A couple of events from this week demonstrate how important the workforce is as a tool for economic development. On Wednesday, Dana Corporation announced that they were eliminating the second shift at their Owensboro operation, resulting in a loss of over 100 manufacturing jobs in the region.
That announcement was followed by the release of a report from the National Commission on Adult Literacy lead by Owensboro's own Dr. Cheryl King. The report illustrates once again what a deep crisis our nation faces with the workforce keeping pace with an ever evolving global economy. What is being done locally to "retool" the workforce in the face of this crisis?
The Owensboro Community and Technical College was recently awarded a competitive three-year $1.9 million U.S. Department of Labor grant. The college, along with the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation co-hosted a Manufacturing Industry Workforce Competitiveness Summit in order to gauge the need of local industry and better plan utilization of the funds.
More than twenty business leaders representing a variety of manufacturing related companies participated in the April 2008 summit. The following issues arose as major concerns for employers:
Operational and technological challenges, qualified entry-level line/labor employee shortages, qualified technically-skilled occupational employee shortages, employee effectiveness, qualified supervisory-level candidate shortages, supervisory-level employee effectiveness, engineering and business administration occupational employee shortages
In response to these issues, the EDC and OCTC held a follow up to the Summit last week to introduce and refine plans for the grant focusing on three key areas: underemployed, incumbent, and dislocated workers; new-career seekers and entry-level workers; and underrepresented groups (females, minorities, youth and veterans).
The college presented options currently available as well as future plans for increasing enrollment and retention of manufacturing students. Through OCTC’s Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED), college staff will continue working alongside local companies in order to develop the high quality, customized programs needed to reach these goals. Ranging from leadership development to specialized technical training, options include short-term Welding Training, a Team Leadership Certificate, Apprenticeship programs, mobile training labs, and the IMAC (Industry-based Modularized Accelerated Credentials) program. The tools and capacity of the newly opened Advanced Technology Center (pictured above) will also be leveraged to support the needs of existing employers.
The Owensboro region is blessed with a diversity of manufacturing operations from automotive to food processing and high tech. Such diversity postion the region to handle disruptions and layoffs such as the one announced this week. The Department of Labor grant is an important tool in helping create the manufacturing workforce of the 21st Century-- a key in retaining and growing the diverse existing industries in the region for years to come.