There is no one-size fits all for manufacturers. Operational realities differ across the spectrum of manufacturing, yet more and more, manufacturers are coming together to address a key operational component – a skilled, trained workforce. Regardless of the type of manufacturing, employers recognize the bottom line benefits of a prepared workforce – flexibility to respond to market changes, manage equipment failures, experience less down time and be more productive and ultimately more profitable.

The shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing is well documented. According to a 2015 report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 54 percent of U.S. manufacturing executives indicate that they are experiencing a shortage of skilled production workers. To help address this challenge, manufacturers are partnering with technical and community colleges, unions, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and other critical partners to design and implement work-based learning programs that help bridge the divide of the skills gap.

JFF collaborates with employers, unions, educators and other key stakeholders to design training programs that are employer-driven, training workers in the specific skills employers need while also meeting rigorous academic standards for colleges. In order for programs to be successful, employers, unions, and colleges must be able to identify critical skills; develop curriculum that meets the needs of employers; and design work-based learning programs that lead to meaningful employment.

One example of this type of collaboration is the Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) Apprenticeship Program currently operating in the Midwest. The IMT Apprenticeship is funded by the US Department of Labor through a grant to the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute to develop and recognize new apprenticeship curriculum for entry-level manufacturing production workers to increase skill levels. The IMT program partners include Jobs for the Future, the AFL-CIO, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership and the Michigan Human Resources Development Institute.

The apprenticeship combines 2800 hours of on-the-job training with 300 hours of classroom learning. Currently there are over 100 entry-level production workers enrolled in IMT apprenticeships, with more than 50 apprentices pending.

This innovative approach allows workers to remain immersed in their workplace environment, while receiving the on-the job and academic instruction that they need to excel at their jobs and advance in their careers. In addition, workers receive industry-recognized credentials, which both demonstrates to employers that they have needed skills and supports workers’ career advancement. The skills gained through the apprenticeship are documented through industry-recognized tests for the Certified Production Technician credential and verification of on-the-job learning competencies.

The IMT apprenticeship program shows that while training programs do require an investment of time and money from manufacturers, the result is a real impact on both their workforce and operations. As a result of the program, employers have reported reduction in scrap, reduced downtime for equipment maintenance, and reduced turnover among apprentices. In perhaps the most evident proof of success, Ocean Spray recently announced that they are entirely replacing their in-house training program with the IMT apprenticeship.

IMT is an example of how manufacturers are addressing their skills shortage, the impact of apprenticeship and work-based learning, and how investing in training can improve the bottom line for manufacturers.

JFF’s mission is to work to ensure that all under-prepared young people and workers have the skills and credentials needed to succeed in the economy. JFF collaborates with employers across the country to identify innovative models and practices for helping workers train and get jobs. JFF is a proud supporter of Manufacturing Day, which will be taking place this year on Oct. 2.

Manufacturing Day is a celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers. For more information on JFF’s work in the IMT Apprenticeship, visit