Manufacturing A Workforce

Everything from car and tank and appliance parts are manufactured in Traverse City, as well as boxes, banners, and biotech products. But regardless of what they make, ask any local manufacturer about the biggest challenge facing their companies and the answer will likely be the same: workforce development and training.

Matt Bulloch, president of TentCraft in Traverse City, has it on his list of top three issues facing the rapidly growing company, which doubled in size in the last year.

The situation is similar for Hayes Manufacturing Inc. in Fife Lake.

“The biggest challenges we are facing are certainly finding skilled employees and developing the workforce that we currently have,” said Jeff Miller, in charge of quality control for the company that makes stub shafts, flywheel couplings and drive couplings products for the power transmission industry.

It’s a problem reflected in national statistics from the Manufacturing Institute in Washington, D.C.: more than 82 percent of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage in skilled production workers and more than 75 percent say the skill shortage has negatively impacted their ability to expand.

“There’s a workforce here and jobs here, but nothing in between,” said Kennith Scott, a training specialist with NMC Training Services, about the gap that exists between manufacturing employers with good, skilled jobs and a workforce that doesn’t have the training, or a way to get it.

One all-important step toward changing that is Manufacturing Day ( – to be hosted for the first time in Traverse City on Friday, October 3. This three-year-old national event is designed to swing open the doors of manufacturing facilities and invite high school students in to see what manufacturing looks like today and open their eyes to job opportunities.

“We’re received overwhelming support from TCAPS, the TBA Career-Tech Center and numerous manufacturers,” Scott said. “It’s really taken on a life of its own. There is a lot of interest.”

One goal of Manufacturing Day is to improve the public’s perception of manufacturing careers and manufacturing’s value to the U.S. economy – and above all to showcase the manufacturing job opportunities that exist in this community.

“In Michigan, manufacturing is the single biggest growth sector since the recession,” said Scott. “And now we also have this retirement bubble of the skilled trades” – such as CNC operators and programmers, machinists and PLC programmers.

“There is all this knowledge base that’s about to walk out the door,” added Rich Wolin, director of NMC Training Services and the regional office of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center “How do we to tap into that before they are gone?”

On top of that, many companies offered early retirement packages to their most skilled employees during the recession – making this current situation for the rapidly rebounding manufacturing industry even more challenging.

Numbers from a 2013 “Aging Workforce in Manufacturing” revealed that 21 percent of machinists were 56 years or older, and 56 percent were 46 years or older; 28 percent of tool and die makers were 56 years or older and 67 percent 46 years or older.

Scott believes it will take a community level response to start to turn things around, including a unified voice about what skills and trades are in highest demand and a willingness to train entry-level candidates, as well as a commitment from manufacturing’s highly skilled Baby Boomer generation to work as instructors, trainers and mentors for this next wave of workers.

“We’re losing these skilled trades and right now this region is not positioned to meet the need,” said Scott. “We don’t have a clear answer on how to tool up training programs to meet the needs.”

TC’s first Manufacturing Day for students will focus only on companies in the Aero Industrial Park, though organizers plan to expand it in future years. Looking further into fall, NMC is also coordinating a Manufacturing Summit at the Hagerty Center on November 5. For more information, visit NMC Training Services,