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On Manufacturing: Trade groups help drive workforce development

Jeremy Lehman, TriTec of Minnesota

One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers today is access to a skilled workforce. With a large number of experienced workers reaching retirement, plus economic growth factors, there are more available positions than there are applicants. The trade associations around the state are taking the challenge of workforce development head-on with some traditional recruitment methods, along with some new unique techniques and programs.

The Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association is the manufacturing trade association serving Northeastern Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin. Some of their efforts include inviting high school students and faculty to meetings and company tours to show them what is really out there for manufacturing and industrial employment; attending job fairs and shows for high school students to showcase manufacturing careers; and helping to coordinate student tours during Manufacturing Month. AMFA's Educational Trust raises money to award as grants to area high schools. These grants go toward supporting the school's manufacturing programs by enabling them to purchase supplies, capital equipment, and go on field trips to local manufacturing companies. The money is also used to support the many high school robotics teams around the area. Since 2005, the trust has given away more than $120,000 to local schools.

The Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association represents manufacturers across Minnesota, focusing on companies based in the Twin Cities. They also raise money for grants and scholarships, and this year spearheaded the effort in the state legislature to create the Youth Skills Training Program. This program allows high school students younger than 18 to do work-based internships and apprenticeships at manufacturing companies, provides schools with the support they need to set up these work-based programs and promotes employer participation in the apprenticeships and internships. The Central Minnesota Manufacturers Association, representing manufacturing companies in the St. Cloud area, has also been working on getting these work-based internships and apprenticeships going for youths in their area.

The Minnesota Manufacturers Coalition is spearheaded by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and is made up of representatives from the manufacturing associations around the state. Their mission is to work with the legislature on issues that are important to manufacturers, including workforce development and closing the skills gap.

These are just a few of the things these organizations, along with others around the state, have done to help ensure there is a trained workforce for manufacturing in the future. It's important work, and the industry professionals who volunteer their time are more than up to the challenge.

Jeremy Lehman is the machining production manager at RMS Tritec, LLC, a Virginia metal fabricator serving the mining, power, paper and construction industries. He is also the president of Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association, a trade association representing over 100 manufacturers, educators and suppliers in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. He can be reached at