By Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

When it comes to manufacturing, the phrase ‘building a talent pipeline’ is commonly used when speaking about strategy to address the national and regional workforce challenges in the industry. When I think of pipeline, I think about moving something from point A to B, and also ‘closed-in’ to keep things going in one direction. Once something is ‘in’ the ‘pipeline’, it’s already in the works with targeted or anticipated outcomes and may or may not pan out. So, discussions of pipeline may not always be the correct thought process for engaging the new workforce.

Most of us know that a stream is a small body of running water, flowing on the earth’s surface. Today, when we talk about stream or streaming, we think of the endless digital content available as movies, TV shows, and documentaries on popular platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+. But, Webster Dictionary also defines stream as ‘a steady succession’, ‘a constantly renewed or steady supply’, or ‘continuous moving procession’. Don’t these phrases better describe the activity that companies would like to see when it comes to recruiting? These terms are much more exciting, active, and ongoing in a positive way. There is potentially an endless supply of current and future talent out there, the challenge is capturing their attention, creating excitement, and changing perceptions so that ‘manufacturing is the cool place to be’. However, to do this (and to repeat what is probably an overused, but true, phrase), “it takes a village”!

NWIRC is part of that village, and has made it a strategic priority to be part of the solution with our Project Manufacturing Talent Stream. This program is funded [in part] by the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s (DCED) Manufacturing Training to Career Grant program. Within our mission to support the challenges of manufacturers in our 13-county region, we know one of those challenges is finding employees. The ‘Talent Stream’ initiative enables us to focus on stirring up even more excitement around manufacturing and connect companies with potential future employees. The over-arching goal is to provide new (and create awareness about existing) opportunities for manufacturers to share with students the cool things they make and do, and have inspiring career conversations.

Our Manufacturing Talent Stream Coordinator, Tara Lawrence, is prioritizing and accelerating initiatives designed to connect manufacturers to students. Now that students are heading back to school, it’s perfect timing. She’ll be developing a team of passionate manufacturing ambassadors (working in all different manufacturing roles) in northwest PA to visit high school and middle school classrooms, creating club-style programs at schools across our region, and collaborating with regional partners for elevating awareness of all programs and activities for students to explore diverse manufacturing career paths. Tara says, ‘It’s really important that we broadcast loudly to manufacturing companies the many opportunities available for them to share their stories so they can choose how and when they can get involved.”

We know, from over many years, that workforce challenges won’t be solved overnight, or with just one initiative. It’s a constant flow of information and opportunities engaging new talent coming up through the schools, and also those working in unfulfilling or underpaid jobs. The goal of Manufacturing Talent Stream is to ultimately increase the speed of the ‘current’, or maybe even turn the stream into a river!