KTM Solutions will celebrate 15 years in business this year. During this time frame, as in previous decades, American companies have feared eminent labor shortages, leading business magazines as well as national and state organizations to emphasize the importance of businesses’ investing in their employees and training the next generation. The field of engineering has not been exempt from these concerns. Many chamber events suggest the largest single business issue is workforce development. Our country put a man on the moon in under ten years. Relative to this, development of the next generation of workers should be pretty simple. Why is this still an issue?
Lest this sound like a simple matter, it’s important to recognize there are many contributors. Some people blame the public education system, disintegration of the nuclear family, stigma of manufacturing careers, uncertain job availability and economic instability related to political factions. The list could be as long as the number of people you ask and can be overwhelming. But the old adage is true: the only person you can truly control and change is yourself. Applying this logic, it seems the best place to start is by looking into what each of us can do.
KTM Solutions started an informal apprenticeship program six months after the company was founded. We began with high school seniors and college student interns, all with an interest in engineering. In 2011, working with Apprenticeship Carolina, our informal program was converted to a registered four-year mechanical design program. In fact, this was the first mechanical design apprenticeship in South Carolina. Although not all students enrolled in the four-year program, KTM has trained more than 35 students since the program began. Some students were with us a semester while others participated for years. Two particular students started the program in high school, completed the formal apprenticeship, obtained their four-year engineering degree and are full-time KTM employees. Our engineering leaders are also involved in advisory boards at local technical colleges (Greenville Technical College and USC Upstate).
What’s the point? Quite honestly, we all need to participate in the solution. Companies that haven’t made an investment yet can help solve the problem by getting involved. The following are four easy-to-implement suggestions:
Get involved by participating on advisory boards with the local technical schools and colleges. You’ll likely find that the college system is very welcoming to input and craves industry involvement.
Develop an internship or apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship programs are easy to implement and can provide benefits quickly. As a side benefit, you may be surprised by the way apprenticeships develop some of your senior people. Apprenticeships provide excellent coaching opportunities for senior experienced employees.
Larger businesses can partner with small companies to provide development opportunities. Many small businesses are able to provide better focus and attention to development; however, these same companies need work from the larger companies to enable specific educational experiences.
Lastly, we can all share our working experiences in the public school classrooms as a way to motivate and peak young students’ interests. Participate in career days and any other educational programs where you can share details of your careers.
Business magnate Richard Branson has said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.” Granted, there are external issues and resources that are vital to development of the workforce. Many of those pieces are in place already and there are countless organizations working diligently to fill the gaps. But, before complaining about the lack of skilled workers and a developed workforce, ask yourself, “Am I doing my part? What can my company—more specifically, what can I do to be a part of the solution?”