Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

How one Virginia organization is preparing people for advanced manufacturing jobs.

In the advanced manufacturing environment of the modern factory, automation may be the buzz word of the day — but trained workers are irreplaceable.

Preparing workers for high-tech advanced manufacturing jobs is the mission of the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), an applied research center in Prince George County, Va.

“If you’re not workforce ready, you can buy all the machine tools you’d like in the world and put them in a beautiful factory, but unless there’s folks that can actually run those things and behave in the way that you want, you will get very little progress in that regard,” said William T. Powers, president and chief executive officer of CCAM. 

CCAM, which recently received $12.65 million in federal and state funds to begin constructing an apprentice academy, will train 200 apprentices annually to supply the highly-skilled workers critical for the continued growth of advanced manufacturing in the region. 

Currently, CCAM runs several training programs in Virginia, with three centers founded in partnership with community colleges and a program devoted to training veterans at Fort Lee in Greensville County, Va.

Rolls Royce, one of CCAM’s founding industry members, manufactures turbine discs and blades for advanced aircraft in Prince George County through a process that requires extreme precision from its employees. CCAM’s current apprenticeship programs and future academy are essential to the success of the facility. 

“Our biggest challenge has been to identify and bring in the talented workforce that we need to run our manufacturing operations,” said Lorin Sodell, the manufacturing executive and operations director for Rolls Royce’s Prince George County facility.

“If you’re not workforce ready, you can buy all the machine tools you’d like in the world and put them in a beautiful factory, but unless there’s folks that can actually run those things and behave in the way that you want, you will get very little progress in that regard.” William Powers, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing 

“We’ve gone from zero people back in 2011 to more than 300 people today. Just this year, 2018, we need to increase that by almost an additional hundred people, so our growth, our ability to grow our manufacturing operations here in Virginia, is going to be directly influenced by our ability to identify and train the workers that we need for our operations.”

As CCAM was formed through the partnership of industry and academia, the center is uniquely prepared to offer skills that directly translate to employment for its apprentices and promises an “earn as you learn” approach during training.

“As the economic development organization, our primary mission is to secure good-paying jobs for Virginians, jobs that will help them as they come out of school, develop their skills, and ultimately form a career for them. And manufacturing is key to that pipeline here in Virginia,” said Ryland Potter, director of business investment for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

“Manufacturing is a way for our high school students, our college students, the people that come into the state to really find a way to hone their skills and develop a career and develop a livelihood that will ultimately support them and their families, so we’re really proud of manufacturing here.”

Virginia is currently ranked as the sixth most credentialed state in the nation, according to Potter, but Virginia’s Economic Development Partnership hopes to make to the head of the pack through investment in CCAM’s apprenticeship program and others like it.

“The future of manufacturing for us doesn’t have one definition. There are going to be many opportunities for engineers, for people looking to pursue trades,” said Sodell. “The kinds of technologies that we’re utilizing today in our manufacturing facilities, we call them advanced manufacturing, but in reality if you roll the tape forward another 10 years or another 15 years, we’ll have looked way beyond them, so that’s why organizations like CCAM are so important to us.”

For more on CCAM, listen to The Manufacturing Report podcast.