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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Liu

Interview : Workforce Development From the Perspective of a Non-Profit Industrial Association

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

An Interview with Craig McAtee, CEO of National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC)

August 30th, 2022

Discussion Summary:

Students who receive technical training certifications in high school are granted the option to enter skilled jobs in the workforce straight after graduation.

Through its connections with local businesses, employers, and participation in grant programs, the Career Academy helps local students find on-the-job training opportunities within their desired fields even if they do not take classes at the Career Academy.

To ensure that the school’s curriculums remain applicable to workforce demands over several years, the Career Academy’s administrative staff actively participate in economic and educational boards.

Could you provide some background on the NCATC?

We’re almost 35 years old. We’re a nonprofit organization. We were formed in 1987 88 with two companies IBM, who still around and Lucent Technologies, who’s not they came to the Center for Occupational Research and Development and needed to figure out how to connect with community colleges in workforce development needs for the technicians of the future. And those folks happened to be the technicians that were out laying out the backbone of the internet. Something that we’re only here because of that, right. So that happened with about eight community colleges, you know, six states. And if we fast forward to today, we have over 175 Community and Technical Colleges in 38 states from Hawaii to Maine to Florida as our members. So, it’s a subset of the entire 1153 community colleges in the United States under the umbrella of American Association of Community Colleges. We are an affiliated Counsel of ACC and have been for 25 of those 35 years. They rely on us for expertise from the field, not only from our colleges, but from our industry partners which we have almost 50 there on our website will recite them now but FANUC robotics, Festo Haas, CNC tooling U SME, there’s a giant list of great companies that are at our disposal every day. But ACC relies on us for all things advanced technology and manufacturing related when it comes to best practices in the field. We also work very closely with the National Science Foundation on advanced technology education grants. We are not only technical assistance providers, but also external evaluators. Same thing with Department of Energy, commerce, and defense. We work very closely with them on grants and best practices from the field and our partners with eight of the 19 manufacturing innovation institutes across the nation for additive manufacturing, robotics, flexible electronics, composites, etc. So that’s a quick version of where we are now in 35 years of our history.

How can we ensure that learners of all like demographics backgrounds aspirations can come out of the experience with the same kind of knowledge and the same preparedness for the workforce?

Apprentices have been around for, you know, a century plus, right? And apprentices, apprenticeships Registered Apprenticeships from the Department of Labor. As you probably know, evolved from more of the construction industry as a starting point and have moved on. Well, when they’ve come from the construction industry. Most of those apprenticeships have been and still are. union, union apprenticeships joined apprenticeship training centers. Now that didn’t fly well with people in the south, you know, because there’s very little union organization or used to be in the south. But when we work with people like BMW and Mercedes Benz and a lot of those folks that have brought industry automotive industry OEM manufacturing to the southern states over the last two decades, Alabama, Kentucky you name it. They’ve they fought long and hard to do really good things upskilling their employees bringing in new employees under an apprenticeship type of model, but the southern folks did not like that word. So, they had to call it all kinds of things including you know, scholars, programs, and other things to get that to happen. We call it work based learning is an umbrella. Now why am I telling you this? It’s really important to know that history. In the same thing about registered apprenticeships, there’s a lot of overhead there’s a lot of baggage that comes from especially small and medium sized companies, perhaps not the rock wall and the and the facts of the world, but they’re second and first tier supplier base, who really employ a lot of folks as you know, 85% of manufacturing organizations are under 100 employees. And a lot of them are under 50. For them to have the bandwidth and the ability to do in a real apprenticeship chip. A lot of that is a lot of work. So those immediate intermediaries, as you know, and you just mentioned, are truly great assets to those small and medium sized companies and even some of the larger ones. So, they take care of the paperwork with Department of Labor, right. But then some companies like Fannie and Rockwell for that matter, over the last 10 years, develop their own apprenticeship model and we were calling that and so was pretty much Department of Labor, industry recognized apprenticeship program, we call them AI wraps for short. Well, IRAPs have taken off because they were industry recognized with industry credentials, embedded right so whether it’s a SAAC which stands for the smart automation, Alliance, certification, or NCC, which is the National Coalition for Certification Centers, or any number of other providers like NOCTI, for credentials, those were woven into these industry recognized apprenticeship programs. Now fast forward to two years ago when the Biden administration came in. Now we love a lot of things that the Biden administration is doing, but they nixed from Department of Labor’s budget, anything to do with anything other than the traditional registered apprenticeship program. So that has been really moved off the table for the last two years. Now, Fanuc and Rockwell are still going forward with their reversion of apprenticeship programs. And those are more industry recognized than they are registered with Department of Labor. Even though they’re recognized as 21st century apprenticeships by DOL. They’re not still funded like they were in previous years. So, we really believe in that approach because not one size fits all. But right now, we’re stuck with more registered apprenticeships and now I’ll pause because that’s a good history for you to know if you didn’t already, or parts of it.

How can employers create a network of apprenticeship opportunities?

All the way down the middle schools that they do programs with, you know, whether it’s their own hands-on learning experiences or partnering with VEX robotics or even FIRST Robotics, Dean caimans group out of New Hampshire. It’s a lot of competitions that they put on for K through 12, as well as into community colleges, but they grow we helped them grow over through our network over the last 10 years of their growth, connecting with the right people. That’s one of the things we bring to the table is we don’t like any industry to get frustrated trying to connect with a college or high school because they can’t get the right person to talk to them and knows what they’re trying to do. So, it’s all about cutting to the chase getting to the right person, that champion that will be there to understand and move the program to the right level. But Rockwell’s has got a lot of great partners. They’ve got a great network of distribution across the nation. And in that distribution network, Rockwell Automation is right beside them. So, it’s a great business model, but they’ve also got MSSC which is the manufacturing skills Standards Council, which is a longtime partner of ours. They focus on manufacturing skills, everything from safety to CNC training. They’ve also got amateur oil, which is another one of our longtime partners for hands on learning. Modules in that network that rolls out across each state in each community and can connect with those colleges and high schools much more readily, because they’ve got an army if you will, of good people that call on them for training needs as well as the hands-on equipment that they need to train on. So that’s a really well-oiled machine that they’ve developed over the last 25 years to connect with their communities. And it’s very deep and wide.

I know there are a lot of industry, education, educational industry, communication between companies and educational institutions. How do companies like Rockwell and FANUC use to inform educational institutions on say, the latest workforce demands to make sure that curriculums are up to date and applicable?

There’s a lot of levels to that the top level would be the show you just went to with automate in Michigan, you know, and we’ve got our own conference that we do every year now that we’re back from COVID to a couple years off at a smaller level, but we’ve got IMTS coming up that will be part of the students Summit in Chicago in two weeks. And so those are large scale all the way down to ours, which is about 200 people, Max, have the right people listening to industry’s needs, and hearing from not only the industry’s needs to the educator and workforce development professionals, but a lot of times in engaging the student population in what’s available. So, it’s a multi prong approach at a very large scale, you know, events, then you come down to the lowest level of scale, in every high school or community college program has what they call advisory committees. We are working to change that into business. In this industry leadership teams, where it replaces the faculty leading that to the administrator and an industry champion co leading it. In other words, the industry champion is selected say it’s a Rockwell or FANUC person in the community and they partner with the dean or Director of Workforce to set the agenda four times a year minimum. And the faculty come in and listen to what they’re saying they need what’s working what’s not in the college or high school programs. And the faculty are exposed to take notes and update the curriculum. Accordingly, every quarter, because it changes in rapid pace these days, especially in manufacturing, and technology, as you know. So, we’re on a mission with the National Science Foundation, and a lot of other companies to make the old-style 20th century advisory committees be a more robust industry engaged business and industry leadership team, we call them BILT. But the more we can do that, with industries engagement on real time, not just once or twice a year over bacon and eggs and say oh yeah, we’re so glad we were here for an hour and a half and go away. That’s not the style. I spent 25 years in industry before my 20 years in education workforce. And I tell everybody face to face. If you’re not part of the solution of education or workforce development for your future employees and your current ones. You’re part of the problem. And that is true. If you don’t roll up your sleeves and get truly engaged in the education community, then you really are missing the boat. So that is the big answer is like large scale top down at events all the way down to the micro level, being truly engaged in not just the advisor committee or the bill, but also taking place and giving tours for students and faculty to understand what’s going on behind those, you know, black box. If you’re not working in manufacturing, you don’t have a clue what’s behind those walls. Most people know what’s in hospitals, healthcare, right doctors, offices, banking, you name everything that’s out there other than manufacturing, and people know what it kind of looks and feels like because it’s part of their ecosystem. Manufacturing, not the case. So, tours guest speakers. From industry into the classroom. faculty, adjunct faculty coming from industry to offset current full time faculty training, and anything in between. It’s really important to expose students, faculty, and administrators to what’s really going on real time on a regular basis.

I found it really interesting that under NCATC’s industry 4.0 initiative, you were working with the community colleges, and I know that community colleges obviously serve their local community of people who will potentially make up the workforce that drives the local economy as well. How does NCATC help community colleges identify the needs that their workforce development action plans and initiatives need to address?

We actually took nine community colleges that were selected because of ACC and Arconic. Foundation whose high-tech subsidiary of Alcoa, I don’t know if you’ve heard about Alcoa, but they are the big aluminum people in the world. They helped build planes and you know, all kinds of things in between like a Coke can, but their high-tech divisions called our conic. And they funded a one-year study that we were leading with ACC on industry 4.0. And the first thing we did within the first quarter of that study with these nine community colleges, is sit them down in a room and talk to them about where they were in nine columns. of experience of experiential learning. Everything from the industrial internet of things to 3d printing and additive to robotics to cybersecurity, virtual reality, et cetera, those all nine are laid out. And the very base part of that is called mechatronics. If you are good at doing training in mechatronics, which is five major disciplines in industrial maintenance, so basically mechanical systems, hydraulic systems, pneumatic systems, mechanical systems, conveyor belts, and things coupled with PLCs, the programmable logic controllers, the smarts, if you have all that under one training organization called mechatronics, you’ve got the starting point to go on to industry but we know because those add sensors and robots and 3d printers and everything’s connected to the internet of things. So, the demystifying part of that came out of those studies. We asked them to rate themselves on a zero to three scale, kind of an abbreviated Likert scale. Zero means we’re not doing anything, and we need help. One we started but we’re not even close. To and of course three they’re doing its full-fledged programs and certifications with industry. Most of them were in the zero to one range couple have so we a couple of them, say an Ivy Tech in Indiana with a Columbus State in Ohio and said you’re really doing good things in cybersecurity Ivy Tech help Columbus State get up to speed with your curriculum and share. We do the same across all nine columns over a year period. And it was very exciting because we had FANUC Rockwell Siemens who’s a competitor of Rockwell. Yeah, Metro Festo NOC D, a lot of really important players for industry engaged with us during the whole year, and the community colleges. So, we wrote the toolkit that’s posted on our website, which is an executive summary toolkit. For not only educators and community colleges to follow on how to fill in the gaps, but how industry needed to do the same. And that demystifying came about because of those studies. And we went up on the road the next two years before COVID hit and I was doing anything from a 30 minute to a two-hour session on demystifying industry 4.0 And basically, I started with one of these, and one of these and my Alexa behind me which you know, if I call something else, she’ll say what? And I said that’s all connected to the Internet of Things, the cloud, but just make it on steroids. And it becomes the industrial internet of things where robots and CNC machines and shipping containers and all things in between are connected to the industrial internet of things. It’s no different. And so that was the demystifying part of it in how to make it easy connection between what you do at home with recipes or where to go out to eat or reminders for your taking your pills or whatever, you know and that’s how Industrial Internet of Things became. So, there’s a video on our website. There’s the toolkit, there’s other things and that was something we continue to do right now. We’re working with the caterpillar Foundation, and 42 community colleges for the next three years on the next level of demystifying INS 2.0 And we’re doing the same thing with in cybersecurity with Microsoft so if you don’t have good cybersecurity wrapped around all this big data analytics that we’re talking about, but besides the internet of things to do, right things for FANUC and Rockwell, then you’re at risk for being hacked. So obviously cybersecurity wraps around everything important for data.

Can curriculums kind of be designed to keep up with that? And how can they be designed to be very flexible in the sense?

Well, flexibility is key, as you know, that’s part of that built bottle that business industry leadership team approach is that the industry folks meet quarterly minimum to keep things fresh instead of once or twice a year overbaking mix as I said, so that’s a real shift in getting colleges and high schools to understand the importance of getting them engaged in everything you’re doing on at least a quarterly basis, if not, you know, monthly and that’s a big ask, but companies once they get the, the understanding that they are part of the solution, and they start to really go Oh, not only am I helping you get the curriculum continue to be up to date through this process and approach every quarter or more. I can have first pick on who’s graduating out of the class. You know whether it’s a certificate class or a two-year program or transferring, you know, a four-year program. They have access to the students that they’re really supporting. Improving the programming. So, it’s really about the frequency being at least quarterly that the industry is involved in looking at the curriculum, which is part of this built model. We call it KSA. Analysis, knowledge, skills, and abilities. You probably know the term but that’s what we do. We actually take all the knowledge, skills and abilities excuse me, both technical and workplace skills. A lot of people call those soft skills, whether it’s, you know, communication or teamwork or other things, and we list them in a in a in a, say an Excel spreadsheet. And we asked the industry folks, only the industry folks, not faculty, not administrators, just industry, rank them. You know, what’s the highest to lowest? And that that process happens and then anything below 3.0 gets discussed. If you didn’t all say it was 3.0 or above and importance. Let’s discuss why it’s lower. And that process is something I’m a built coach. So, I actually do all that process with KSA analysis with the industry’s input when we just finished up in Kentucky. And it was wonderful because it’s a whole program around getting more females in the advanced manufacturing program. And it’s run by these amazing executive females from companies like Lexmark and Corning and some really, really good brand recognition companies right and they’re roll their sleeves up and they’re in there to do what’s best for the students and the colleges. That gives them the leg up on hiring people from the program. So that is a that’s one example of many, but industry involvement engagement on a regular basis. You can’t do it any other way.

How is the manufacturing scene in the Rust Belt region shaping up—is it rebuilding in any way?

Anyhow, the rural areas are huge because they’re disconnected from the major parts of manufacturing, like Honda, in General Motors, and you name the automotive and then of course, NASA and the aerospace stuff. And so, they have to really be creative. And we promote a lot of entrepreneurship, as well in coupled with work based learning is how to get students to understand they can be their own boss if they want and run their own companies and do good things, whether it’s H back repair or welding or whatever, but entrepreneurships another big piece of the puzzle for rural areas and students being trained, but enacting them with college and high school programs is huge. To understand what opportunities exist there, and a lot of times, organizations will come in and say if you’ve got this program in place, and I see a pipeline of students coming from high schools, into the programs, we want to help you grow it and they’ll put their money where their mouth is and say we’re going to develop a new company here for you to help us. So that Dory is very well connected with manufacturing associations, whether it’s NTMA, the national touring machinery association or precision metal formers are those associations are very important to connect the smaller medium sized companies to the educational networks. And so that’s another piece of the puzzle is the association so represent, you know, it’s a hub and spoke approach, where one organization can speak for 100 small to medium sized companies and carry the note the information upstream and then downstream to so that’s really important.

What infrastructure exists to support a growing workforce?

There are so many stakeholders as we call them, the stakeholder groups that are involved. You know, if you look at the education groups, that’s one big one then you look at the industry groups, that’s another big one and everything in between are, you know, in the diversity, equity inclusion category, so faith-based organizations are really important to connect with, between the education and industry. People to help get the word out and get people out of poverty, as well as upskilling for jobs that they might have lost because the industry’s changed or moved. Second Chance citizens out of prison. That’s a big one in Mansfield, which is North Central. They’ve got a big prison population there. And so, helping them while they’re serving their term, and of course, getting placed outside of their release. So, we call that second chance system. That’s a huge piece of the puzzle for getting more into the pipeline of training as well as placement. Obviously, returning veterans in the military, another huge population. And this goes on and on. You probably can study many different populations that are underserved and underrepresented as we call them right. But one that we’ve been working on for about 10 years now is the autistic level one population. We’ve got programs now that started in California 10 years ago that we’re starting to populate across Ohio is one of them Florida, Texas, etc. for autistic level one spectrum, folks that can be amazingly good at their jobs if they get the training and CNC operation, or even mechatronics and that we’re also finding that they’re really great at cybersecurity once they learn the skills in technology.

How are under-represented demographics support in the workforce development effort?

Yeah, we’ve been strong supporters and more females, more women in manufacturing for 20 years and a lot of NSF national science foundation money has gone into programs to create awareness campaigns. One of our favorite one is in Ohio, Lorain County Community Colleges, just over the last decade stood up their very first community college network. For Society of women’s engineering, SW II, and they have a chapter at the college which they expose the females that are coming to the college to that or even whether they’re in it or manufacturing or any technology type programs to get involved with that network of society for women engineers. It’s very special. There’s also as you probably know, the women in manufacturing group that is supported by the precision metal formers Association and others that are large scale, but they’ve been a niche in their needs. For women in manufacturing. Wi M is their initials will come up if you haven’t seen them. They are run by really smart and successful women in manufacturing, and they have their own conference, which we support from afar. So more and more we can get the word out to young females. One of the things we’ve done with a welding group over the last decade or two is like getting females more into welding by doing sculpture or art getting them you know; can we believe in STEAM by the way over STEM? You know, STEM is great, and it really goes a long way. But if you don’t involve arts, you’ve missed half the population and half the need of industries out there. So just quote me steam is more important in STEM, because it allows people to get from the right brain and left brain together into these fields that say, oh, I never thought of it that way. But the innovation, design and creativity that needs to be in all things that we do. That’s a huge part of steam is you know, so we’ve seen a whip and women make better welders, it’s proven there’s statistics out there, because there’s better hand eye coordination in females than there is in men 100% scientifically proven. So, women make much better welders and many other things than men. So, we support that and have for 20 years or more but the whole diversity and equity and inclusion thing is, is really we’re working with a huge group called The Urban Institute. Long story short, we’re involved in this career technical education, diversity, equity inclusion model for colleges, and we’re in our second year of that, and it’s amazing how many folks don’t understand the importance of culture change that I mentioned up front. You can do all you can in the educational community of getting diversity, equity, and the programs. But if the small, medium, and large companies don’t support it, and have a culture that makes them feel like they belong, within the first year and they’re higher, they’re out of there is they don’t feel like they belong. So part of the college’s mission, and my mission at NCTC is to be on the soapbox, be the gospel to these companies that say, you have got to change your ways not only to attract millennials, and Gen Z’s and Gen X’s, because we know that’s a big change in culture too, but to accept and help people of your current population feel like new people that are not looking like them, particularly, whether they’re BIPOC or otherwise, be accepted and feel like they belong. That’s a big shift and it’s not happening quick enough. Just so you know. So, I’m, I’m Representative as you look at me here, I’m an old white guy. And I hate the fact that I am because I don’t think like a lot of old white guys think in business, right? I have a millennial brain. But the bottom line is a lot of old white guys don’t. And that’s the unfortunate part is a lot of companies are run by you got it. old white guys. And I’m fine being videotaped and talked about as an example of a person that’s against that old mentality. It’s 20th century thinking at best. So, we were on a soapbox and tried to be out there not only demystifying industry for window but demystifying the equity problem. Then it’s big.

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