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Training the Future Workforce: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Training the Future Workforce: We're Not in Kansas Anymore InfoGraphic


“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Those iconic words spoken by Dorothy upon her arrival in Oz perfectly summed up how she felt about being out of her comfort zone in a new, unfamiliar environment.

Similar words might be spoken today by someone experiencing a modern advanced manufacturing facility for the first time. The technology changes that have revolutionized our personal lives have also left their mark throughout industry.

People walking into a modern advanced manufacturing facility expecting a dingy environment filled with repetitive, low-skill tasks will likely feel like Dorothy entering Oz. What they’ll find instead is a bustling, clean facility powered by a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies. (And stay tuned, Kansas, we’ll return to you in just a bit!)



Industry 4.0 Definition InfoGraphicThe Fourth Industrial Revolution

Robots, automated systems, and the Internet of Things are combining to bring about a Fourth Industrial Revolution, which goes by a wide variety of names: Smart Automation, Smart Factory, Smart Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet, and Industry 4.0, to name a few.

Whatever you call it, this Fourth Industrial Revolution will feature significant leaps in automation as cyber-physical systems combine with the Internet of Things to create a smart factory environment. Connected systems promise increases in productivity and efficiency unimaginable decades ago.

These sweeping changes are forever altering the landscape of the modern industrial workplace, leaving students, workers, educators, and employers playing catch-up in their wake. Employers increasingly need workers with advanced technical and technological skills, while educators struggle to create a pipeline of talent with the skills industry needs.

Amatrol - Skills Gap Infographic

The Skills Gap

The disparity between the great demand for highly-skilled workers and the insufficient supply of such workers has come to be known as the “skills gap.” The well-publicized and often-discussed skills gap phenomenon has left many industrial employers with too many open positions that they can’t seem to fill, resulting in production inefficiencies and missed opportunities for growth.

For example, statistics in the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey reveal nearly a half-million open manufacturing jobs in the United States. Despite near record-low levels of unemployment, employers across every industry struggle to find the skilled workers they need.

Experts believe the skills gap will get much worse before it gets better. A study conducted by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute estimates that, over the next decade, almost 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled. However, because of the skills gap, as many as 2.4 million — more than half! — of those jobs could go unfilled.

Unanswered Questions

Educators looking at this nationwide data might question the extent to which it applies to them in their particular areas. Do all educators need to be concerned about the skills gap problem? Or is it primarily an issue for the handful of states with the largest manufacturing sectors?

More importantly, what can be done to address the skills gap from an educational perspective? Are there any solutions out there that have been successful?

We’ve examined skills gap data from multiple sources and have found answers to these questions in, ironically enough, the state of Kansas. As we take a closer look at Kansas’ attempts to bridge its skills gap, we’ll find examples of unique partnerships between industry and education that provide a path educators can follow to tackle the skills gap head-on.

Burning Glass CEO Quote InfoGraphicBurning Glass Report

We first analyzed data from Burning Glass Technologies, summarized in their report titled “Job Market Intelligence: The Burning Glass Report – The Skills Gap in Production Roles” (“Burning Glass Report”).

Burning Glass began with an initial question: “Is there a skills gap in skilled production roles?” To answer that question, the company analyzed its proprietary database of nearly 100 million job postings, focusing on skilled production roles, such as CNC programmers, avionics technicians, civil designers, and production supervisors.

Its conclusion: skilled production positions take longer to fill because of a weaker supply of workers. For example, Burning Glass found that, for skilled production roles, the labor pool is about one-third the size of the pool for general production roles.

Some of the positions most difficult to fill included CNC programmers, avionics technicians, electrical engineering technicians, and mechanical drafters. The most in-demand skill areas employers are looking for included logistics, process improvement, and advanced manufacturing.

Burning Glass CEO Matthew Sigelman had this to say about the results:

“These data nullify the argument that the skills gap does not exist. We see clearly that employers are struggling to fill skilled production roles, and the cause is that they lack a sufficient supply of talent with the skills they need. Job seekers and, more importantly, the training programs that support them, can develop these skills to improve their labor market prospects and competitiveness for these roles. Training providers need to focus on the particular skills in-demand among employers and work with them to build a talent supply chain that will close the skills gap.”

In its study, Burning Glass searched for evidence of a skills gap in the “17 largest states with above average concentrations of production jobs.” The results revealed that the five states with the greatest evidence of a skills gap were: (1) Michigan; (2) Texas; (3) Louisiana; (4) Iowa; and (5) Kansas.

It was no surprise that states with large populations and huge manufacturing bases, like Michigan and Texas, topped the list. However, the presence of Louisiana, Iowa, and Kansas rounding out the top five shows that the skills gap extends beyond the largest manufacturing centers and affects even smaller states with a significant industry presence.

The Skills Gap in Kansas

Based upon the Burning Glass Report, we decided to take a closer look at Kansas, because it has a significant skills gap issue and, more importantly, is taking steps to address it. Our research revealed the following additional evidence of the skills gap in Kansas, including its nature and severity.

Vision 2025

In response to the state’s sluggish economic growth over the past several decades, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce put together an “Action Plan for Kansas” known as Vision 2025. One of the stated objectives of Vision 2025 is to grow the state’s talent supply. According to the Vision 2025 website:

“Private employment growth in Kansas has struggled in recent years. Technology changes during the last ten years are driving the economy in new directions.  The ‘Internet of Things’ is changing the way businesses operate…Technology is shifting the skills the private sector needs and creating a talent gap in our workforce. The ability for our businesses and educational institutions to upskill and reskill talent as well as to create job-ready talent and to develop a sustainable pipeline of talent are all crucial to the future of our state’s economy…Our state must identify ways to better target workforce preparation (be that a college degree or certified program) to ensure the private sector has the talent supply it needs for the next 20 years.”

Kansas' Middle-Skill Gap InfoGraphic

Skills Gap Survey

To better understand the skills gap in Kansas, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the Governor’s Council on Education and representatives from the University of Kansas School of Business’ Brandmeyer Center for Applied Economics to launch the Kansas Skills Gap Survey in 2018. According to Nick Jordan, former Kansas Department of Commerce secretary and now a Distinguished Fellow with the Brandmeyer Center, the Kansas Skills Gap Survey:

“will poll Kansas businesses on their experiences recruiting and hiring a skilled workforce. The evolving Kansas economy demands new skills for success and ongoing collaboration between the state’s business and education sectors in order to prepare future employees. There has to be serious dialogue between businesses and education at all levels for this to be effective in filling the skills gap. It’s a great first step.”

National Skills Coalition

The National Skills Coalition (“NSC”), a broad-based advocacy group that supports policies aimed at solving the skills gap, also confirms the skills gap in Kansas and sheds some light on the types of skills most lacking in the state.

Based upon its analysis of Bureau of Labor occupational employment statistics and American Community Survey data, the NSC concluded that so-called “middle-skill jobs,” defined as those requiring “education beyond high school but not a four-year degree,” make up the biggest share of the Kansas labor market.

Unfortunately, it’s this segment of the Kansas labor market where the skills gap is the greatest. According to the NSC, middle-skill jobs account for 55% of Kansas’ labor market, but just 45% of the state’s labor pool are trained to this level.

Given that the skills gap is a sizeable and well-known problem in Kansas, we dug deeper to discover what steps Kansas has taken to address the issue. Has the state come up with any solutions? Have there been any results that look promising?


Industry/Educator Partnerships

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers in Kansas employ nearly 167,000 workers (11.69% of the state’s workforce) and account for 16.3% of the state’s economic output. One of the state’s largest manufacturing sectors is the aviation industry, centered on Wichita, Kansas.

The aviation industry in Kansas has been impacted greatly by the skills gap. It’s also been an inspiring source of industry/educator partnerships targeted at bridging the skills gap.

National Center for Aviation Training

Wichita is home to several major aircraft manufacturers. When aviation industry executives identified the skills gap as an impediment to economic growth in the wake of the Great Recession, local leaders responded by forming a partnership of area governments, businesses, and educational institutions to come up with a technical training solution: the National Center for Aviation Training (“NCAT”).

Today, the NCAT is part of the Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology (known as “WSU Tech” and formerly called Wichita Area Technical College). The NCAT has been a great success, shepherding students toward associate degrees and industry-standard certifications that have built an ongoing pipeline of skilled talent for the local aviation industry.

Wichita Promise Move

The NCAT isn’t WSU Tech’s only program designed to bridge the skills gap. The school recently implemented a scholarship program called Wichita Promise Move that’ll pay moving, living, and tuition expenses for students from outside the Wichita area to come to WSU Tech to pursue industry-standard certifications and credentials that will prepare them for available jobs in the local aviation and manufacturing industries. The program is being funded by a grant from the Wichita Community Foundation and contributions by local employers.

Dr. Sheree Utash, president of WSU Tech and member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, had this to say about the program:

“This is one of the greatest opportunities for students and people in this community who are interested in aviation to be in situations where they can be educated and trained and highly supported all the way to the first day on the job with no loan debt. We work hard to make sure they get the job.”

Those who complete the program usually have jobs waiting for them at one of two local aviation companies, Spirit AeroSystems or Textron Aviation, which helped WSU Tech define the in-demand skills needed to prepare workers for specific aviation-industry jobs, such as Aviation Sheetmetal Assembly and Process Mechanic Painter.

As the school’s website states, WSU Tech delivers “a high-tech, high-wage, high-demand career pipeline for students. We partner with employers to equip people with relevant skills for jobs today and tomorrow. We measure success not by the number of students who come to us, but by those who leave equipped to land a job.”

Workforce AID

Workforce AID (“Aligned with Industry Demand”) is another public-private partnership brought about by the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Kansas Board of Regents. It’s aimed at bridging the skills gap by connecting businesses with a defined need for skilled employees with educational institutions, such as community colleges.

The employer-driven process allows businesses to provide key guidance to educational institutions regarding the in-demand skills and industry-standard certifications employees need to be successful. Participating companies can help to design training programs that will lead to degrees or industry-standard certifications that prepare students for available jobs.

Excel in CTE Initiative

Kansas’ efforts to bridge the skills gap don’t just start at the postsecondary level. The governor of Kansas worked with the Kansas Board of Regents and the Kansas legislature to pass the Excel in CTE Initiative, which allows Kansas high school juniors and seniors to take free CTE classes through local community or technical colleges. By exposing students to future careers in technical fields via these dual enrollment opportunities, the state hopes to further develop the pipeline of future skilled employees.

Accelerating Opportunity in Kansas

Officials in Kansas have also recognized the potential of adult education to bridge the skills gap. For example, there are more than 700,000 working-age adults in Kansas without any kind of meaningful postsecondary credential.

To create opportunities for this population, the Kansas Board of Regents partnered with the Kansas Department of Commerce to implement an adult education program known as Accelerating Opportunity in Kansas (“AO-K”). The program transforms adult education delivery by combining basic skills instruction with career and technical education within a career pathways framework that leads to industry-recognized credentials and available jobs.

Partnership Quote InfoGraphicTakeaways & Questions

Kansas definitely suffers from a significant skills gap problem. Fortunately, the industries affected have taken a proactive approach, partnering with educators, community organizations, and governmental entities to fashion a variety of potential solutions.

Have Kansas’ efforts to narrow the skills gap been successful? It’s too early to tell at this point, although Kansas officials have reason to be very optimistic about the initial results they’ve seen. For example, the Workforce AID program has trained more than 500 employees for 83 employers. Likewise, the first 50 recipients of the Wichita Promise Move scholarship all found jobs with local aviation employers, and the program has recently been renewed for another year.

What can educational institutions everywhere learn from Kansas? If there’s one powerful takeaway, it’s that establishing partnerships between industry and educational institutions is key to building a skilled talent pipeline that will satisfy both employers (by providing skilled employees) and students (by guiding them to available jobs with the skills they’ll need to succeed).

If you’re an educator concerned about preparing your students for the in-demand roles of the future, partnering with local industries is a key first step to creating the kind of programs that will build a skilled talent pipeline that will funnel students into waiting jobs.

Skills Gap Questions InfoGraphicAs Ingrams writer Dennis Boone wrote in his article titled “Filling the Skills Gap,” education is “the one sector most responsible for producing qualified workers.” Unfortunately, he also noted that “[i]t’s truly ironic that at the very time when more knowledge is freely available to mankind than any in its history, the nation still can’t make the round pegs of labor fit into the square holes of job openings.”

Most educators are comfortable with asking questions, so here are a variety of questions you can ask that will help to put you on the right track to addressing the skills gap in your area:

How serious is the skills gap in our area?

What industries do we serve?

Which skills are in demand?

What jobs are available?

Answering these questions will ultimately benefit students in any area by creating an alignment with and partnership between educators and local industries. If educators teach the skills that are in demand, students will be prepared to step into highly-skilled roles available locally.

Amatrol Ring Logo in BlueHow Amatrol Can Help

Amatrol has helped WSU Tech, the National Center for Aviation Training, and other educational institutions in Kansas to create the types of skills training programs that build a skilled talent pipeline for local industry and produce students with the job-ready competencies employers need.

As educators partner with local industries to develop similar training programs that teach in-demand skills, it’s important to remember that it’s not necessary to recreate the wheel. With several decades of experience designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art training systems, Amatrol remains the world’s leader in skills-based, interactive technical learning.

Our comprehensive learning solutions range from introducing high school students to emerging technologies to teaching hands-on skills in the latest, highly-sophisticated smart factory systems. What truly sets Amatrol apart is its dedication to providing comprehensive training solutions that integrate in-depth multimedia eLearning curriculum with hands-on trainers that teach relevant skills with real-world industrial components.

Visit Amatrol online to learn how you can leverage its technical training expertise to create a high-quality training program that will prepare students for the workplace of the future. Whether you’re looking for a program that leads to industry-standard certifications or a program focused on a particular industry, such as aviation, Amatrol can help you bridge the skills gap and transform the global workforce one life at a time.


About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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