The Southwest Michigan Advanced Manufacturing Career Consortium met in Kalamazoo on Friday, Oct. 7 to update its members on the progress of an initiative to attract, train and hire qualified candidates to current and future southwest Michigan advanced manufacturing career opportunities. At Friday’s meeting, a sample of 14 employers collectively tallied over 371 available manufacturing career opportunities within the next six months. The Consortium includes over 26 area manufacturing companies, plus Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Kalamazoo/St. Joseph Michigan Works!, Southwest Michigan First, HRM Innovations LLC, Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, Glen Oaks Community College, and the St. Joseph County Economic Development Commission. Since January 2011, the group has held industry focus groups and team meetings to develop action plans to address the concerns of area manufacturers regarding the challenge to fill open positions. The initial collaboration was developed by area manufacturers, KVCC, Kalamazoo/St Joseph Michigan Works! and Southwest Michigan First. Topics that the group discusses include recruiting more candidates into manufacturing careers; identifying individuals who have talents best suited to the manufacturing environment; and key elements needed in an advanced manufacturing, competency-based training academy. David Maurer, Director of Sales and Manufacturing at Kalamazoo’s 110-year-old Humphrey Products company said he thinks the Consortium and its efforts are a boon to the area. “We have always felt that having a strong foundation of local manufacturers and a skilled and engaged manufacturing workforce was the finest economic development plan ever conceived,” Maurer said. “We're thrilled to be associated with initiatives such as this that help to move that message into the forefront and what's more, make it a reality for this community.” Maurer said throughout his company’s long history, there have almost always been more jobs available than qualified applicants. He explained, “It has almost always been the case that regardless of the circumstance, we have had good jobs available for the most competent and well prepared people - and it has to be more than just a coincidence that during those periods where we had our best prepared and most committed employees, we also enjoyed our best success as a company. Hence, the attraction and development of the very best people into careers in manufacturing not only helps to ensure the future success of Humphrey, but that success renews our ability to reward those folks with a competitive and fair compensation package.” Maurer said a well trained manufacturing work force translates into a healthier community overall. “Because manufacturing a good provides our community with the opportunity to export that good to another region or even another country, we have the rather unique capability of bringing dollars from outside the community into it,” he said. “These dollars can then be turned multiple times in our community providing jobs and wages to yet others.” Tim St. Onge, Vice President of Operations for Eliason Corporation, a company that has been operating for over 60-years and makes double-action traffic doors, said he’s involved in the Consortium because he has a hard time finding skilled, qualified workers. While he is willing to teach new employees the technical skills that they need to work for him, St. Onge said he’s been most surprised that so many candidates lack basic “soft skills” like initiative, organizational skills and punctuality. These are issues that the Consortium continues to explore and is working to address. St. Onge said he likes being a part of the Consortium because it involves “a lot of minds coming together and a lot of talent working together.” All meetings take place at KVCC’s M-TEC location at The Groves. The next full group meeting is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7:30am. Future meetings will be scheduled as the group’s action plan is developed and implemented. For more information, contact Trish Schroeder, Director of Corporate Training at The Groves, firstname.lastname@example.org or 353-1275.