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From Site Selection magazine, May 2015

How To Fix the Skills Gap

Start by getting students jazzed about manufacturing careers early on.


top watering that potted plant in your office, and it will soon wither and die. Stop staffing your production facility with appropriately skilled labor, and your manufacturing operation can’t function, at least in ways that make it healthy and competitive where it’s located today.

That’s the chief issue facing CEOs and manufacturing executives, according to the most recent skills gap study from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. Key findings: Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, and 2 million of those will go unfilled due to the skills gap; 82 percent of executives believe the skills gap will impact their ability to meet customer demand; 70 percent of executives say employees lack sufficient technology/computer skills, 69 percent say they lack problem-solving skills, 67 percent say workers lack basic technical training and 60 percent say they lack math skills.

Why? Baby boomer retirements and economic expansion are the two main reasons. “Other factors contribute to the shortage,” according to the April 2015 report, “including loss of embedded knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, a negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations, lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills among workers and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.”

“Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, and 2 million of those will go unfilled due to the skills gap.”
— Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute: The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing, 2015 and Beyond, April 2015

Manufacturers’ hands are tied where the main reasons are concerned. But in Ohio, they can — and are — working on the other factors, particularly those involving the younger generations. A case in point is Honda North America’s new, $1 million EPIC initiative targeting the skills gap with programs for middle school students, community college attendees and existing workers at Honda’s three Ohio manufacturing plants, in Union, Logan and Shelby Counties. EPIC is a four-pronged initiative in partnership with middle and high schools, community colleges, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and OEM suppliers designed to change the conversation about manufacturing career paths — or start one — and stimulate interest in manufacturing technology among students considering career options.

Specifically, EPIC is designed to (1) create Enthusiasm about manufacturing; (2) encourage Passion about technology among high school students; (3) promote Innovative instruction at two-year colleges; and (4) Commit to continuing education and skills development for Honda workers.

“As manufacturing operations at Honda have changed over the last 10 to 15 years, manufacturing technology has changed and advanced quite a bit,” says Scot McLemore, manager of technical workforce development for Honda North America. “We recognize that the technical skills required to design and implement this technology will increase in the future.” McLemore names robotics, programmable logic controllers, integration of mechanical and automated equipment and the interface between the equipment and the production associate as examples of technology routinely in use at Honda by today’s — and tomorrow’s — production workers.

“So the skills required to design and implement that equipment at Honda continue to increase, which is impacting production associates, manufacturing technicians and engineers,” he relates. “We’re noticing, though, that young people are not moving into the learning pathways to be prepared for these roles and careers. There seems to be either a lack of awareness around manufacturing or a misconception of what manufacturing is about and what the careers look like. There’s not a lot of discussion at the dinner table around manufacturing career opportunities. That’s something we felt needed to change and improve.”

How EPIC Works

The Enthusiasm component includes several tools, such as Edheads video games, an online education resource for learning about manufacturing technology. “We can’t bring all the middle school students into our facilities, so we thought it would be a great idea to introduce them to manufacturing using a video game,” says McLemore. “It’s a free, online Web-based game that they can play in the classroom or at home and learn about manufacturing from the perspective of a manufacturing technician, a production associate and an engineer. One of the innovative ways that Edheads engages students is by coordinating what the students learn as middle school students in math and science to exploration of a career, in this case manufacturing technician.” For more on this educational resource, visit

EPIC makes available six mobile labs for visits to schools and educational events in the region. “We call it engineering on wheels,” says McLemore. “It’s difficult to get students exposed to manufacturing technology inside the facilities, so these labs have small-scale versions of robotics and automation, CNC [computer numeric controls] machines, so they can get hands-on experience with those things.” And Summer STEM Techie camps are full-day, week-long summer camps where students can “immerse themselves in STEM-related activities, computer programming and Web and app development, all in a fun-filled environment,” according to Honda.

As for the Passion piece, says McLemore, “At the high school and career tech level, we’re really focusing on passionate participation of those students, and that’s where we’re collaborating to influence that curriculum to make it more interesting and more applicable to being prepared for manufacturing careers. We’re also working with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers on an initiative called PRIME, where Honda provides funds to schools in Union, Logan and Shelby Counties to develop manufacturing curriculum and pathways within selected schools.”

“There’s not a lot of discussion at the dinner table around manufacturing career opportunities. That’s something we felt needed to change and improve.”
— Scot McLemore, manager of technology workforce development, Honda North America

One example is the recently opened Marysville Early College STEM High School, which was developed through a partnership with Marysville schools, Columbus State Community College, Ohio Hi Point Career Center, Honda and the Union County Chamber of Commerce. This project was funded with a State of Ohio Straight A Fund grant. Honda worked with the school to select lab equipment, lay out the space, select an instructor and develop the curriculum for the manufacturing pathway.

Innovative instruction is at the community college level — students pursuing associate degrees in technical programs, at one of six such schools, for example. “We’re offering $2,500 scholarships — two per school,” says McLemore.

Another tool is a work-study pilot program. “We’ve offered internships for two-year technical students in our maintenance technician roles. They can come in and work as a technician as they’re going to school,” he explains. “Typically they go to school for a semester, intern for a semester and continue taking classes until they graduate. This program allows them to work three days a week after their second semester of community college and continue to take courses at the college two days a week. We’re partnered with Columbus State Community College on this, and we’re marketing and offering this to high school students as an alternate pathway to a typical internship or a four-year pathway. Many times, these students would graduate from college, work at Honda and be debt free once they graduate college. If they are selected and offered a full-time position, they would be in a high-paying career two years out of high school.”

The fourth component, Commitment, is about keeping existing Honda associates’ skill sets current and competitive. “The career we’re really focusing on is one needed by all our suppliers as well as other manufacturers in Ohio, and it’s that manufacturing technician role — that’s the real need,” says McLemore. Honda has 155 OEM parts suppliers in Ohio alone and about 550 across the US.

“Those middle-skill positions are the ones manufacturers are really focusing on, but in terms of production and operators, again, as we continue to evolve and advance the technology that goes into manufacturing operations, those associates are impacted as well. They need to have higher and different skill sets as the technology advances. Engineering is the same way. Once you’re an associate at Honda, we’re committed to continuing to develop you as we introduce new technology and make changes to our operation so that you can be as prepared as possible to help us with our business operations.”

Is EPIC unique in Honda’s manufacturing operations?

“Other Honda operations have initiatives similar to what we’re doing, and we’re sharing best practices,” notes McLemore. “Some of the outcomes of the partnerships we have may look different depending on initiatives that have already been implemented and other variables. But the model is such that while it’s a local model, components can be implemented at other locations.

“We’re excited about the possible impact this could have and how it could change the conversation about manufacturing,” he adds. “We think we’ve put together something innovative and creative and impactful, and we’re really excited to see the conversation change around manufacturing. The collaboration is how we see this being successful going forward.”

Scot McLemore, manager of technology workforce development at Honda North America, introduces EPIC, the company’s blueprint for broadening the supply of manufacturing technology skills in Ohio.

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