Danny Games: Bill, what are your views on that?

Bill Goebel: I agree with Ken. We work with community colleges and companies directly, and what we're seeing is that the skills that are being taught in some of the vocations don't match exactly what the companies want. I think that's a function of how fast companies are moving with technology. They are advancing at a breakneck speed to keep a competitive edge, to keep their costs down, and community colleges are attempting to catch up with them, but by the time they get caught up, the companies have moved on again. It's a catch-22, but I'll be honest with you, the more forward thinking community colleges and companies are figuring out how to do that. 
Danny Games: So Bill, I'd like to kind of pick up on a point you made. It almost sounds like our solutions sometimes only perpetuate the challenge when it comes to adding automation and advancing technology and wanting to continue to stay ahead in the competitive marketplace. As these innovations are actually a part of the workforce solution in terms of more productivity and more efficiencies, they are, in turn, actually putting added pressure on companies to find even more qualified workers. How do you address this? How do you stay ahead of that?

Ken Stuckey: Well, at Pace it really has put pressure on us, Danny. I think the technology, as Bill said, is advancing so rapidly in manufacturing that our educational partners, and I'm referring to our local and regional two-year colleges with some form of manufacturing technology degree or some other technical degree that's needed locally, those colleges and high schools around our plants don't typically have the resources to have or acquire the type of equipment that we need for them to train on. That's another thing, that the partnerships that we're going to probably discuss today will definitely be a huge help in that. When you can pull in your state agencies, high schools, colleges, and your local and regional chambers of commerce, we can all help each other to try to assist in keeping up with the change in technology. 

Danny Games: Bill, what are you seeing across the nation? How widespread is this, and how much of a deficit are we working in?

Bill Goebel: It's epidemic, from the standpoint it's all over the country. I'll give you an example. We all have cell phones, smartphones, and when we get an upgrade or a new smartphone, we all stumble with how do I make this thing work for me? That technology driven society that we're in is reflective in the manufacturing end. What we find is that the best relationships are the ones that Ken just described where you bring in various partners from either a workforce development, community college, local industry, local government, state government, and start working as a team and say, "Okay, what is our need to get this skill gap closed, and then what are the things that each of those partners can bring?" The company may not be able to afford training equipment, but they might be able to fund some of it or grants might be given from various companies. I see energy companies doing it, like Duke Energy. There's other things. There's a tobacco fund for regenerating workforce that I've seen come in. There's various fundings that you can find, and I think it's that collaborative effort that keeps it going.

Danny Games: Talk to us about the predictive nature of being responsive. Obviously industry wants to stay on the front end, so it's hard for educators to anticipate and predict everything that industry is going to need. How does that element bring together both the customer and the service provider, and how big is the gap and the lapse in meeting those demands?

Ken Stuckey: Well, the gap right now is closing, but it's still very wide. I think there's two things that enter into this, Danny. One is you've got your incumbent worker who needs upskilled in our plants. A lot of the younger millennials that are out there in our plants, they really need our baby boomers to become the mentors for them as they close out their careers, and so they can help the millennials come on and really take over the leadership in our plants. We're training like there's no tomorrow. I mean, we honestly believe that that's going to be our key. The second part, in my opinion, is what are we going to do to develop the outside workforce. Those are the kids, and Bill and I were just discussing this. The kids in junior highs right now and high schools, because the technology is changing, what we're training for today may not even be there in five years, so we're really having to try to stay ahead of the curve here. That puts a lot of pressure on us as manufacturers. We're working with the colleges, companies like Goodwill. I think our answer at Pace has been to develop this educational community and state government partnership to really gain trust with all of those parties and then have buy-in to what we need as far as a company goes. We've seen that happen because everyone seems to be interested in this situation right now because it affects basically all Americans. The power of partnerships can't be overstated. This is not a slam to our partners, but in my personal experience, education and government are going to move slower than business so communication and expectations have to be very clear from all the parties. I really want to emphasize that manufacturers have to drive this initiative. We have to put in this effort if we're going to see success. 

Danny Games: Right. Excellent.

Bill Goebel: Yeah. I agree. I know that the educators want to provide the service that the manufacturers need. I agree with Ken that indeed manufacturing has to drive it. We always go into a company asking what are the skillsets that people need to work in your company, and they know. They know the fundamentals that they have to have and troubleshooting and all that. Then you get into the specific areas where the technology comes in, and that's a little bit higher level of education. Sometimes it's best served being taught in the company as opposed to at a local school because there's such a diversification of technology. You've got all kinds of different PLCs, all different types of robots. They're doing different things. If you try to do that in a one stop shop to cover everything, it would be impossible. I think there's some fundamentals you start out with and then you move the people in the other area.

Danny Games: Yeah. Good point. If I had to couch what you're both saying in terms of a change or a trend, we might observe that five or 10 years ago we were very accepting of that educational model kind of driving and leading the change. Now we seem to have been turning a corner the past couple of years whereas you say manufacturers in industry and business really are beginning to lead the change. If you had to go from here and project out over the next five or 10 years, what do you think are going to be some of the evolving changes and trends that this demand on the workforce and on companies and educators is placing? 

Ken Stuckey: Just from our perspectives, we're having to really look at our dollars spent in recruiting and sourcing at Pace and really find that the biggest numbers that we need are going to be coming through two-year technical schools. When we look at what and where we need to be in recruiting, we're probably going to recruit 40 in any one plant, 40 to 1 over a four year degreed person. I mean, we need engineers, but we do not need them nearly as rapidly as we need CMM programmers, technical maintenance people, and that kind of a worker. We're seeing a huge need for noncredit training from our educational partners and simply put, Danny, noncredit training is just short term training to skill up someone to operate equipment, and that's really what we need. It doesn't require a two year degree, but just the skills needed to accomplish a task. I think because of the speed right now at manufacturing, it's a game changer when educational or training partners can bring in training that can help us get our people or our outside workers that are going to come to Pace skilled in those areas that we really need them in.

Danny Games: Wow. Good point. Significant ramification to students who have to contemplate a four year degree and student debt over the option of an educational and career path like this that gets such a great immediate return on their time and investment. 

Ken Stuckey: True.

Danny Games: Bill, you were going to add?

Bill Goebel: Danny, I think it was a great question you asked. I think the fundamentals are something that the education system could provide, like blueprint reading, schematic reading, troubleshooting, math in a plant. Basic fundamentals are going to continue for the next five to 10 years. That's not going to change, but then you get into the specific areas, and that's where it gets kind of fuzzy. If I were to say in five or 10 years what would we be looking for, I'd say keep the education system dealing with the fundamentals because those don't change as often as the technology does, and as the technology changes, develop a working relationship with the companies to do something specific at that company. 

Danny Games: We're speaking about this. Ken uses this 40 to 1 ratio. That's pretty significant, and we're hearing that across a lot of manufacturers in our state so that's pretty consistent, but to hear it quantified like that is pretty impactful. When you think about the messages that we're sending and the demands on those with a four year degree and those what we might call the middle skilled workers or maybe we'll call them the ever-evolving skilled workers, how do you characterize this challenge, and how do we reconcile that continuing demand for both?

Ken Stuckey: Well, I think the more aggressive companies out there are seeking these partners at all levels. They're located within a commutable distance to their plants to help them with the productivity in their own plant. Roughly three years ago, Danny, I hired our own workforce coordinator here at Pace whose responsibility is to go into the communities around our companies and really build relationships with students, faculty, and to provide key resources, whether it's at junior high or high school or college. Basically the goal in that was to attract the best people through the use of career paths that involve noncredit, short term training or completing an associate's degree, which we'll assist in paying for. North Ark College though in Harrison is a great example of this, and actually they're in the process right now of hiring their own regional workforce coordinator. I think to answer the question, as our companies grow and as we continue to expand, you have to go to the source of where the people are, and the people right now are in two year technical colleges. That's where our emphasis is, and, of course, the high schools as well. To talk about balancing it out, I guess what we do, we keep our hand in the four year colleges and those engineering departments and such, but our emphasis really is recruiting out of the two year colleges.Danny Games: You talk about North Ark. Can you elaborate a little bit on anything that you're doing that's unique or creative with them?
Ken Stuckey: Well, North Ark calls on us to assist them in what our needs are. We started this relationship several years ago where we just started having pizza with them once a month, just sitting down in a casual environment and discussing what Pace's needs were as far as strategy. When you begin to do that and really pay attention to those relationships and let them know what you really need, and I know Bill was talking about the basic skills and all that, which they're really, really strong at, but we needed some technical training equipment, our people to be trained on that. We helped them in a workforce grant that they receive from the state, almost a million dollars. It assisted them in a lot of areas of workforce. One of the big things there was some capital for equipment that they could use. We donated equipment to North Ark, they bought some equipment, and now they've really got a state-of-the-art manufacturing/technology lab, so to speak, where they can bring young people back there and get them up to speed pretty quick. Their robotics area is growing tremendously. It's a two-way street. Companies have to have skin in the game, and educators have to be willing to listen to what the manufacturers need. When that happens, it really works out in a great way.
Danny Games: That sounds excellent. So, Bill, what are some of the more effective workforce development solutions you and your colleagues at Mpact see companies adopting today?
Bill Goebel: Danny, what we've seen is that the workforce development folks have reached out to companies such as Lincoln Electric and worked in partnership with them to develop, in the case of Lincoln Electric, welding a three dimensional video, almost like a video game, that can teach kids how to do beats properly and other techniques in welding. By that partnership, Lincoln Electric developed this video that is almost like a game and donated it to the community college and has now started doing that nationwide. I think there's opportunities to find companies like Ken mentioned. Robotics, get a robotic company to donate a FANUC robot, let's say, and teach the kids how to run it and the fun of running it. There's a lot of robotics classes that are being done and competition in the high schools that workforce could tap into and bring those kids because obviously they're into those kind of games and fun. The kids today aren't the same generation that Ken and I [crosstalk 00:18:59]. They're looking for a whole different way of approaching work. If you can make it fun and challenging, you've got them hooked.
Danny Games: I agree. My college freshman daughter built a helicopter with a team in her senior year of high school last year. I don't know that I'd recommend our flying it, but the things that they are working on are five and 10 years advanced of where we were when we were high school seniors. Let me go back to one of the points you all were making a few minutes ago. When it comes to workforce education in more of a broader question, we look at an employee's education and skills training, we know it needs to be as immediately applicable as possible but not so specific that the training is only applicable for a couple of jobs. What are the longer term foundational core skills that are most useful for a broad range of middle skilled jobs for a longer period of time?
Ken Stuckey: In my opinion, in manufacturing there's basically a need to have a great understanding of safety, quality, process, and maintenance, which is going to require people to be able to read and comprehend, do basic math, solve problems, and then have those soft skills that are necessary for them to be successful. I'm biased on that question, Danny, because I do serve on a board in Alexandria, Virginia, called The Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, and it's more commonly known as MSSC. The purpose of that certification board is to award a CPT, or a certified production technician certificate, or a CLT, which stands for a certified logistics technician certificate, for the completion of a rigorous classroom program. They complete tests that have to be passed. It gives the participant though a great overview of what a manufacturing career looks like or a career in logistics. In my opinion, it's these kind of certifications that can really catapult a person into a better position and a higher position in manufacturing because they see the whole thing from a 30,000 foot view. Then they can say, "You know what, I think technical maintenance is maybe where I want to be," or, "Maybe I want to be in quality." The basic core skills, you got to be able to read, and you have to know where to go get the information at least, and you have to be able to do math. I know in Arkansas, we're continuing to ask the legislators to help us really have an emphasis on third grade reading skills because after the third grade, you basically are reading to be able to pass tests and do things like that. The fundamentals of math and reading are never going to go away and, of course, soft skills are required just to be able to function effectively in a manufacturing environment.

Danny Games: Excellent. Yeah, the foundations that you're looking for actually begin when they're eight, nine, 10 years old. 

Ken Stuckey: Exactly. Yes, sir. They do.

Danny Games: Exactly. Bill, what are your thoughts on that?

Bill Goebel: Well, Danny and Ken, I agree with you 100%. I think the only thing I would add to it is we see a lot of requests for troubleshooting skills, problem solving. Once the learn the fundamentals, okay, now how do you work through a problem and find a solution. I might just add one thing that we also come across and that is, believe it or not, scouting. They have 132 merit badges. They have hydraulics, pneumatics, welding, robotics, programming, and there are these clubs that they set up, and it's a good place to tap in to find talent, to find kids that want to go in because they've been exposed to it in a very fun way. Then they say, "Well, that's the career I think I want to go into." It's an opportunity. They're all over the United States. They're willing to help, so something to tap into. Danny Games: That's a great, great thought, Bill. How to be innovative, creative, your recruiting has to begin earlier than we would have ever considered a decade ago. Good point. Bill Goebel: Well, gentleman, this has been very interesting and engaging, but I do want to ask that final question that I alluded to at the outset in asking you to kind of sum up your concluding recommendations for anyone who might be listening and involved in business, industry, or education or even those policy makers that you alluded to earlier in how that they would address the current and future workforce needs. How would each of you sum up some concluding recommendations for us?

Ken Stuckey: Well, I think business has to commit to developing their community partnerships primarily. That's got to take place, and do it around your facilities to where it will benefit the community. You'll see community buy into this because they want their companies and they're manufacturers to thrive. I really believe that that's at the head of all things is to begin to develop those relationships if they haven't started already. I guess the second thing is is for as manufacturers for us to have champions that go out into the community that will speak on behalf of the careers that we have available, and then visit with the parents. A big deal is getting the parents to buy into the kids having a manufacturing career because they remember what manufacturing was maybe back in their day and it's not what it is today. I think that's a big thing and speaking to civic groups, going to career fairs, and those kind of things. I think the big deal there too is to always talk about the career path. Companies, at least like Pace, are no longer just looking for someone to come in and punch the clock and do just basic skilled work. We need people who have got the upside to be able to learn not only what we bring them in at, but then go five levels above that. I think that is a good thing. I think that universities and colleges have to communicate their willingness to work with companies and become a good, strong partner, and then provide those companies with whatever is needed. I think, again as I said, industry has to drive this, so colleges need to listen and really act on what we ask them. So far, we have seen that at every one of the Pace locations around the country.Actually think outside the box. Business is not just as usual. In other words, we can't just go to that mentality of this is the way we've always done it. I think that if companies and people will take this on as a challenge, and I think I want to go back to what Bill said, it is an epidemic, and it is a crisis, but it can be solved if everybody jumps in and begins to work through this. I truly believe that we can all accomplish more by working with it as a group rather than working as a solo type situation. Finally, I would just say let's put politics aside on this and do what's best for our communities because if there ever was a bipartisan issue, it's workforce. I just want to thank you for giving me a shot at visiting with you all today about this.

Danny Games: Excellent. Excellent point. You summed it up very, very well. Bill, what would you add to that from terms of some concluding recommendations?

Bill Goebel: Well, Danny, Ken did a great job of summing up. I would just add a couple things. One is there is no magic bullet. It's going to take a lot of work. Companies and educators have accomplished greater things than this, so this is very much something that could be accomplished. It's certainly going to take a partnership with the parents, the manufacturers, the educators, private companies like Mpact, and civic organizations as well. The last thing I'd say is we tell people when they're struggling with this is keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is to get people educated to become viable citizens, so they can support the company and their families.

Danny Games: Foundational, fundamental, the center of the target every time. Well said, Bill. Ken Stuckey and Bill Goebel, thank you for joining me today. Your time and insights have been greatly appreciated, and I think will prove to be of great value to our listeners. I'm Danny Games, executive vice president of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and you've been listening to the Arkansas Inc. podcast. Visit arkansasedc.com for more information. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.