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Manufacturing a training network

Industry building stronger ties with academia to fill positions

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As head of the state's manufacturing talent network, Meredith Aronson has been working with community colleges to rebuild programs in the field, so companies can find the skilled workers they need to expand.
As head of the state's manufacturing talent network, Meredith Aronson has been working with community colleges to rebuild programs in the field, so companies can find the skilled workers they need to expand. - (Aaron Houston)

The state is beginning to see results from a new initiative to train workers for jobs in advanced manufacturing, in which technology, knowledge and skill are combined to make goods that can be produced competitively in a high-cost place like New Jersey.

Since she was named a year ago to head the ManufactureNJ Talent Network, Meredith Aronson has been facilitating partnerships between New Jersey manufacturers that need workers, and the high schools and community colleges that want to develop or expand training programs to supply the skilled worker pipeline for the high-tech manufacturing world.

Based at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark, ManufactureNJ is an initiative of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which has identified advanced manufacturing as a promising source of new jobs. Jeff Stoller, assistant commissioner for labor planning and analysis at the state labor department, said, "The transformation is well under way from heavy manufacturing to advanced production that employs new technology and modern production methods." He said during the past year, Aronson "has done a good job of putting the spotlight on the importance of manufacturing, and the need to understand what jobs we will need five to seven years out, and which ones we need to fill today."

Manufacturing "still has a stigma that it's a dirty-hands job, but it really isn't anymore — advanced manufacturing is about computers and technology," said Matt King, chair of the industrial and design technologies department at Bergen Community College.

The challenge is getting the message to young people that there are good, well-paying jobs in manufacturing, right here in New Jersey, said King. In 2008, King began leading the revamping of BCC's manufacturing technology curriculum. He said Aronson encouraged the school to begin this fall to start preparing students for accreditation by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, which will make them more competitive on the job market. BCC graduates about 10 students a year from its manufacturing program, and King wants to raise that to 15 or 20. BCC can't satisfy the demand from industry; King is working with Aronson to start a program at BCC to train the unemployed for jobs in advanced manufacturing.

Aronson pointed out that "New Jersey has a profound and powerful manufacturing history — Lucent, RCA, Johnson & Johnson — the roots of so many industries are here." While most of the big factories are gone, more than 10,000 manufacturers remain, many of them small companies that struggle to find the skilled workers they need.

"What happened in the manufacturing contraction of the last 30 years is we lost the programs to develop a skilled work force with critical skills," Aronson said. Her mission is to work with community colleges and vocational schools "to reconstruct these programs for the next generation."

Aronson worked with Passaic County Technical Institute to develop a training course funded by the state labor department that last summer taught 15 unemployed people entry-level skills for jobs working with CNC, or computer numerical control manufacturing equipment.

One of the graduates, who had been out of work, was hired by Richard Bing, president of B&M Machine Co., in Belleville, which uses both CNC and manual machine tools to make components for a wide range of industries, including water purification and automotive.

Bing said he has been listening for years to talk about the need to train manufacturing workers. He said he was impressed that Aronson "was able to actually put this together, and used (training) facilities that would have been idle over the summer." Bing said he has 11 CNC machines, and half a dozen manual machine tools. He is planning to acquire another CNC machine and will have another job to fill. Looking to the future, Bing said he will need a pipeline of new workers: the average age of his 18-person staff is about 50.

The talent network is looking to focus attention on opportunities in manufacturing when it convenes its first "ManufactureNJ Week" during the week of Oct. 22. It will feature tours of plants and training programs, and discussions of how to expand the state's manufacturing work force.

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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