Advanced manufacturers across Washington County recently led a day-long tour for the Washington County Public School System’s (WCPS) guidance counselors to show what daily operations look like and what companies need from the next generation of skilled laborers.
Window balances and hardware producer Caldwell Manufacturing, precision machining company Fives Landis Group, and custom labels manufacturer Hub Labels spoke about their workforce needs to middle and high school guidance counselors who play a critical role in helping today’s youth determine what future careers might look like.
These familiarization tours, or fam tours, followed by a “lunch and learn” session at Hagerstown Community College (HCC), represent a collaboration of efforts on the part of Andrew Sargent, Western Maryland business development representative at the Maryland Department of Commerce; superintendent of WCPS, Boyd Michael; partnering local manufacturers; and HCC.
“Several businesses in the region expressed their desire to get in front of high school students and show them the existing employment opportunities here in Washington County,” said Sargent. “Transporting hundreds of students to see local businesses would be a logistical nightmare, so familiarizing their career guidance counselors with the opportunities is the next best thing. The superintendent of schools, Dr. Boyd Michael, quickly committed the school system to support this effort and Hagerstown Community College wrapped up the tour with information on how they can fill skills gaps or augment technical training.”
Many of the companies expressed a need for a new generation of skilled laborers as current employees begin to retire from the workforce.
Process certification director Wayne Leather of Fives Landis told Herald Mail-Media that “a mix of technical, hands-on talent, as well as math and science” is critical for students to be adequately prepared for the field.
The forum also discussed the need for students to have “soft skills” like a propensity for teamwork, timeliness, and dedication to quality craftsmanship, as important traits to their companies.
“You’ll probably hear the same things over and over again – the qualities that we look for when we recruit or try to hire employees,” Hub Labels quality assurance director Mark Stahle told Herald Mail-Media. “A lot of businesses talk about teamwork but don’t practice it; we’re really big on teamwork.”
HCC has already taken steps to prepare students for advanced manufacturing careers with their WorkKeys Initiative that provides skills assessment testing and the essential coursework to prepare potential employees for the National Career Readiness certification.
With Washington County’s overwhelmingly positive response to the session, Sargent is looking to do similar fam tours in neighboring Western Maryland counties.
“Discussions will be happening in early January to bring the exercise to Allegany County, with the cooperation of local partners, including the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, and local advanced manufacturers,” said Sargent.
If you would like to get involved in additional Western Maryland fam tours, contact Andrew Sargent at Andrew.Sargent@maryland.gov or 443-447-4999.