M-CAM Seeks to Bolster Michigan’s Advanced Manufacturing Workforce

During the turbulent election season we all recently endured, a big topic of conversation was trade—specifically how certain policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have harmed the domestic manufacturing sector and hollowed out the middle class. Among the many campaign promises made by President-elect Donald Trump was a pledge to renegotiate some of these trade agreements to help bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas.

But what trade policy discussions often overlook is the effect automation and other technologies, aimed at increasing efficiency, have had on the working class. Manufacturing has gotten leaner and more technologically advanced over the past 15 or so years, and that—arguably as much as (or more than) trade policies—has led to significant job attrition. In light of these changes, the Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing (M-CAM) is seeking to equip workers with the skills needed for jobs in the evolving U.S. manufacturing sector.

M-CAM is a collaboration between Bay College, Grand Rapids Community College, Kellogg Community College, Lake Michigan College, Lansing Community College, Macomb Community College, Mott Community College, and Schoolcraft Community College. Now in the third year of a four-year, $24.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the program trains students in four key areas of advanced manufacturing: welding, CNC/machining, mechatronics, and production operations.

James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College, says M-CAM was established to create a 21st century workforce by developing curriculum around industry-recognized certifications, offering clear career pathways, providing employers with qualified candidates, and strengthening Michigan’s competitive advantage.

“When the economic recovery started in 2009, manufacturers around the state had a hard time finding workers with the right skills,” he says. “We formed a coalition of community colleges to develop the curriculum and met with employers, who helped us select which training areas to focus on.”

Jacobs says this method proved to be an effective use of the Department of Labor’s grant money. “Instead of each school having its own curriculum, we’ve agreed to share so that if someone starts the program in Grand Rapids and wants to finish in Lansing, they can do so. For Michigan, it’s a big step forward.”

So far, the M-CAM program has trained more than 2,900 students since it launched in 2014, exceeding the initial target of 2,700 students in four years. According to M-CAM, more than two-thirds of the students who completed the program as of April 2016 obtained employment, and 75 percent received a higher wage than what their previous job offered. (Employers attend M-CAM graduation ceremonies and are matched with potential employees.) If a student’s income qualifies, the program is free.

Jacobs says the curriculum can be customized by each participating community college to respond to the specific needs of nearby employers; some offer classes in all four technical areas, while others focus on only one or two. He hopes that additional community colleges around Michigan will adopt the curriculum and use it at their schools. Because M-CAM trains students in mechanical, computer, and electrical skills, Jacobs says it’s easy for them to move on to study computer science or electrical engineering at a four-year university if they so choose.

“Fundamentally, Michigan is still driven by the automotive and manufacturing industries,” Jacobs adds. “The jobs that do exist require more advanced skills, and given the centrality of manufacturing to our economy, we needed a workforce development strategy that retains the manufacturing base of Michigan’s economy. An entry-level job in advanced manufacturing pays $16 or $17 dollars per hour, so the opportunities for people to reach sustainable wages are higher for manufacturing than other sectors.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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