Manufacturing has been a major industry for Florida since its inception, and now is home to more than 20,000 manufacturing companies. Companies here create all kinds of vital materials, from electric lines and life-saving medical equipment to the fuel that powers machines, among countless other integral elements that keep our society moving forward. Considering how important manufacturing is to the strength of Florida’s economy, it’s no surprise that Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have made it their priority as well.
However, we are now facing a massive shortage of skilled employees to keep our economic machinery surging forward. The bottom line is, a severe lack of qualified candidates exists to fill all the manufacturing jobs needed, a reality that is not good for the industry or for Florida’s economy. It’s a nationwide issue, as the skills gap is leaving an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, with a potential economic impact of $2.5 trillion on the U.S.
With over 30 years of experience in this sector, I am terribly troubled by this. I know there is not a simple solution. However, I also believe that increasing training and education will play a critical role in helping our state close these employment and skills gaps.
As vice president and general manager of Knight’s Armament Company, a firearms manufacturer in Titusville, I pride myself on putting the education and training of my employees as a top priority. This has not only been beneficial to the employees, who can earn more money and do their jobs better, but it has also been beneficial to our company as we recruit and develop a diverse and highly skilled workforce, improve productivity, reduce turnover, improve loyalty, and invest in the local community. Growing up, I had a mentor invest time in me. He taught me the core values of a hard-working, dependable employee and how to overcome obstacles that seemed to keep me stagnant in my career. His teachings have been with me since I was a teenager and inspire me to help others be their best.
One example is Krystal Turner-Wilson, one of our certified machinists and a single mom. Krystal was interested in better mastering her craft, so we seized the opportunity to help her do that. We worked with FloridaMakes, a statewide, industry-led partnership, and its Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) apprenticeship program – a stellar example of how to educate the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow. While earning a regular paycheck and getting company benefits, Krystal also received customized on-the-job training through online learning modules that provided the most up-to-date manufacturing skills and core competencies for success. Now Krystal has added and is continuing to develop her craft, increase her contributions on the jobsite, and is helping her in attaining a higher earning potential.
We need to change the perception that “a good education” has to mean a college education. Vocational training and apprenticeships are an often-overlooked form of education and pathway to employment, even though for many students they may be the best option.
Apprenticeship programs like FloridaMakes’ IMT allow businesses to invest in their employees’ future with hands-on training and extensive online courses they can complete outside of work hours. The program offers employers a consistent way to recruit, train, and retain talent, designed with a specialized focus on the unique needs of a specific job. Apprentices receive one-on-one mentoring, earn a nationally recognized credential, learn necessary skills to further their careers, and earn a wage that increases with experience – all while avoiding student loan debt.
When I spoke with Krystal about her experience with training, she said flexibility and hands-on training are a critical part of her success in our company. I wholeheartedly agree. Programs like this are mutually beneficial to both the employer and the apprentice.
Registered apprentices earn nearly two-and-a-half-times as much income – about $300,000 more over the course of their careers – than their non-certified counterparts, and 91% of apprentices are still employed nine months after completion. Now a certified CNC Machinist 1 at Knights Armament, Krystal used the IMT program to not only invest in her future but the future of her children as well.
There have been so many stories like Krystal’s that have led to long and successful careers thanks to apprenticeship programs. As a business leader, I encourage others to also invest in their employees’ training with apprenticeships like the IMT program
There have been many families who have been displaced from their jobs. I firmly believe that apprenticeship is going to be our best, most valuable, and effective way to recover from the job losses that we’ve experienced during the COVID pandemic.
Apprenticeship programs are a proven solution to creating and retaining a pipeline of specialized talent that allows businesses to succeed. I strongly urge all manufacturing businesses to increase outside apprenticeship training – for the sake of the industry’s future, and for their company’s benefit as well.
Learn more about IMT by visiting floridamakes.com/imt.