A focus on manufacturing

Backed by state grants, a new center will train workers for jobs in manufacturing

Published October 17, 2006

RIVERVIEW — Anthony Fedd is tired of seeing manufacturing companies go out of state to find qualified employees.

“It’s not criminal,” said Fedd, a representative of the Manufacturers Association of Florida, shaking his head. “But it’s such a major missed opportunity.”

In a state known far more for tourism than manufacturing, Fedd and other industry insiders hope a new government program will help change that image.

On Tuesday, at Tampa Armature Works’ new facility for metal fabrication, Workforce Florida unveiled plans for the Employ Florida Banner Center for Manufacturing.

Speaking over the hum of robotic welders and laser cutters, officials said the program will help educators and employers better train workers for manufacturing jobs.

The Banner Center, funded by grants from the state Legislature, will work with five community colleges throughout the state to develop lesson plans and other ways to prepare workers to enter and advance in the manufacturing industry.

The training programs will be available to community colleges, technical high schools and employers, who might have the equipment to teach workers but not the best plans for how to do so.

The first round of the training programs should be available in June. State funding will allow the Banner Center to distribute the materials for free for the program’s first five years.

At the Tampa Armature facility, Marshall Moore said his biggest challenges are finding employees with the right skills, and keeping them up to date in a field where technology constantly changes.

He’s not alone. In a survey last year by the National Association of Manufacturers, 90 percent of companies said they were having a hard time finding qualified employees. “We’ve got people who show up who can’t even read a tape measure,” Moore said.

Moore has about 140 employees at Tampa Armature’s Riverview location but would like to hire an additional 40. He hopes that working with the Banner Center — and perhaps by making center training a requirement for new employees — will change that equation.

Backers of the Banner Center say workers will see that what they’re learning has real-life applications, and can lead to skilled, well-paying jobs.

“The manufacturing industry is far removed from the I Love Lucy assembly line of the past,” said Fedd.
Keeping workers up to date on industry technology should help them advance, but also protect them from layoffs.

“The old model of labor is, wait till the technology gets old, lay people off, then train them and bring them back,” said Curtis Austin, president of Workforce Florida. “But we can’t afford layoffs in Florida.”

The Banner Center says it will be among the first in the country to prepare manufacturing workers for the new national certification test, created by the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council. Workers won’t be required to obtain certification, but doing so can give job seekers a leg up on the competition or higher pay.

The Banner Center’s creation shows that the industry he represents has the ear of the Legislature, Fedd said.

“There’s still room for growth,” he said. “But there’s a lot of good things happening with Florida manufacturing.”

Christina Rexrode can be reached at (727) 893-8318 or crexrode@sptimes.com.