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Permit me to do some recapping here: In my May 31, 2021, newsletter column for The RAM Review (see link below), I brought  up a report issued by the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Task Force on Work of the Future in the fall of 2020. It discussed the “highly fragmented U.S. workforce-training system” and comparable training programs in Europe. The survey leading up to that report had been conducted in Jan. 2020. According to its author, Paul Osterman, the United States doesn’t have a training system, “if what is meant by the term ‘system’ is a well-articulated set of programs or opportunities that fit together.” What the U.S. does have, he noted, “is a diverse, loosely connected set of opportunities.”

Click Here To Read The Referenced May 31, 2021, Newsletter Column
“If We Train Them They Will Leave. . .”

Despite criticism regarding the limited scope of the U.S. training “system,” Osterman pointed to some positives, specifically the availability of multiple training venues and the flexible access they offer. These, he wrote, “are a source of strength.” I am using this space to discuss just that.

While there are many successful training models in the U.S., industrial “training” often misses the mark here. Online courses, while improving knowledge, don’t build skills unless they are augmented with very structured on-job training (OJT). Likewise unstructured “follow-me-around-and-learn” OJT is highly inefficient at best. Training classes offered by equipment or tool vendors and suppliers are usually narrowly focused, and not necessarily designed to build sustainable skill sets. Let’s look at several other training models.

Community-College Training: The community-college system in the United States includes more than 1,100 institutions of varying sizes and capabilities. Some of these two-year colleges have retained a robust technical-industrial training capability with up-to-date equipment and well qualified instructors, two of the most fundamental requirements for effective training. Typically, community colleges have the flexibility to customize training content and the time of day that these classes are offered.

Government-Funded Job Training:  Historically, federal and state job training programs have been designed and funded to address critical needs such as high unemployment and displaced workers due to major plant closings or declining business sectors such as the America textile industry decline decades ago. Today, as pointed out in the MIT report, “the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified 43 distinct federal programs, but eight programs accounted for 81% of expenditures.” Again, these federal/state-administered programs are designed to serve a specific population in need, rather than serve a specific industry.

Unfortunately, according to studies cited in MIT report, “Federal funding for adult job training, adult basic education, and high school career and technical education have all declined. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA)/WIOA formula spending between FY 2001 and FY 2019 fell from $4.62 billion to $2.82 billion, respectively.” But, as if funding cuts are not damaging enough, the report continues, “Because WIOA funds are used along with Wagner-Peyser funding to support the Job Centers, estimates are that under 30% of WIOA funding is expended on training.”

Collaborative-Training Initiatives: Successful training models routinely depend on collaboration among businesses, education and training providers, and state and local governmental units. Local or regional industrial consortiums made up of similar businesses pool their resources to define the needed skill sets and work with local community colleges to deliver customized programs. In these programs, the trainees are employed by the companies and participate in a school-work schedule that includes part-time work and part-time classes.

I recently worked with a local council of governments to develop an “industrial eco-system,” as part of a four-county regional economic-development strategic plan. Our initiative identified major employers; likely skill sets to be improved; public and private training providers; funding sources; recruiting and placement agencies; and coordinating points of contact.

Features of this industrial eco-system include a collaborative-training model with career pathing and school-to-work programming that begins in our local high-schools and community colleges. Our regional Workforce Board, operating under the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), communicates with local business and industry to determine the needs and solutions for work-based training in the region.

The bottom line here was to develop a local, if not regional, collaborative program to take advantage of available funding sources, recruiters, and training providers in ways that benefit businesses with common training needs for new employees, as well as their current workforces. Our collaborative-training model can clearly work elsewhere.TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, workforce development, training and qualification, skills development