Over the long, strong history of the manufacturing industry in the United States, a single word has characterized its progress: innovation. Manufacturers have engineered solutions to some of the country’s biggest challenges, constantly creating processes and products to meet the moment. So it should be no surprise that today, as manufacturing faces the dual industrial challenges of shifting demographics and evolving technology, leaders in the sector are innovating their way to solutions – and success.

Right now, the American economy is in the middle of the second-longest expansion in our nation’s history, and the manufacturing industry is an engine of this expansion. There is no doubt that the industry has a big opportunity here, but companies will need to adapt and advance in order to meet it. If history is any indication, a solution is right around the corner – or maybe just a mouse click away.

A custom solution for a common challenge

In October of 2018, the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) launched METALFORM EDU, the only online training program specifically designed for workers in the metalforming industry. The platform, which can be found at pma.org/metalformedu, is user-friendly and packed with easy-to-follow demonstration videos.

Companies and employees can get started quickly on the platform by using the nearly 30 PMA-designed learning paths with recommended courses for key jobs and skill sets needed in the metalforming industry. A deeper dive reveals more than 550 courses in both industry-specific and broad business and professional skills. Each course includes interactive eLearning content, a downloadable study guide and a graded final assessment.

Under the direction of PMA President David Klotz, the platform is constantly evolving, incorporating new courses, adapting different license options and even including additional languages. Klotz, who took the reins of the Association in February of this year, is passionate about assisting PMA members and others with the industry-wide challenge of finding – and keeping – skilled workers.

“The recruitment, training and retention of workers is our members’ top priority,” Klotz says.

And it’s no wonder. The industry faces a daunting skills gap, with some half-a-million manufacturing jobs currently open in the United States and more openings anticipated as older workers, who make up the bulk of the sector’s employees, advance toward retirement. Experts predict that more than 2.6 million baby boomers will retire from manufacturing jobs over the next decade.

When companies struggle to hire and keep skilled workers, their bottom lines take a hit. A recent industry survey showed that a lack of workforce capacity forced one quarter of manufacturing companies to turn away new business in the first quarter of this year.

And that impacts the whole industry – and larger U.S. economy. Key findings from the 2018 state of manufacturing analysis by accounting and consulting powerhouse Deloitte predicts significant industry growth over the next decade. However, the study also suggests that as much as $454 billion in additional manufacturing value could be lost in the year 2028 alone, if the industry is unable to fill the anticipated open jobs.

“METALFORM EDU reflects PMA’s leadership in tackling the vitally important challenge of recruiting and training a high-caliber workforce now and in the future,” Klotz says.

Speaking their language

With majority funding from the PMA Educational Foundation, the unique METALFORM EDU program helps companies build their own talent pipeline by providing access to the right training, at the right time, in the right format for employers and employees.

“Younger workers, like generations of workers before them, want to know something about what they are going to be doing before they do it,” says Bill Jordan, Human Resources Manager at Larson Tool & Stamping in Attleboro, MA. “But, new employees today do not necessarily want to read a manual or sit down with an in-person instructor. They are accustomed to researching and learning at the computer, and at their own pace. METALFORM EDU allows them to get the information they need in a format that is comfortable and familiar to them.”

The platform is also convenient and cost-effective for employers.

“It’s great that we don’t have to send people out for a day-long seminar,” continues Jordan. “And, with the built-in quiz component, we can still know that participants have really mastered the material.”

The coursework available on the platform is not specific to new hires. In fact, as the team at Henderson Stamping & Production, Inc. found out, it can be just as useful for experienced employees. The Henderson, TN-based company is planning a significant expansion that will involve bringing on a number of new workers.

“METALFORM EDU has helped us assess and increase the knowledge base of our existing employees,” says Stephanie Ray, the company’s Human Resources Manager. “These are really experienced, talented people, but also people who have been in the industry for a long time. Some of them use industry jargon and other unofficial terms and language. That’s fine until you want to bring in new employees – and you don’t want to have a lot of confusion. So, right now, we’re using these training courses to unify our staff around common terms and best practices so that we’re all on the same page as we build and grow for the future.”

Ray also expects to use the METALFORM EDU platform with the company’s new hires. “The struggle with the labor pool is real,” she says ruefully. “Being able to offer the training that people need in a way that is less expensive and more practical for our company is a big benefit to us.”

Early signs of success

PMA members and others who have tried the METALFORM EDU platform and coursework are reporting positive results.

Henderson Stamping & Production, Inc.’s Ray notes that all of the company’s employees who have participated in the online courses have been impressed. “Our employees said that the classes have good information and that they learned something new,” she says. Just as important, Ray reports that the training is having an impact on the company’s work product. “Our group leaders say that they are seeing improved performance from employees who have done the training.”

“I personally have taken over 30 courses on the METALFORM EDU platform,” says Larson Tool & Stamping’s Jordan. “If people take a look at the options, they will be surprised at how many there are that are truly useful to anyone who wants to improve in their manufacturing industry career. I’m excited to get this out to as many people as I can.”

More information about the METALFORM EDU platform and course catalogue is available online at pma.org/metalformedu. Use the license calculator to choose an appropriate plan for your workforce training needs.

Stacey Schroeder is the workforce development director for the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA). Prior to joining PMA, she served as the director of workforce development for the National Tooling and Machining Association. She also has experience working for several well-known manufacturing companies, including most recently Swagelok, where she was the global learning and development manager. Ms. Schroeder has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Materials Science Engineering and a Master’s of Science degree in Manufacturing Management from Michigan State University, an MBA from Ohio State University focusing on Operations and Logistics, as well as certificates in Lean Six Sigma and Adult Learning & Development.

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