Coming together to manufacture LI’s future

Manufacturing jobs are out there. Suffolk Community College and friends are making sure qualified workers are standing by.

A multi-agency effort to give displaced workers modern manufacturing skills is about to graduate its first batch of reeducated professionals.

And the Advanced Manufacturing Training program at Suffolk County Community College – a joint effort of SCCC, the Workforce Development Institute, private industry and the New York Department of Labor – is just getting started, with a seven-digit federal grant and a host of subsequent classes in the works.

The seven-week AMT course touches on general manufacturing, welding, CNC machining, programming and advanced soldering, with classroom instruction at SCCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and hands-on training at a rotation of commercial sites. Among the specific topics covered in the first seven-week training course are the mathematics of manufacturing, the language of the shop floor and OSHA safety regulations.

John Lombardo: Answering manufacturing's call.

John Lombardo: Answering manufacturing’s call.

Also part of the curriculum, according to John Lombardo, SCCC’s associate vice president for workforce and economic development, are “one or two particular measurement skills and a few exercises that establish a work ethic.”

The idea, Lombardo noted, is to teach downsized professionals and other unemployed persons – including high school- and college-aged students – in-demand, high-tech skills that improve their employment opportunities, while answering the growing call for manufacturing professionals.

“These are the skill sets that are needed by manufacturing industries, and over the years, they have been diminishing by a lack of training,” Lombardo told Innovate LI. “It’s a national problem, but it’s really clear on Long Island, where there are no training programs giving workers national certifications.”

That’s because the Island “doesn’t have the big 800-pound gorilla anymore,” he added, lamenting the lasting effect of the departure of major manufacturers like Grumman.

“When Grumman was around, the companies that fed Grumman all had time to train because they had a constant workflow,” he noted. “When you need every bit of business you can get, you don’t have time to train.”

Enter SCCC, which has been in the business of retraining workers for manufacturing careers and upgrading incumbent-worker skills for over a decade and is now championing that cause alongside the state Labor Department – which funds the majority of AMT programming – and the nonprofit Workforce Development Institute, which from its regional office in Huntington collects data for the AMT and issues modest federal grants to facilitate small-business training efforts.

Also getting their hands dirty are representatives of regional manufacturing industries, including a Long Island defense manufacturer and an Island-based automotive manufacturer volunteering for the AMT’s first 84-hour session, which kicked off in June.

Their participation is essential, Lombardo noted, not only to the success of the retraining program but to the participating firms’ own future productivity.

“As industry gets more involved, the programs improve based on that input,” Lombardo said. “And we can remain relevant to participating companies’ particular skill needs.”

There’s no guarantee that those undergoing the AMT course will wind up working at the companies who volunteer their machine shops and assembly lines for training purposes, though “historically, it’s been successful for companies to host programs like this,” Lombardo noted.

“They get to see the workers in their environment and it’s up to them if they want to offer any jobs,” he said. “It’s a try-it-before-you-buy-it thing.”

The first class, which is scheduled to conclude in August, features 15 students – a “comfortable” number, according to Lombardo, who said the plan now is to schedule further seven-week, 15-student AMT sessions.

Those plans could be super-sized soon. The state Labor Department has funded the AMT effort through the end of the year, but Lombardo and other program directors are awaiting word on a U.S. Department of Labor grant that could provide workforce-development funding for the AMT program and other regional employment efforts.

Lombardo wouldn’t discuss the details, but did say word on the federal grant was expected this summer – and said the federal stipend could be an “enormous” boost for the AMT.

“We would be able to provide more advanced training,” he added. “This would affect a lot more constituents, at a time when manufacturing is really growing on Long Island.”

The bottom line, Lombardo said, is “we will keep growing as long as the government continues paying.” And that’s critical at a time when established and startup manufacturers are redefining Long Island’s innovation economy – and young professionals are still flocking to greener off-Island pastures.

“It’s extremely important to train this talent pipeline, starting in high school and right through the community college,” he said. “It’s very valuable. There’s no other manufacturing-talent development happening here, not like 40 or 50 years ago, when everyone in the family went into it.

“Besides, manufacturing is a great job,” Lombardo added. “Where else can you have a few hours of training and earn $60,000?”

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