MiraCosta institute steps up to fill manufacturing skills gap

MiraCosta institute steps up to fill manufacturing skills gap
MiraCosta’s Director of Community Services Linda Kurokawa, second to the right, listens as manufacturing industry stakeholders discuss the skills they need the new Technology Career Institute to teach potential hires. Photo by Rachel Stine

REGION — Despite the hundreds of thousands of people lacking jobs in San Diego County, industry leaders are faced with a shortage of qualified workers to hire for their company’s manufacturing jobs. 

MiraCosta College’s forthcoming TCI (Technology Career Institute) hopes to change that by helping the unemployed attain fundamental manufacturing skills.

In October, 7 percent of the county’s population was unemployed, according to the most recent data from the state Employment Development Department.

But according to machine shop and industry representatives, all too frequently it can take nearly a year to fill skilled manufacturing jobs for their North County companies.

“We can’t find the skilled people to hire,” said Rick Trimm, who works for a company that makes underwater robots. “We read about the 7 percent unemployment here in San Diego, and I’m afraid that’s the 7 percent that doesn’t want to work.”

“Manufacturing and that sort of trade in general is vital to the economy, and we think this is a sector that people are not being encouraged to go into,” said Cody Ackerman, who runs Vista Industrial Products with his family.

“The emphasis in popular media is cell phone apps and biotech… People aren’t drawn to mechanics,” said Jim Fahey, who worked in the marine technology industry for years before retiring.

Even if job seekers were encouraged to pursue a career in manufacturing, over the past few decades, vocational training that teaches how to work with the latest production technology has become nearly nonexistent.

MiraCosta’s Director of Community Services Linda Kurokawa explained that community colleges have cut their trade training courses due to lack of funding.

“It’s much more expensive to run a trade program than it is to run a class of computer geeks,” she said. She pointed out that trade programs in manufacturing require costly machines and an entire facility to teach students hard skills.

But after being approached by the local National Tooling and Machining Association branch a couple of years ago, MiraCosta decided to pursue grants to develop an intense program to teach job-seekers in-demand technical skills quickly.

The community college recognized that such a program could connect veterans and workers that have been laid off when their company moved overseas to jobs that offer starting salaries of $14 to $18 an hour.

In March, MiraCosta launched its not-for-credit Machinist Technology Program. The full-time course was designed to teach skills including shop math, blueprint reading and equipment use in 12 weeks, and subsequently connect graduates to local jobs.

All of the 24 students who completed the program in its first two sessions have been hired for full-time jobs, according to Kurokawa.

MiraCosta now has the ability to expand its program thanks to a $2.75 million four-year grant from the Department of Labor awarded on Oct. 1.

Kurokawa and her team are developing MiraCosta’s TCI, which will offer multiple 12-week credential programs focusing in high-tech manufacturing, maritime technology and biotech manufacturing.

“Our motto is: ‘Get ‘em in, get ‘em trained, get ‘em jobs,’” Kurokawa said.

She gathered industry representatives from North County companies on Dec. 11 to brainstorm about the types of skills that manufacturing companies in all fields need the most and that could be taught in the TCI.

Together respondents emphasized a need for employees who understand how machines, equipment, and products work, not just the functions they perform. To work with today’s technology, this would require basic practical knowledge of machinery, mechanics, engineering, shop math, and physics.

“There are a lot of people who say they know how to run a machine and they push a button. But when a machine rattles, they don’t know why,” said an associate director of manufacturing for a local company.

MiraCosta is currently negotiating with the city of Carlsbad for a building to establish the TCI and in the mean time will continue to work with industry stakeholders to develop the programs that will be taught.

If the Carlsbad facility is obtained, the TCI may open in summer or fall of 2014, according to Kurokawa. The community college will continue to facilitate its Machinist Technology Program.



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