Clocked In: Betting On 16 Weeks To A Job

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By: Ross Andrews

This story aired on Marketplace 9/6/12.

US manufacturing boasts the highest combined wages and benefits of any economic sector, but according to the Manufacturing Institute, more than 600,000 factory jobs went unfilled last year due to the skills gap. That group has been working on a solution in the form of a training program called Right Skills Now which boasts an impressive promise to young job seekers — 16 weeks to a job.

Katie Christian is one of the first female students to test out the program near Carson City, Nevada. Before enrolling in Right Skills Now, the bubbly 29-year-old mother of one had a bunch of different jobs.

“I was a security guard at the Marine Corps base,” said Christian, “and I also have been to culinary school. I love it, but it’s a passion and a hobby, not a job for life.”

A job for life is a lot to ask of any employment program, let alone one that only lasts four months. But Right Skills Now transported Christian into the machine shop at GE’s Bentley Nevada facility, and she loves the work so much, she says she could do it for 40 years.

Jonathan Begley is the executive director of Dream It Do It Nevada, the organization implementing the Nevada training program. He said, “Our role in this whole thing is to take people from the unemployment lines and to connect them with employment quickly.”

Dream It Do It goes into community colleges with a different model. Classes are designed with an actual job in mind. Big employers like General Electric and smaller local companies are part of the mix. Students get a crash course in the basic skills, splitting time between the classroom and a paid internship on a factory floor.

“Industry has really come up to the plate and said, ‘These are the types of workers that we need,'” said Begley. “There’s an immediate demand among manufacturers for skilled CNC operators.”

CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control — basically really expensive machines that are essential to factory work — and being able to run one, makes a person pretty employable.

Jim Flemming is the plant manager at GE’s Bentley Nevada facility, where Katie Christian works. He’s excited about a pipeline of CNC talent. “If you look around the tool room itself,” Flemming explained, “you have about 20 pieces of equipment, most of them manual, run by 8 different guys who have been here for 35-40 years. One by one these folks are gonna be going away.”

But at GE they’re not going away yet. Which is one of the sticking points of Right Skills Now. It doesn’t solve every company’s immediate need.

Flemming has been impressed with Christian’s work, but he doesn’t have a job for her. Christian currently works as a temp, and under GE rules, she has a year to get hired before she’ll be forced to leave. When asked about the prospect of losing her job, Christian was unfazed.

When she enrolled in Right Skills Now, Christian said she wanted to know where she fit in when it came to the working world, and even if her current position is temporary, she says she’s achieved that goal. If GE isn’t able to hire her, Christian says she take her CNC skills and borrow a line from Ginger Rogers. “I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again,” sang Christian. Accept this time, she plans to do it with a career as a CNC operator somewhere on her immediate horizon.

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