Community Colleges Should Help Prepare the Next Generation of Manufacturers, Experts Say

Jul 09 2015 |
Pictured from left to right: Walter Daetwyler, Amy Cell, John White, and Patricia Cohen. | Photo by Bailey Pilgreen

Policy event looked at partnerships between community colleges and manufacturing sector.

Community college training programs can play a major role in training the next generation of skilled workers for manufacturing jobs, panelists agreed during a policy discussion held at the nonprofit Brookings Institution in Washington on Thursday.  

Titled Preparing the Next Generation of Manufacturers Through Community Colleges, the half-day conference looked at several aspects of the future of manufacturing employment, including the current and future situation of workforce development, what people in the industry are doing to train workers, and how community colleges and technical schools will come into play in workforce development.

Rep. David Cicilline (D), the former mayor of Providence and current representative of Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district, spoke about what the federal government is (and should be) doing to support the training of manufacturing workers.

“I think making sure we continue to maintain the strong demand for American-made goods, modernize the Buy America programs is important. Community colleges are really the answer for how we train the next generation of young people and retrain existing manufacturing workers to meet the demands in the workforce today,” Cicilline said.

There are an estimated 2 million manufacturing jobs that are going to be hard to fill over the next decade due to a skills gap, said Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. “We have to think about ways to train both the new as well as existing workers in this sector,” West added.

A solution to this could be the development of community college training programs to foster the next generation of manufacturing jobs. Some community colleges have already spearheaded partnerships with large companies to prepare their students for a career in the manufacturing sector including Montgomery College, one of the largest community colleges in Maryland.

“Community colleges are the driving force as an anchor institution in connecting so many needs of the community with the resources that can help propel and drive not only workforce development but economic development in a community,” said DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College.

While the panelists all had their own views they agreed on one thing: we need to help communities build strategies for manufacturing. Now it’s up to community colleges across the United States to engage their communities and potential employees.

“Our greatest changeable, improvable asset are our people," said John White, president of Taco, Inc. "I’ve always had the opinion that we just need to train them." 

This post was written by AAM interns Caitlin Musselman and Bailey Pilgreen.