In its second year, the experiential summer program is part of a project to build an academic pathway for Logistics Engineering Technicians funded by a National Science Foundation grant under the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. The project addresses skills and knowledge gaps found in emerging occupations in the logistics field where automation and sophisticated computerized systems are becoming more prevalent.
Technologies around transportation are evolving rapidly. Staying current is difficult enough for professionals in the field, let alone for young people or the educators who prepare them for post secondary education and to choose their career path. Through a unique project, a suite of lesson plans teaching concepts from intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and connected vehicle technologies has been developed for middle school and high school students. The plans connect educators with the latest technologies and expose students to a modern vision of careers in the transportation industry.
“What kids see in terms of highway workers is a bunch of guys with trucks and shovels. But, we’re doing coding and robotics and communications. There’s a difference between the current perception and the vision of what’s going to come in the future as things are automated and as technology improves, and as the ways that transportation systems are developed, designed or maintained change,” said Richard Claus, Chief Executive Officer of NanoSonic, a company specializing in advanced materials and devices headquartered in Pembroke, Virginia.
NanoSonic is one of very few high-tech companies in a very rural area. Located near a local middle school, the people of NanoSonic were routinely asked to visit science, math or chemistry classes. Four years ago, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sponsored a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop lesson plans around intelligent transportation systems and connected vehicle technologies. The company’s leadership saw this as an opportunity to get more formally engaged with the education system.
They were awarded the contract and began collaborating with engineers from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ITS Joint Program Office’s Professional Capacity Building (ITS PCB) Program and Leidos and with educators from local schools. Since the initial project, the company was also awarded another contract for a second phase lasting two years, which is coming to a close, now.
“The contract required us to develop twenty lesson plans. We’re up to about sixty-five, now,” said Claus.
From the initial set of lesson plans, the ideas have continued to evolve and grow. One of the plans most recently developed has students utilize e-textile fabrics with embedded sensors and actuators. In this exercise, students develop clothing that will keep highway maintenance workers safe by sensing when traffic is too close. In addition to getting the students to think about how close a vehicle can be to a person without putting them in danger, the activity provides experience assembling electronics, learning about how the sensors work, and programming the devices.
Lesson plans were field tested through a STEM afterschool program serving middle school and high school students. Now in its third year, the program has reached many students, some of whom have returned year after year.
“One of our best success stories comes from one of the students who was with us for a couple of years, graduated from high school, and then, between graduating and going to college in the fall, worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation as a transportation engineer,” said Claus. The graduate returned recently and talked to the kids in the afterschool program about his experiences. “After he talked, enthusiasm among the students went up by a factor of ten. It just has more impact for a student to tell other students, than for an adult to tell them.”
Transportation is a good field for engaging with students of this age group, according to Christina Martin, who serves as the Giles County STEM Education Program Coordinator. “Students are excited about driving; it’s something they can see themselves doing in a few years. It’s fun for them to think about how vehicles are going to change. They see some of the connected applications that already exist on vehicles and they can start to imagine what that progression is going to look like in several years,” she said.
It was through their interactions with local teachers that the NanoSonic engineers learned that most of the classrooms in the area did not have access to the Internet. “That floored us because we’re engineers and nerds,” said Claus. NanoSonic purchased inexpensive routers and installed them in the science classrooms in all the county schools they worked with. Today, perhaps in part because of this effort, all of the county schools now have wireless Internet throughout. “We think that’s a nice benefit. Certainly, that wasn’t FHWA’s objective, but as a side benefit, we think we’ve been able to move the county ahead a step or two.”
The company has also helped create a regional science fair, launched a Transportation Engineering Summer Camp, and initiated a summer work program for high schoolers.
“We think it’s our civic responsibility to be part of the community,” said Claus. However, he does point out that the company has had one direct benefit from the work they have done with the schools. Through a summer work program for high school students, NanoSonic has hired one person as a full-time, permanent employee.
We know that diversity and inclusion (D&I) are good for business, and some companies have embraced these principles to move their businesses forward. On the other hand, some industries continue to struggle with challenges from a declining workforce, talent gaps, loss of customer engagement, and other trends, despite the clear potential benefits that could be gained from D&I. In transportation, we know that our industry faces every one of these challenges, yet we are among the slowest to adopt D&I principles.
In our recent Virtual Roundtable D&I Summer Series, we spoke with various professionals on proven strategies to build diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Together with series facilitator, Tremaine Maebry, guest speakers discussed examples from traditional corporate settings, from healthcare, and from the insurance industry.
From his position as Manager in the Office of Diversity and Civil Rights for a Midwest railroad company, Maebry took some time to reflect on what can be learned from these discussions and how we might effectively bring D&I best practices to Transportation. Below are his eight suggestions for moving the needle for D&I in Transportation.
1. Talk the Talk (of senior leadership)
“As employment professionals, diversity professionals, inclusion professionals, we really need to start talking another language. We need to up our game,” said Maebry. When trying to move D&I initiatives forward, a lot of resistance can arises negative impressions of what diversity means.
Because conversations around diversity can be uncomfortable, people tend to shy away from the topic to the point where many D&I professionals feel excluded in the workplace. In his own experience, Maebry has found that, in spite of his law degree and a dozen years of experience and in spite of his MBA in marketing, people will often disregard his contributions out of hand because of his association with D&I. People assume that someone who is passionate about inclusion is too soft-hearted to do the “real work” of business.
Maebry suggests that D&I professionals talk about what they do in terms that resonate with their coworkers and senior leaders. “I try to use other words that talk about bringing people into the fold. For instance, I say that I am a human capital professional that will help you bring more talent into your pipeline, when talking to organizational leaders about targeted recruiting efforts. Or, I mention mitigating risk factors when developing HR policies and in reviewing current practices. These are things that get their attention,” he said.
2. Find the Shiny Pennies
In our first roundtable, George Watts and Laurie Blazek talked about aligning communication strategies to match the personalities and interests of the people you are trying to reach. Maebry agrees this is helpful and suggests finding the “shiny penny” topics, the issues that are top of mind for the organization’s leaders. From this perspective, the benefits of D&I practices can be related to the interests of decision makers and be more likely to gain support.
3. Be Intentional
Real progress is more likely when an organization sets clear goals. In our third roundtable, Angela Russell, from CUNA Mutual Group, described how senior leadership at her company made inclusion a priority by rolling it into the corporate vision.
“We need to start tying performance measures for diversity and inclusion to the performance measures for all employees,” said Maebry.
He explained that this should be for employees at every level, not just managers and not just for recruitment. This should be a top-to-bottom mandate. Without a culture of inclusiveness, hiring managers might hire the required mix of diverse applicants, but they won’t necessarily put those applicants in positions of influence.
“This applies in Targeted Marketing. Or, when trying to recruit minorities or people with disabilities into professions that have been historically exclusive. Your marketing and your recruiting has to be intentional. You can’t just put it on LinkedIn or Monster and hope that people are going to come to you,” said Maebry.
According to Maebry, Transit is a good example of a brand that could use an infusion of diverse marketing and recruiting viewpoints. “Traditional marketing and recruiting efforts don’t appeal to millennials. They don’t appeal to women. They don’t look inclusive or welcoming,” he said.
4. Ask, “Who does this burden?”
One of the best practices described by Russell is important when writing policies or instituting new practices. Maebry agrees that it is important to be asking questions like, “Does this policy burden or benefit?” And, determine whom might be burdened by it. If it does burden someone, then involve them in finding the solution.
5. Address unique challenges of the public sector
Much of the transportation industry is in the public sector, making some of the strategies that work in the corporate environment less effective. Further, these fields can be highly regulated, throwing seemingly endless hurdles in the way of change.
However, Maebry points out that diversity, equity and inclusion offer powerful tools for repairing and nurturing an organization’s public image, which can be the lifeblood of a public resource’s success of failure.
In our second roundtable, Bridgett Willey from UW Health spoke about the importance for an organization to have a staff with a similar demographic makeup to the community that it serves.
“Transportation professionals, particularly with the railroads, just need to get out of their own way and take some intelligent and calculated risks. It’s such a heavily regulated industry, so I often hear, ‘We can’t do this because we’re heavily regulated, we can’t do that because of regulations.,’” explained Maebry.
“We have to work in a concerted way on our perception and our relationships with the community,” said Maebry.
6. Keep moving the needle
“Once you become complacent, you’re done,” said Maebry. While goals do not have to be huge, Maebry sits down with his team every year to set new goals. These goals are evaluated every quarter and the team tries to determine which tactics were the most successful. For example, did attending more meetings throughout the organization get the D&I team included in more discussions?
Every year, more goals are added and existing goals are kept. “You have to do that. You have to hit people from different angles in order for these initiatives to take root and develop,” said Maebry.
7. Be pioneers
During his career, Maebry has seen senior leadership judge their organization’s performance against the performance of their peers. When their peers aren’t making huge strides in D&I, then it is almost like an excuse to be complacent.
“My response would be, ‘No. We need to be pioneers,’” said Maebry.
If you ask most companies in shipping or logistics if it is possible to hire someone with an associate degree who knows logistics, engineering, and information technology, they will tell you that such graduates do not exist, and they would be right. But, graduates with this unique set of skills will be hitting the workforce in just two years thanks to a new AAS program coming out of Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio where the first class of students have enrolled in the degree program and begun their instruction this fall.
“I was excited to see this degree was being created. It fills a gap that has been out there for some time,” said Jeremy Banta, Lead Faculty for the Supply Chain Management program at Columbus State.
The new AAS degree in Logistics Engineering Technology (LET) was formed after collecting input from area employers who helped the college identify the skills and knowledge requirements for this evolving occupation. The degree brings together core competencies in accounting and finance, communication, information technology (IT), leadership, and logistics. It also brings in technical knowledge from industrial engineering technology and electro-mechanical engineering technology.
“What we’ve recognized is it’s difficult to find the right people with the right skill sets,” said Brandon Andrews, Senior Corporate Learning & Development Manager at Intelligrated, which is part of Honeywell. “We’re looking for a certain level of aptitude or proficiency before we bring them on.”
Andrews points out that the increasingly automated logistics field relies on sophisticated systems representing investments in the tens of millions of dollars. His company does not hire inexperienced people to run or maintain such systems. They are looking for well-trained people who have chosen the occupation and who are prepared with the training they need to get up to speed quickly.
“The Logistics Engineering Technology program at Columbus State encompasses the more technical aspects together with the operations piece and how the systems all interact with the facility, as a whole,” said Andrews.
The goal of the AAS program is to have students graduate with an understanding of the fundamentals of IT and computer science, principals of engineering, and fundamentals of logistics so they can talk to all these groups.
“The main rationale for the degree is to combine logistics with engineering technologies,” said Tara Sheffer, Grant Coordinator at Columbus State. “We know logistics is changing, we know distribution is changing, we know there is a skills gap.”
The new degree program was developed with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, which specifically aims to help community colleges develop academic programs for the education of technicians for high-technology fields important to the nation’s economy.
“Columbus State recognized early on that most students in the Supply Chain Management degree program were returning adults,” said Banta. To accommodate these students, 50 to 75 percent of the courses for the LET degree can be completed online.
Industry partnerships were key to the development of this degree program. They will also be key to future evolution of this program, which is slated to include a work study component and internship requirement.
Columbus State is also working to develop a third phase to this program, referred to as a “two plus two plus two” pathway. In this model, students embark on a career pathway beginning the last two years of high school. Then, they complete a two-year degree program at a community college followed by two years at a university to earn a bachelor’s degree.
As they move forward, the college will continuously work to identify and predict emerging technologies and trends affecting logistics occupations. Their goal is to continuously update the curriculum to meet evolving needs within the workforce.
“I always joke that an English professor does not necessarily have to be out in industry to see what’s new going on in their area. But, we do,” said Banta. “At least once a week we’re taking a tour, talking to an industry leader, or attending a conference so we can hear about what is new out there and what gaps need to be filled. For instance, a lot of employers right now are saying soft skills are a problem. Employees know how to do regression analysis, but they don’t know how to write an email.”
For more information about the degree program, visit the Columbus State website. Information about the curriculum and how it was developed may be found on the Columbus State website page for the grant project. To learn more about collaborating with Columbus State, contact Tara Sheffer at email@example.com.
The Midwest is taking the lead in a unique partnership of a dozen workforce development boards working in tandem to drive economic growth in the region.
In July, workforce leaders from 12 Midwest cities convened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to sign an agreement creating the Midwest Urban Strategies Consortium, the first partnership of its kind in the country.
Employ Milwaukee is the administrative lead of the consortium, working with workforce development boards in Chicago, Illinois; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Indianapolis, Indiana; Kansas City, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; and Wichita, Kansas. The U.S. Department of Labor is also an active member, providing technical assistance and guidance on national and regional workforce priorities.
The signing of the consortium agreement formalizes collaboration that has been taking place since 2015. Through the agreement, consortium members share resources and funding and leverage each other’s strengths. Midwest Urban Strategies was formed to: create a community of practice among the members who share a lot of the same challenges related to urban settings; provide the collective impact needed to revitalize the Midwest economy; and maximize federal, state, and local funds and effort.
Tracey Carey, Director of Fund Development and Strategic Initiatives at Employ Milwaukee, looks forward to continuing to build on local strategies for regional impact. Moving forward Midwest Urban Strategies’ vision includes:
- Creating regional, sector-based advisory boards comprised of business leadership
- Utilizing multi-city organizations, such as the United Way and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, to create a regional network of service and training providers
- Leveraging relationships with organizations like the National Skills Coalition and Jobs for the Future to deepen impact by utilizing the expertise and technical support of these nationally recognized research and policy advocacy organizations on a broader scale
- Maximizing on the diversity and opportunity that comes from the scope and size of these urban epicenters, to secure resources, share information, implement best and tried practice to further fulfill its mission as change agents
The urban focus of the member workforce development boards contributes to the partnership’s synergy.
“Even though we’re in different cities and we’re organized in different ways, we all face the same kinds of issues. So, it gives us the space to learn together from other experiences,” said Carey. Last summer, when the city of Milwaukee experienced an outbreak of violence in one of its neighborhoods, the city reached out to Detroit and St. Louis to hear about how they worked to address similar issues in their communities and then adopted some of those practices.
The consortium’s work will be organized around a demand-driven model with focus on the following sectors:
- Financial Services
The goal of this model is to build regional talent pools and to meet the workforce needs of whole industries.
“We’re working to create parity in training; allowing people who want to move from Milwaukee to St. Louis, for example, to be able to secure credentials that are portable and lend themselves to employment throughout the Midwest region. And, we are developing a regional employer network that helps us do a better job of meeting employer needs,” said Carey.
The Department of Labor has funded three of the consortium’s initiatives. Additionally, the group is leveraging other public, private and philanthropic funding. JPMorgan Chase is providing resources to shore up capacity, aid in intra-city communication and coordination, and bring training and technical assistance to enhance sector-based partnerships with employers.
For more information on Midwest Urban Strategies, contact Tracey Carey by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She won’t hesitate to admit that a big part of what makes the diversity and inclusion initiatives successful for her company is the support they get from high-level leadership. But, it’s a multi-pronged approach, including both top-down as well as bottom-up strategies, that have defined Angela Russell’s implementation of a D&I program over the last two and a half years.
In the third installment of the D&I Virtual Roundtable Summer Series, “Tapping into the Power of Difference,” Russell, who is Director of Diversity & Inclusion at CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, Wisconsin, shared the best practices she uses and lessons she has learned from her experiences.
Setting the stage, Russell opened with a review of key concepts in D&I, such as the difference between equality and equity and what it means to have an inclusive workplace.
“I can give you an example that was eye opening to me,” said Russell. “We have interns every year. Last year, we had an intern in a motorized wheelchair. We had a push button to open doors to get into the building. But, what we didn’t know was that we didn’t have one to get from the lobby to our offices.” It turned out that the setup was compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “Doing what is ADA compliant isn’t always the same as doing what is equitable. We didn’t know it had a differential impact on someone because we didn’t have that same experience.”
Russell pointed out that being inclusive is not about doing things for people who are less fortunate or disenfranchised. Rather, it is about acting collaboratively. To do this, it is important to get input from people before making decisions that may impact them. “When making policy decisions, ask the questions: Who’s benefiting from this decision? Who’s burdened? If you don’t know who’s burdened, go out and ask people who are not like you,” said Russell.
Diversity will not last if the corporate culture is not inclusive, according to Russell. CUNA Mutual Group utilizes a dozen Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, to support employees with a variety of backgrounds, life circumstances or interests.
“I would ask you to think about some of the unwritten rules that you ask people to assimilate to in order to succeed at your organization,” said Russell. “Do you ask people to give up part of their identity to ‘be like us?’” This is important to maintaining the value brought by a diverse workplace. “When we build diversity, we want real innovation, we want those new thoughts and ideas.”
Not only are ERGs a best practice in the D&I space, they can also be strategic partners for meeting business goals. Identifying that there was a growing opportunity among African American consumers, the CUNA Mutual Group team responsible for products in this market space reached out to the African American ERG for help thinking through their strategies.
Three years ago, when the current CEO took his position, one of the first things he did was roll inclusion into the corporate vision. The company has D&I council comprised of leadership at the Vice President level and above. The council helps lead cultural change from the top down. There is also a D&I Action & Change Team, a grass roots team that works to lead change from bottom up. “I call that the big squeeze of culture change for D&I,” said Russell.
In her role, Russell has also worked on helping the company attract and hire a diverse workforce. One of the first projects she did when starting at CUNA Mutual Group was analyze the recruitment process. The company had a five-page algorithm of the entire recruitment process. Her team went through the algorithm looking at each decision point, evaluating it for any potential effects from bias. Bias can be institutional, individual or systemic. At each node, the team asked, “What does bias look like, here? What are strategies to mitigate against those biases?” These strategies to mitigate bias were formulated and put into an 11-page document. Then, they were boiled down to a one-page document that was provided to hiring managers as a tool to help them attract and interview a broader, more diverse pool of recruits.
Another important part of attracting a more diverse talent pool comes from expanding personal interactions. To improve access, CUNA Mutual Group leaders are encouraged to participate with a variety of community organizations with which they partner.
“We know that, in general, getting a job is all about who you know. If you only know people who are just like you, those are the people who are going to have the awareness that a job is open at your organization,” said Russell. “We encourage our executives and leaders of our company to go out in our community to meet people and connect with people who are different from them.”
In closing, Russell shared some common themes and best practices that she has encountered in her experience:
- Success in the D&I space requires a long-term commitment
- Employee Resource Groups (also called Affinity Groups or Business Resource Networks) help build an inclusive workplace
- Training is needed to build awareness and skills for management as well as staff
- Before implementing policies, it’s important to ask, “Who benefits from this and who is burdened?”
- Collect both quantitative and qualitative data to measure progress
- Collaborate and align with other efforts
- Recognize early wins to maintain energy over the long haul
Facing many of the same workforce challenges being seen in the transportation industry, one large healthcare organization has built a successful model for growing its talent pool. Based on the fundamentals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the program at UW Health, in southcentral Wisconsin, is growing the skilled workforce they need through an innovative use of community partnerships and home-grown internship and training programs.
Bridgett Willey, Director of Allied Health Education and Career Pathways at UW Health recently joined Tremaine Maebry and 31 attendees for the second installment of the MTWC Diversity and Inclusion Virtual Roundtable Summer Series. In the roundtable, they discussed successful strategies for building a successful Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program and how Willey’s experiences in healthcare can be applied within the Transportation industry. A recording of this roundtable discussion is available on the MTWC website.
Across several sectors, filling positions in the Midwest is difficult and getting harder. That is exactly what UW Health is experiencing as a healthcare system comprised of five hospitals and just under 200 clinics with 16,000 employees. Filling positions in the state is difficult due to high rates of retirement among baby boomers combined with a very low unemployment rate of just 2.6%. UW Health discovered, however, that there is a rich untapped resource among the area’s communities of color, where unemployment rates are currently higher.
About four years ago, Willey started a program to give underrepresented high school and college students an opportunity to explore about 60 in-demand, healthcare careers. The program is called HOPE, which stands for Health Occupations and Professions Exploration. From the first class, interest and attendance in HOPE offerings far exceeded expectations. To date, about 1500 high school and college students from all over the state have participated.
Based on the success of that program, Willey made a proposal to senior leadership to form a new department. Leadership agreed and Allied Health Education and Career Pathways was formed a year and a half ago. With the formation of a department, the programs received a sustainable source of funding that replaced the less reliable grant funds used at their launch.
Since then, the department’s programs have expanded into working not only with youth but also with adults who are underemployed or unemployed. The programs provide short-term training and educational sessions, usually in partnership with a community organization such as The Urban League of Greater Madison, Centro Hispano of Dane County, or Operation Fresh Start, to provide people with the training they need to be successful as they come into various entry-level positions at the hospitals and clinics.
Making the business case for cultural competence at UW Health was key to gaining buy-in for the new department. It’s important for the organization to have a staff with a similar demographic makeup to the patient populations that it serves.
“Over the last couple of years, we have increased our diversity especially at our entry-level careers at the hospital. Now we’re focusing our efforts on creating more opportunities and paths for folks to get into the professional and technical levels of the organization,” said Willey.
Other key factors that have helped gain buy-in include the involvement of subject matter experts from throughout the organization in all aspects of the department’s work. From collecting information about careers and developing training materials to working directly with the students at HOPE events, people are asked to share their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the program. It’s also important to bring in someone well versed in education who can help not only develop the materials but also help make the careers look interesting to young people. They have a website at www.hopemadisonwi.org that is used extensively by the students during the HOPE events.
With just four career pathways coordinators plus herself, Willey points out that it’s extremely important to be able to work with limited resources and be willing to constantly innovate and change what the team is doing.
“As a small team, we’re always working at capacity. Before we can try something new we have to take something out. So, we’re always in a state of change and growth,” she said.
Willey also admits that her personal experiences probably helped make her especially adept at implementing workforce development programs. When she was about 11, Willey saw her father’s career change take her family from living at the poverty line to the middle class. This experience stuck with her and taught her important lessons about how young people choose their future careers. She later built on this experience when choosing her own professional trajectory, and eventually used all of these experiences to build the HOPE program.
Her early exposure to healthcare came from her dad when he came out of the Navy. After serving four years as an EMT, when he rejoined civilian life, her father’s skills were not transferrable into a certification or a specific job role. So, he was working at a low wage at the VA hospital in Kansas City, as a Patient Care Assistant. While there, a cardiologist offered him the opportunity to learn on the job to operate a new technology, diagnostic medical ultrasound, which was used to look at patients’ hearts and blood vessels. With this new training and new career path, Willey’s father vastly improved his family’s financial situation.
“That, to me was incredible,” said Willey. “Later, when I went to college I started out as a Journalism major. I quickly realized that I was going to have student loans and that there was only a thirty percent chance I would even get accepted into the Journalism school. I decided that I better find a better career.” Willey went on to pursue a career in healthcare, starting with on-the-job EKG Technician training.
“Careers tend to run in families,” Willey points out. “When I tell the story of my dad to the kids in HOPE, it tends to make a big impact. Many of them have experienced poverty or experienced a parent working two or three jobs just trying to make ends meet,” said Willey. “Whereas, a lot of careers in healthcare, with very little formal education, can be extremely lucrative and support families.”
A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal highlighted the student experience through the summer HOPE internship program.
For more information about the MTWC D&I Virtual Roundtable or if you have any questions please contact Maria Hart at email@example.com.
Working simultaneously with unions, contractors, women, and students, the National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment is helping the construction industry grow the skilled workforce it needs by incorporating and retaining more women. One way the center is doing this is by bringing registered apprenticeship to bear as a proven strategy to grow and retain talent, according to Jayne Vellinga, Executive Director of Chicago Women in Trades, the parent organization of the center.
By providing evidence-based strategies and practical applications, the center supports employers in their efforts to build and implement apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs and then provides ongoing support to ensure that more women successfully complete their apprenticeships and launch long-term careers in their trade.
Midwest stakeholders including registered apprenticeship sponsors, training providers, and workforce development professionals can benefit first hand from the center’s expertise by participating in the upcoming Building Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment: An Institute for Practitioners and Employers, which will be held Friday, October 13, 2017 before the start of the Women Build Nations conference in Chicago.
The multi-pronged approach taken by the center is a reflection of several factors influencing the availability of skilled laborers today.
“If I’m a contractor, I want to find some women that I’m going to cultivate and treat like an integral part of my workforce so when I bid on a project that has a female hiring goal, I already have a great skilled person that I know produces for me,” said Vellinga.
Bringing women into these careers is good for the employers but it’s also an issue of equity, according to Vellinga. In construction jobs, which have been traditionally held by male workers, a new employee with a high school diploma and no work experience will enter the field at nearly $20 per hour. In five years, that person could earn nearly $50 per hour. By contrast, roles with similar educational requirements in traditionally female jobs, such as Nurse’s Assistant, will enter the workforce at around $12 per hour and only increase their earning potential by a few dollars in five years.
A couple of years ago, the center received a Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to set up a technical assistance center for the Midwest. The center was one of three grantees spanning the county. With this grant, the center has begun to expand their reach and bring technical assistance across the region.
The center works with their national partners, primarily unions, to develop technical assistance plans, provide training, help decipher regulations, and develop best practices and case studies. They provide employers assistance on issues as varied as recruitment and retention to domestic violence.
“It’s also about career choice,” explains Vellinga. “Not every woman is a nurturer. Not every woman without a college degree wants to work with children or old people or be a waitress. Women have wide range of interests whether they’ve had an opportunity to go to college or not. It’s important to have that level of career choice and the earning power that goes with jobs that have been traditionally male.”
In 2016, the center received an additional grant from the Department of Labor targeting equity partners. The center was named the lead agency for a consortium of 10 organizations around the country. This consortium includes virtually every funded tradeswoman organization in the country and works with the national Registered Apprenticeship program. The consortium assists apprenticeship program sponsors with their equal employment opportunity planning. They provide tools, guidance, technical assistance, training, and other services in support of building equity for women in apprenticeship. Today, women make up only 15% of all apprenticeships, and in the construction field, the numbers are much worse at just 3% nationwide.
An improving economy and projected workforce shortages are helping to spur momentum for women in trades. Vellinga also points out that certain incentive programs work exceptionally well to motivate positive hiring practices. The Illinois Tollway system, for example, offers earned credit to contractors who bid on construction projects for each woman or minority that is hired. What makes this program especially beneficial is that it also awards credit for retaining these employees. “So, if you’ve done a good job with your workforce, you don’t necessarily have to be the lowest bidder to be successful in getting a contract,” said Vellinga. “What I like about this system is that it rewards you for what you’ve done, not just what you say you’re going to do.”
In her 17 years at Chicago Women in Trades, Vellinga has seen significant improvement in the work environment for women in construction. As an example, she tells about one of the plumber’s unions she works with in the Chicago area. Just four years ago, this group had just two women in their apprenticeship program. However, with a change in mindset among the union’s leadership, they started bringing more women into the program. Today, they have 32 women in their apprenticeship program and are also supporting a robust mentorship program.
“Last year, for the first time in this local’s history, they sent women as delegates to the union association convention. And not just one woman, but three,” said Vellinga. “These numbers are going to make the difference. You can’t ignore, refuse to train or create an untenable work environment for an important percentage of your workforce.”
For more information on the center or on the Women Build Nations conference, contact Jayne Vellinga by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registered apprenticeship programs are growing to meet the demands of the transportation sector. A powerful tool for companies to develop the talent they need to fill positions, apprenticeship is being adopted to address workforce gaps in a growing array of occupations. The U.S. Department of Labor funds intermediaries such as FASTPORT and TransPORTs to develop registered apprenticeship programs and expand the number of apprentices for employers in the transportation and logistics industry.
“I am currently working with a large supply chain exporter with 60 branches in the U.S. Their vice president reached out to us because he wants to use apprenticeship to build his workforce,” said Barbara Murray, TransPORTs Apprenticeship and Partnership Development Expert. “He said there are great supply chain programs out there and named a couple of universities. But, then he said the graduates of those programs have great theoretical knowledge but they don’t have any work experience so they really still can’t go to work.” Plus, Murray pointed out, it is at this point that new graduates often discover that the job is not a good fit.
Combine the career readiness that apprenticeship provides with the astoundingly high retention rates of 87-93% of employees who complete apprenticeship programs, and it is clear why more companies are turning to groups like TransPORTs and FASTPORTS, for assistance in getting new programs up and running for an increasing number of occupations.
“My role has been changing the face of what apprenticeship is. Those professional careers can all be done with apprenticeship. The only way to do that is have people understand what apprenticeship is,” said Murray. “There are so many open positions right now where the people applying don’t have the needed skills. There’s a mismatch. More can be done than just taking classes and sitting in a classroom. Actually taking relevant classes that are matched to the work that you’re doing; that’s the difference.”
Truck drivers are an in-demand group and accordingly, this was one of the earliest national training standards program developed.
“We now have nine national employer companies sponsoring registered apprenticeship programs. Through these there are currently 814 apprentices operating on the national standards with a truck driving apprenticeship,” said Dave Harrison, Executive Director of National Apprenticeship at FASTPORT.
One of the key boosts to apprenticeship has been the advent of national apprenticeship standards, which facilitate the expansion of programs across states and make it easier to replicate programs.
“In 2014 an idea was born and some of us in the industry started actually writing what is called the National Standard of Apprenticeship, even before anything was passed in legislation. We just believed it was going to happen,” said Harrison. “It’s just been since the middle of 2015 that we started getting engagement on national strategies. So, if you look at it, it’s not very old.”
But there has been a lot of growth in a short time. Since the beginning, Harrison points out the truck driver segment has experienced the greatest growth, because that’s the biggest area of need. Moving forward, other related occupations are beginning to catch up. These include occupations like diesel mechanic and fleet manager. FASTPORT currently has programs for eight occupations in this area.
Over the next two years, Harrison predicts explosive growth in apprentices joining programs for freight broker or cargo broker and related occupations. These occupations are increasingly important to the world economy “because they integrate everything, air, land, and sea,” said Harrison.
In maritime, employers around our nation’s ports have diverse workforce needs and the new occupations being pursued for apprenticeship reflect this diversity. “The hot jobs include electro-mechanical, welder, HVAC, crane operator, logistics associate, freight forwarder, and, most recently, graphic designer,” said Murray.
Currently in process, FASTPORT is working to co-sponsor a new registered apprenticeship program with the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) to launch programs for freight brokers. With over 1700 employers as part of their association, this TIA program will quickly rival truck driver programs in terms of enrolled apprentices.
Harrison sites partnerships with industry as the driving factor for apprenticeship program successes. It is the industry connections which helps guide the best practices for reaching employers. One of the key activities they do is host accelerator events, often as part of national trade conferences. FASTPORT will be attending the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, August 24-26. “This is a great event and I would encourage anyone interested in apprenticeship and the transportation industry to attend,” said Harrison.
“A lot of what we do is make it simpler and quicker for companies,” said Murray. She cites the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to the ApprenticeshipUSA program with contributing to their success by adding more people but not more administrative layers. “We have more people, more opportunities to work face-to-face with companies and turn their programs around more quickly,” she said.
To learn more about starting an apprenticeship program, contact Dave Harrison at email@example.com or Barbara Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Employees with specific skills and a technical education are in demand in the transportation industry and this need is growing. Unfortunately, too few young people are being ushered toward transportation careers. Over the past decade, the nation’s K-12 educational systems have worked hard to deliver students to four-year degree programs at universities. This focus has greatly reduced the number of shop and hands-on technical classes, resulting in dwindling opportunities to expose students to the sorts of careers that drive the transportation industry today.
The Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence is determined to reverse this trend by providing young people with in-person, hands-on experiences, while demonstrating the value to parents, school administrators, industry representatives, and others. They are doing this with a new mobile outreach unit, a trailer decked out with stations for each transportation mode that is pulled by a truck. The trailer is outfitted with several pieces of equipment, creating hands-on stations where students, counselors, teachers, peers, and parents can participate in real activities that occur in transportation careers. These activities showcase the technology in the industry and help students develop passion for transportation careers.
“It’s one thing to put out a webinar, put out a newsletter, or tell someone about these careers,” said Chris Hadfield, Director of the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence. But, he pointed out, it’s completely different when students and their parents visit the trailer and have that hands-on experience.
The mobile unit was used for the first time in early May at an event where high school students were competing to build fuel efficient miniature cars with lawn mower engines. The event hosted about 700 attendees and approximately 200-300 people walked through the trailer.
Inside, the center has designed an experience that promotes engagement with not just the students. School decision makers and parents, which the center refers to as influencers, are also targeted by the trailer.
“You have to have something to draw them in, the big trailer does that. Then you have to have industry partnerships,” said Hadfield. The goal is to have industry representatives from each transportation sector accompany the trailer at events. These industry volunteers work alongside center staff to greet people and talk about transportation jobs.
“We know that when we put an industry person in front of a school superintendent while they’re seeing students get engaged with the experience, that’s when we start to have real conversations about bringing their tech programs back, bringing their transportation programs back, maybe doing some cool internship or apprenticeship with us,” said Hadfield.
Involving industry representatives in outreach activities also serves to bring the transportation sectors together.
“Our idea is to have somebody from the trucking industry sitting side by side, two feet away from, somebody from the aviation sector and they’re side by side with somebody from the railroad and so on and so forth. We have these people mingling and they hadn’t realized before that they have something in common and now they realize that they do. And, common denominators mean that you should be collaborating and working together. There’s a lot more power in working together than alone in silos,” sad Hadfield.
Moving forward, the trailer will be made available to each of the center’s 26 partner post-secondary schools across the state. To utilize the trailer, the schools’ responsibilities include coordinating industry representatives to accompany the trailer, getting the high schools in their region on board, and arranging either a career fair on their own campus or to bring the trailer to a high school. The trailer is made available to center partners at no cost except to return the truck with a full tank of gas.
Brand new, the trailer is already booked for over 36 events over the course of the year. The success of the project so far is attributed to the collaboration of the schools, employers, and the center. Having representatives from the industry is really important toward the outreach goals of the center.
“If a post-secondary educator tells a secondary educator or a student about these careers, that’s nice and it works fine. But, when an industry person tells you, ‘By the way I’m hiring and right now I have people who work for me and this is what I pay them and this is what they do,’ the message has much more weight for a student, a parent or for a school superintendent,” said Hadfield.
About the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence
The Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence is an innovative collaboration between Minnesota state colleges and universities and industry partners dedicated to educating and training workers for high-demand careers in the transportation industry.
The center was started in January of 2013 in response feedback from industry “listening sessions” held in 2012. Through the development of partnerships, the center supports workforce alignment in order to meet the current and future needs of the state’s transportation industry, not only in terms of the number of graduates but also in terms of the location of programs and the rate of degree attainment. The center coordinates the alignment of skills and knowledge needed by employers with what is taught in instructional programs while providing outreach to improve student awareness of employment markets.