A new/old approach to employee and future employee training

There are a lot of columns, books and articles written about new-age approaches to the subject of employee training and re-training. In the vehicle service industry, responsibility for training has typically fallen on the shoulders of the suppliers and manufacturers. This usually happened when new technologies were introduced to the independent market.

In earlier times however, shop skills training fell first on the industrial arts classes in middle and high school and was followed by apprentice type programs in the workplace. That is how most in my and my dad’s generations learned our trades.

You started out fetching parts and cleaning spills and other messes, and by lifting heavy things for the tradesman. Gradually, they would train you how to do the more challenging tasks.

Some were fortunate enough to attend a trade school and learn the basics through semi-advanced skills and then enter an on-the-job (OTJ) training program in a shop or other workplace.

Those systems seemed to have fallen by the wayside over the last 25 years or so in many areas of the country, as fewer and fewer people saw the trades as a viable way to make a living. With the generational shift taking place, we have an inordinate percentage of tradespeople nearing retirement age, along with a significant shortage of people in the system to take their places in the workforce.

Supply and Demand

As with all things in business, supply and demand is the “rule of the jungle.” Many of the skilled trades have become much higher compensation fields than even those requiring undergraduate and graduate degrees.

In many areas of industry, huge percentages of companies – as high as 85 percent – are reporting severe shortages in these skilled individuals to fill open, or soon to be open, positions. This goes for technicians in repair facilities; skilled manufacturing positions; commercial vehicle drivers; plumbing, HVAC and electrician professionals; and many others.

The severity of this problem comes into focus when you consider that all of the fields mentioned are competing for the same basic type of individual: the skilled tradespeople.

Lack of Attraction

We as a society have not promoted these fields as attractive forms of employment. As a result, we have a growing problem. There is a distinct shortage of individuals being trained in skilled trades.

Additionally, there are lots of people with four-year degrees that are finding less-than-satisfactory employment conditions in the field they chose when entering a university, plus they have massive student loan debt.

The time has now come for our industry to take the bull by the horns and work with academic institutions on a long-term solution.

MAT Squared

A very creative and timely program has been developed through a series of partnerships between private industry, government and educational institutions like such as community colleges. In Michigan, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has developed the MAT2, or MAT Squared, program. MAT stands for Michigan Advanced Technician Training.

The program focuses on an industry-driven partnership for a dual education system for the purpose of educating, or in some cases re-educating, employees. The industry partners have worked to identify the standards to teach to. They have also developed a full curriculum to address specific market needs and made it in a form where it can be adapted to nearly any technical profession.

These curriculums are not to be confused with any short-term training program. Rather, MAT uses an industry-defined curriculum that, when completed, results in an associate’s degree which can be a gateway to an apprentice-to-journeyman program in most professions.

The MAT2 program in Michigan is in many cases an OTJ training program where the employee is paid during training in exchange for an agreement with the employer for employment in their facilities. Like many of the apprentice-to-journeyman type programs, there is a need for solid “raw material” in the worker, as well as a strong commitment on the part of both parties.

MAT2 is an extraordinary program, especially considering the near catastrophic predictions on severe shortages of manufacturing and general trades jobs from just a few years ago. A similar condition is predicted in vehicle service due to a shortage of skilled technicians.

A Manufacturing Economy

Our nation runs on a manufacturing economy of nearly $3 trillion per year. That is larger than the total GDP of 16 of the top 20 economies in the world.

We need to make things in our economy for it to be successful long term. All of the goods produced in a manufacturing economy need to be shipped to their final destinations and 70 to 75 percent of those products travel by truck.

That means a continuing flow of vehicle repairs and maintenance will be needed just to help keep things moving in the economy.

Get ‘Er Done

If you are in the state of Michigan, please look into the MAT2 program. Details can be found at www.mitalent.org. It is well worth a visit to the site.

If you are not in Michigan, work together with your local Chamber of Commerce, economic development agencies or other resources to create your own such program. It may seem to be a time-consuming initiative, but need drives all demand. When there is a need, a larger group can accomplish great things, given the right path.

It is imperative that we join together as an industry to assure a plentiful supply of skilled tradespeople for the future.

I am sure the people at MEDC would be happy to be a pattern for others outside of their state for an endeavor like this.

Tim Kraus is the president and chief operating officer (COO) of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA). www.hdma.org. Prior to joining HDMA, he served in various executive positions with heavy duty industry parts manufacturers. HDMA exclusively serves as the industry voice of the commercial vehicle product manufacturers. It is a market segment affiliate of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA). www.mema.org.