As President and CEO of the Manufacturers Resource Center, Jack Pfunder has his finger on the pulse of manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley region. It’s his job to know what’s happening in every sector of manufacturing across the area, to see trends, and to predict outcomes for the next several years.
In a guest column he recently authored for Lehigh Valley Business, Pfunder wrote
“… manufacturing is now the largest sector of economic output in the Lehigh Valley. Manufacturing contributes 15 percent of the gross domestic product with less than 10 percent of the workforce.”
We asked him about the trends he’s seeing in the industry, what’s being done to train tomorrow’s workers, and how his nonprofit organization can assist local manufacturers with training and certification programs.
Lehigh Valley’s top manufacturing sectors – continue to be food and beverage, machining, injection molding products, and biomedical and medical devices.
Reshoring – “We’re seeing a trend in reshoring with American companies bringing more of their manufacturing back to the U.S. instead of doing it overseas. The main reason for this is because it has become easier for American factories to produce custom-made products and as a result, they are able to turn them around more quickly. Another reason is that by producing the items here, they are closer to the end user and where they will be consumed, which saves in transit cost and time.”
Automation – And when it comes to products, today’s consumers expect increased quality and faster innovation. In response, American companies are embracing technology and making their manufacturing lines automated. This improves production costs as well as productivity per employee, and increases flexibility and the ability to customize products. But in order to automate, manufacturers have to be able to hire employees with the right skill sets to run and maintain these complicated computerized systems.
Educating tomorrow’s workers
“In the old days we expected employees to get their skilled training at vo-tech schools, but today the employer needs to do some of that training,” Pfunder explained. “Employers still expect a new hire to come on board with a basic level of knowledge. But individualized, specialty training needs to be provided by the employer to make that hire more flexible.”
“Right now there is a great need for trained maintenance professionals due to the mass retirement of one generation of workers and the onboarding of their replacements. Today’s younger workers understand computers and software programs better than many of their predecessors did, but they don’t understand the technical side of things ‘under the hood,’ so to speak,” Pfunder said.
MRC is working closely with the region’s career and technical schools to make sure that students are learning STEM skill sets for today’s manufacturing along with machining, welding, megatronics, and graphic arts. They also work with the area’s community colleges to ensure that higher levels of training for existing workers and former workers re-entering the field are up to speed. There they can connect with students who are interested in engineering but who might not become engineers and show them how the students can still work in an engineering-related role in manufacturing.
They are also working with middle school students in the region to make them aware of manufacturing jobs as a career option, and to change misperceptions of what advanced manufacturing work is like today. The “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” student video program brings teams of middle school students into local manufacturers to shoot short informational videos which are then entered into a contest that culminates in an awards ceremony each winter.
“It’s important for today’s students, teachers, and guidance counselors to understand that young people don’t have to earn a four-year college degree to have a good paying job with benefits in manufacturing,” Pfunder explained. “And they should know that there is still the opportunity for advancement if they start at one level and work their way up into other positions and other departments.”
MRC also participates in Project Lead the Way, a national program with a local presence, which connects six local high schools with STEM programs that provide students and teachers with hands-on learning in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.
Training the Lehigh Valley’s manufacturers
MRC participates in WEDnetPA to provide training funds to manufacturers in the commonwealth through local community colleges, including Lehigh Carbon Community College and Northampton Community College. The funding can be used for a wide range of training — categorized as either Essential Skills Training or Advanced Technology Training.
When it comes to helping the Lehigh Valley’s small and medium-sized manufacturers be as efficient and cost-effective as possible, MRC offers a variety of resources and training programs.
Manufacturing Leadership Institute – trains today’s managers to become tomorrow’s leaders through a certificate program that helps them enhance their skills, strengthen their companies’ competitiveness, drive growth, and create sustainable business models that lead them into the future.
LEAN Training – nearly a dozen different courses are offered on everything from the LEAN office and value stream mapping, to problem-solving and leadership culture. And LEAN master certification is also available.
Other types of educational courses include project management, Six Sigma/Lean6 courses, ISO certification, maintenance master certification, and more.