This week, Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh held a forum on the needs and challenges of workforce development as the region’s manufacturing sector expands.
Economic developers in the Plattsburgh region have focused on creating a transportation manufacturing sector. Led by rail and bus companies Bombardier, Nova and Prevost, Norsk Titanium has announced it will build a new manufacturing facility in Plattsburgh, creating a new transportation manufacturing sector in aerospace technology.
As the region’s growth in high-tech manufacturing increases, employers, developers and leaders are looking at ways the workforce can keep pace. A Mountain Lake PBS forum asked a panel this week what employers want and need.
Panelist and Clarkson University Senior Vice President and Provost Dr. Chuck Thorpe noted that there is a desire for not only technical training but leadership and interpersonal skills. “When we listen to what the employers want, if you want to hire someone in the bank they better know the technical skills of accounting. But they better also have the people skills to talk to the customers. If you're hiring somebody into the hospital they better know the medical skills but they better have people skills also. If you're hiring an engineer they better be an imaginative engineer. They need to be able to learn engineering skills but you better believe that they need to work in teams. They need to talk to customers. This is the essential challenge of education is to teach the deep technical skills and to teach the interpersonal skills and the leadership skills and the teamwork skills so that we can all collaborate.”
Part of the conversation involved how continuous innovation affects workforce training. The Development Corporation President and CEO Paul Grasso notes the quick changes make training challenging. “Very often by the time you get a program designed and implemented there’s some new technology that comes out there. So that's why it's important to instill in young people those foundational skills that can be transferable down the road. I mean if you look at anybody who started school in 2003 they would have never trained to be an app developer because the I-Phone wasn’t introduced until 2007. But those who had those skills could transfer into that field.”
Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas says the region is ahead of the curve in workforce development programs, a key element of economic development. “Programatically we have in sync with our economic development strategies been working with our educational partners to proactively put programs in place like Plattsburgh Aeronautical for example, the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing at Clinton Community College, bringing the first SUNY School of Supply Chain Management to SUNY Plattsburgh. Getting those tools in place. That's why we're able to attract companies like Norsk. It's why we are able to bring companies like that here because you can't say gee if you come we promise we'll scurry around out there make sure we get some educational programs in place. You've got to show that you proactively put things in place before you get the jobs.”
The Mountain Lake Forum on Workforce Development can be viewed online.