The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, announces a $2.25 million grant from the Caterpillar Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Caterpillar Inc., to support and expand the work of Heroes MAKE America, an MI initiative that builds connections and career paths between the military community and the manufacturing industry.

Manufacturers consistently identify the lack of qualified workers as the biggest challenge they face. The results of a 2018 study on the skills gap in manufacturing identify a widening gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the skilled talent pool capable of filling them. Through 2028, 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, and 2.4 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap.

Heroes MAKE America’s signature training program arms participants with the skills and certifications needed to find and excel in manufacturing careers. Through in-person and remote training, Heroes directly works with and supports members of the greater military community transition to their next mission in manufacturing. This grant allows the Heroes initiative to further enhance and deploy its proven workforce initiatives that address the growing manufacturing skills gap. Heroes MAKE America, a Department of Defense–approved SkillBridge program, is open to transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses.

“When we launched Heroes MAKE America, we set out to create an initiative that went above and beyond to support transitioning service members, veterans and their families. Heroes isn’t just about helping our participants earn in-demand qualifications and industry-specific certifications; it is about helping to connect them to the manufacturing industry and, in turn, prepare them to find and excel in a lucrative career in manufacturing,” said MI Executive Director Carolyn Lee. “We are honored to serve the military community through Heroes and are thrilled by the support of the Caterpillar Foundation. This grant will allow us to expand our great work and serve more members of this important community.”

Caterpillar Foundation’s three-year grant will fund two key focus areas:
• Evolution of Heroes training to include the latest in virtual reality technology to support the greater military community regardless of physical location
• Expansion of training pathways to broaden the skillsets supporting the workforce demands in modern manufacturing

Heroes is working with TRANSFR, a New York City–based tech startup, to incorporate hands-on simulation trainings to enhance curriculum delivered in partnership with local community colleges.

“Caterpillar is proud of the support provided to veterans and their families through the Caterpillar Foundation’s donation to the Heroes MAKE America program,” said Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Jim Umpleby. “I am pleased the Foundation can help make this world-class skills training program available to all members of the global military community and connect them to careers in manufacturing.”

To adjust to today’s world, the MI launched Heroes Connect, a virtual platform that allows talent from the military community to directly engage with manufacturers who are hiring. In-person tours have been a cornerstone of the Heroes program, and Heroes Connect permits participants to still get that essential introduction to manufacturing leaders and other veterans already successful in the industry. Even as Heroes restarts in-person tours, Heroes Connect will remain a vital part of the initiative and will continue with the support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Through this grant, virtual participants will be able to receive the same holistic support and networking connections that are hallmarks of the Heroes program, including transition guidance and placement support, as well as direct relationships with manufacturers. The pairing of the virtual training and the expansion of Heroes Connect will ensure participants get the full support they need to transition successfully to their next career.

To date, Heroes MAKE America has graduated more than 450 participants from sites in Kansas, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky. Graduates represent more than 110 different military specialties, with an average of 11.5 years in service and more than 45% from minority populations. The program has a 92% placement rate at more than 250 companies across 38 states since its launch in 2018.

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