Directions: Creating The Ideal Workforce

Creating The Ideal Workforce
Generac Manufacturing Technician Jay Campbell (right) trains Youth Apprentice Caleb Steffen (left). (Credit: Photos by Mike Grady.)

By Mike Carr
Published in the October 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Regardless of the industry, facility managers around the country are constantly faced with the challenge of filling positions with qualified workers. This challenge looms large, as baby boomers retire and shifting demographics reduce the labor pool. In some industries, this squeeze is already evident, with human resource directors scrambling to find suitable candidates for an increasing number of jobs.

In this kind of numbers game, it’s increasingly important that as many young people as possible come out of the educational system equipped with the skills and knowledge to succeed in 21st century careers. Those who find themselves without those assets will not only be handicapped in terms of their vocational options and future income, but will be of little value to businesses that require well educated workers. For that reason, it’s important to identify students who are significantly off track, turn them around, and help them earn their high school diplomas instead of dropping out.

Everyone Deserves A Second Chance

Wisconsin’s Second Chance program is a highly successful initiative that reaches underachieving students and offers them an alternative means of earning their diplomas during their junior and senior years of high school. With the blessing and encouragement of the state, it brings businesses and school districts together to help students succeed while gaining valuable on the job training.

“Second Chance is a partnership between business and education that reaches an important but often overlooked segment of the high school population,” says Marty Gholston, the program’s director of instruction. “Students who are severely credit deficient as sophomores have disengaged from the learning environment for one reason or another, sabotaging their chances of graduating. Our program offers them a ‘hands on’ alternative that allows them the opportunity to get back on track and graduate with their high school class.”

These images of Wisconsin’s Second Chance program capture the hands on aspect of the learning process in action. Here, Generac Industrial Engineer Steve Schulz works with youth apprentices on manufacturing processes. (Credit: Photos by Mike Grady.)

Second Chance was developed at the impetus of Dawn Tabat, chief operating officer of Generac Power Systems, a Waukesha, WI-based manufacturer of standby generators. After attending a meeting where business leaders criticized educators for the declining quality of high school graduates, she was moved to create a business based program that would better equip students to be a part of the work force.

“The educational system is geared toward preparing students for college, but that’s not the best path for everyone,” Tabat explains. “Some students have difficulty in that environment and flounder. But given the opportunity to learn in a hands on manner, they thrive. Second Chance provides both classroom instruction and direct application of those lessons in a manufacturing environment.”

Ideal Candidates

Prospective students are recommended by teachers and counselors and then interviewed by a selection committee. Those chosen are enrolled in a 21 month program that encompasses their junior and senior years as well as the summer in between. In return for receiving an hourly wage, students and their parents sign a contract that outlines their responsibilities to the program.

Typically, there are seven juniors and seven seniors at each location, which is a manufacturing facility with a dedicated classroom and teacher. For each half of the day, one group is in the classroom (working to fulfill state graduation requirements) while the other is on the production floor.

Over the 21 consecutive months, each student rotates through multiple job settings, applying the knowledge and skills they have gained to their real world situation. Students are evaluated daily by both their teacher and production supervisor.

The Learning/Training Combo

The curriculum is designed with a holistic approach, combining the core content areas (math, science, social studies, and communications) with additional topics related to manufacturing. Those job specific areas of study include manufacturing processes, blueprint reading, and computer-aided design.

Youth Apprentice Kelly Brill packages product coming out of an injection molding press. (Credit: Photos by Mike Grady.)

Industry experts from within the company offer direct instruction and provide the link between the classroom and real world applications. As part of the program, students graduate from their home high school and earn a youth apprenticeship certification as well as vocational school credits.

As part of their daily routines, students interact with adult workers, who provide guidance and mentoring that sometimes goes beyond job related training.

“Our employees have embraced this program and have helped make it a success,” Tabat says. “They take it as a personal challenge to help these students succeed in a new environment as they develop additional skills, confidence, and responsibility. The students learn what it’s like to be part of a team and find out how important it is to achieve goals and accomplish objectives.”

A Winning Partnership

Second Chance has been a remarkable success over the last six years. With Generac’s direct involvement and support from the state, it is now being replicated in other locations. The program boasts a 90% graduation rate and—most surprising of all—a 98% attendance rate among students who were routinely cutting classes and skipping school.

Graduates of the program have distinguished themselves by going on to full time jobs, enrolling in college, attending technical school, or serving in the military. In their remarks at graduation—when each student speaks of his or her experience in the program—the graduates tell of learning about personal responsibility, self discipline, respect for others, and the importance of teamwork. For kids who as 10th graders lacked focus and ambition, the transformation is astounding.

“Second Chance offers the business community a way to become involved in education, and it’s an investment worth making,” Tabat says. “It’s suitable for a large manufacturer or several smaller production type businesses that are in proximity, such as an industrial park. Our program and curriculum are available to others who may want to use them, and we’ll be happy to offer our advice as well. I encourage other forward looking business leaders to initiate a program like this and start making a difference in the lives of young people.”

As the demand for skilled labor increases, facility professionals will feel the pinch when hiring new staff members. By participating in programs like Second Chance, they can help make a worthwhile investment in people and business.

Carr is marketing communications manager at Generac. For more information on Second Chance, contact Mike Grady, Generac business development manager, at (262) 544-4811, ext. 2299.