The global competitiveness of American manufacturing faces a serious threat from within: the United States simply does not produce enough skilled workers to fill manufacturing positions. Some 3.5 million industry openings are expected over the next decade, according to a Manufacturing Institute report. Yet 2 million of these jobs are projected to go unfilled because of a severe skills gap in American manufacturing.

Creating an action plan

Apprenticeship Works operates in 12 states, with more coming aboard this year.

Urgent action is needed. That’s why the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) created Apprenticeship Works, the National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Partnership. With U.S. Department of Labor support, we and our partners are establishing registered apprenticeships across the nation in 17 in-demand manufacturing occupations, including emerging technologies of robotics and 3D printing.

Apprenticeship Works operates in 12 states, with more coming aboard this year. A major focus of this initiative is attracting women to manufacturing. While women make up almost half of the American workforce, their share of employment in manufacturing is significantly lower.

Working with women

Apprenticeship Works taps into this potential. RCBI partnered with West Virginia Women Work to create a one-of-a-kind program specifically to increase women in manufacturing. The Step Up for Women Advanced Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship Program is a free 10-week training course that prepares students for entry-level jobs or paid apprenticeships.

Women learn safety, metal machining skills, applied math, blueprint reading and precision measuring, and receive instruction in life skills such as personal finance and resume writing. To date, nearly 50 women have received training through Step Up for Women and more than 80 percent of graduates already have secured manufacturing jobs.

A brighter future

Graduate Fran Barker went from a low-wage food service job to making $16 per hour, receiving health and retirement benefits and paid vacation at a manufacturer of high-nickel alloys. She often recommends the program to friends and former co-workers. “One year ago, I never thought I could do any of this,” Barker said. “If you want a serious career change, try this. It is challenging and equally rewarding.”

RCBI has experienced an overwhelming response to the women in manufacturing initiative. What started as a workforce training program in southern West Virginia has expanded statewide, ensuring more women learn new skills, secure higher paying jobs and/or start businesses of their own.