Despite the fact that so much of Wisconsin’s workforce depends on manufacturing, the Badger State is faced with a skills shortage. NEWMA is working diligently to change that fact, with an array of partnerships and programs focused on bringing Industry 4.0 to Wisconsin.
NEWMA stands for the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance. The organization is composed of over 300 members, of which 190 are manufacturers. Their goal is to promote manufacturing in the Northeast Wisconsin region, and it all starts with jobs.
Solving an ongoing challenge faced by all manufacturers
“Our vision statement is all about workforce and economic development,” said Director Ann Franz. But NEWMA isn’t focused on traditional economic development or trying to find sales for their members.
Ann Franz, NEWMA
“We really are trying to help solve the skills shortage.”
In fact, the skills shortage is an ongoing challenge for manufacturers across the country. According to the 2021 Manufacturing Vitality Index:
- 3 out of 4 companies are experiencing difficulty finding talent.
- The most difficult-to-fill positions are Machinists and CNC Machinists.
- Most of the occupations going unfilled require post-secondary education, although most do not require a four-year degree.
It’s a problem that must be solved in Wisconsin, which, according Franz, is ranked #2 for the density of manufacturing jobs based on its population.
“Sixteen percent of jobs in Wisconsin are in manufacturing, and 23% of all jobs in Northeast Wisconsin are manufacturing,” she said.
Industry 4.0 attracting young people to the industry
Developing Wisconsin’s workforce will be critical in the years to come, particularly because of its aging population. In recent years, the allure of jobs in high tech has caused many young people to overlook manufacturing as a career path.
But Industry 4.0 is changing that, in part due to that aging workforce. “You’re not going to be able to replace everyone,” Franz said. “We’ll have to rely heavily on technology.” It’s this focus on Industry 4.0 and all its opportunities that is “going to be the differentiator,” Franz noted.
This video showcases the possibilities for manufacturing careers:
NEWMA has been aggressive in forming partnerships with schools and businesses to showcase the possibilities in the manufacturing world, including launching a number of different innovative programs. Here are two examples:
K12 video series. NEWMA worked with the online school K12 to produce a series of 60 videos and teacher lessons to showcase real-world applications of math. For example, check out one of their videos, “What does toilet paper have to do with math?”
Internship Draft Day at Lambeau Field. Every year since 2015, college students from both Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have participated in this unique event. It’s like the NFL Draft, but instead of receiving football contracts, students can be awarded a scholarship, in addition to a possible paid internship.
Efforts like these are helping to improve how families view manufacturing as a career choice. In a previous national study conducted by SME, 50% of parents thought manufacturing was a good career choice.
In comparison, recent research by NEWMA reveals that their efforts among Wisconsin parents are paying off. According to a NEWMA survey, 72% of Wisconsin parents thought manufacturing was an “exciting and engaging” profession.
Four-year engineering programs have blossomed at schools such as UW-Oshkosh and UW-Green Bay, which now have over 300 students enrolled. And NEWMA has helped distribute more than a quarter of a million dollars in scholarships from its members.
Workforce development reaches into companies too
The nature of these partnerships doesn’t stop with the schools. Workforce development also reaches into current companies, and partnerships with technology experts are shedding new light on methods to improve manufacturing processes — particularly with the use of analytics.
For example, NEWMA is facilitating an analytics project involving the painting process for a variety of companies from yachts to snowblowers, a topic important to many of the organization’s members. In addition, there is a data analytics training program utilized by 13 different companies that have their employees enrolled in courses from LinkedIn, sponsored by Microsoft.
The scope of NEWMA’s efforts are impressive, considering its staff consists of two people, Franz and a full-time administrative assistant. It’s fitting that a small team would push workforce development, and it’s also a testament to the power of partnerships that they’re able to produce such dramatic successes.
Franz believes this spirit of collaboration is its “secret sauce,” and she encourages potential new members and partners to attend the Manufacturing First virtual conference this fall. While past events have been in person, this virtual event is another example of how manufacturing is embracing Industry 4.0.