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Sat, June 15

Skilled workforce is first step to building manufacturing

John Little (above) was contracted by the Yavapai County Workforce Development Board, a branch of the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG), to conduct a Yavapai County manufacturing sector survey. The results of the survey were presented at a Manufacturing Sector Strategy Forum on Tuesday. (Max Efrein/The Daily Courier)

John Little (above) was contracted by the Yavapai County Workforce Development Board, a branch of the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG), to conduct a Yavapai County manufacturing sector survey. The results of the survey were presented at a Manufacturing Sector Strategy Forum on Tuesday. (Max Efrein/The Daily Courier)

Yavapai County's community leaders must overcome some roadblocks before there is an increase in the area's manufacturing.

As indicated by a survey of manufacturers taken within the last 90 days, the first hurdle is building and retaining a skilled workforce.

"That's really number one," said John Little, who was contracted by The Yavapai County Workforce Development Board, a branch of the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) to conduct the survey by.

To retain the current level of manufacturing in the county and to attract new companies, a pool of skilled workers to draw from is vital, said Little.

Dean of Yavapai College's Career and Technical Education (CTEC) Division John Morgan said the college is attempting to fill that pool.

"What I think we've lost in career education over the years is the apprenticeship model," Morgan said.

To start reintroducing the model in the county, Morgan has begun to negotiate with local companies to offer Yavapai College's CTEC students paid internships. Many of companies in the Greater-Prescott area, however, are small and cannot afford to make such an investment. Therefore, the staff at CTEC has begun to write paid interns into the grants so that the college can provide the "paid" aspect of the internship and the company only has to focus on housing and training the student.

If the grants come through, there will be 17 positions available in the next three years within technical fields such as machining and mechanical engineering.

Additionally, Morgan plans to engage the local youth more by hosting discussions and offering tours of the CTEC facility to elementary students and their parents. A key point that Morgan hopes to drive home with parents is that technical careers will both allow their child to earn a higher wage when they enter the workforce and avoid being mired in college debt.

"When they see that this can lead to a good wage, and oh, by the way, these companies will help pay for their education, there's buy in," Morgan said. "But you have to start young, because if you start when their seniors in high school, it's too late."

Economic developers who attended a manufacturing sector strategy forum on Tuesday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University agreed across the board that aside from the key aspects already brought up by the survey, manufacturers themselves know what the real issues facing their industry are and therefore need to lead the effort.

"It has to be private sector driven," said Richard Bowen, President and CEO of the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona. "If it's not, then it just kind of bumps along and never gets done."

The Kingman and Mohave Manufacturing Association (KAMA) is a prime example of a private and public partnership going right for just this reason.

Similar to the Greater Prescott Regional Economic Partnership (GPREP) - but with a slightly more narrowed focus - KAMA is a non-profit employer association dedicated to serving businesses in the manufacturing and manufacturing service industries by providing a forum where problems, ideas, needs and solutions can be explored, shared and implemented.

Its Chairman, John Hansen, spoke at the forum. Not only does he devote significant effort toward boosting the manufacturing sector in Kingman - which is already relatively strong - but he's also the Chief Operating Officer for Laron Inc., a leader in machining, fabrication and several other manufacturing services, and which has a facility in Kingman.

"We all need a John Hansen," Bowen said.

Going forward, Director of the Greater Prescott Regional Economic Partnership (GPREP) Richard Heath said he is currently focusing his efforts on attracting companies involved in manufacturing, aviation, aerospace, defense and security to the area to support the labor force already being generated in the area by local institutions.

"Embry-Riddle graduates about 500 students per year," Heath said. "That's a huge labor force that we need to keep here."

Bowen believes Yavapai County has enormous potential, but said the problems won't solve themselves.

"We as communities have to step up our game," Bowen said.

And as stated by Little: the survey is only a tool.

"It's just data," Little said. "Data is only data until you decide to look at it and do something with it."

For those who wish to see the results of the survey, they can contact NACOG at 928-777-1422.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.

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