Local governments everywhere have been immersed in recovery efforts to reduce unemployment caused by COVID-19. In December 2020, 498,000 U.S. leisure and hospitality jobs disappeared, according to the Labor Department. Making up a majority of those losses were restaurant and bar workers, disproportionately affecting low-income and workers of color. But in Fremont, California, 21 of those unemployed individuals are making an exciting career shift to advanced manufacturing.
One of the main benefits for shifting their careers is the stability of the American advanced manufacturing industry. U.S. manufacturing employment grew by 38,000 jobs in December 2020. In the Silicon Valley region, advanced industries continue to create thousands of new middle-income jobs, many of which have been created to support biomedical and life science manufacturers who have ramped up their operations in the past year to join the fight against COVID-19.
However, for many now looking for work, the fear of a potential skill gap is an obstacle that stops them from considering a career in advanced manufacturing. This resulting labor shortage plagues many manufacturers who need fresh talent to help meet increasing demand.
The Need for Skilled Workers in the Advanced Manufacturing Industry
In an industry highly susceptible to technological advancements and skill obsolescence, employers typically provide on-going training to ensure their employees are on the cutting edge of technology and follow best-in-class methodologies. At the same time, they help to foster the interest of potential future advanced manufacturing workers, whether they are current students or adults in need of a career change.
That can be accomplished in several ways, including establishing makerspaces at public institutions and libraries, academic-employer partnerships offering internships to students, national events like Manufacturing Day that allow students to tour manufacturing operations, and programs like the Earn and Learn Fremont (ELF) Pilot Program.
The Earn and Learn Fremont Pilot Program
The ELF Pilot Program connects Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)-eligible adult job seekers who have been impacted by COVID-19 with manufacturers who need local talent. The initial pilot program includes 21 participants who receive eight weeks of paid work experience at medical device company Evolve Manufacturing and six weeks of concurrent virtual skills development training via Ohlone College’s Smart Manufacturing Technology Program.
This Smart Manufacturing Technology Program provides a critical role in creating and fostering a talent base by providing education in areas such as Industry 4.0/Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing, robotics, as well as robust critical thinking. Evolve Manufacturing also provides on-the-job and classroom training which allows all participants to work at an FDA-registered medical device company.
While skills training in the areas of IoT and additive manufacturing is very important to get participants up the technical curve, it can be equally as important to make sure that new hires have additional resources to support their career shift, especially if they come from a low-income background.
“I joined the program to become a better employee with a larger knowledge pool and to expand on my practical knowledge in manufacturing technology. I am looking forward to being able to learn and provide for my family at the same time,” said Marta Kolar, Earn and Learn Pilot Program participant.
For the ELF Pilot Program, Alameda County Workforce Development Board (ACWDB) and work2future, provided federal funding, case management, as well as supportive services for participants. Additionally, the City of Fremont Human Services Department’s Family Resource Center marketed the program to eligible participants and provides wrap-around services to help clients with accessing services like childcare and transportation.
Biomedical Manufacturing & COVID-19
While the biotech industry was already booming before the global pandemic, it saw an increased demand last spring. Essential COVID-19 medical equipment — test kits, masks, and ventilators — was at a premium last year in the wake of critical U.S. shortages, and that equipment is still needed today worldwide.
Fremont biotech companies were well-positioned to support these efforts due to the talent they employ, the collaborative supply chain they have access to, and the over 9 million square feet of commercial space for large-scale manufacturing facilities.
In March 2020, ELF employer-partner Evolve Manufacturing began producing test kits and ventilators at a high volume, as well as equipment that is used to develop COVID-19 treatments. In the past year, Evolve Manufacturing has onboarded approximately 100 new employees, most of whom had jobs which were impacted by the pandemic. The company hopes to continue to add many new employees with the ELF Pilot Program and other initiatives.
“As the founder of a woman-owned business in the STEM field, I am personally passionate about this program and its goal of cultivating a more diverse advanced manufacturing workforce,” Evolve Manufacturing, Inc. CEO and Founder Noreen King said. “Our company is quickly expanding, and we are thrilled to be offering opportunities to those looking to begin a new career and learn valuable skills that will help them succeed down the road.”
Ultimately, the ELF pilot program participants will graduate in April 2021 with an industry-recognized Certificate of Competency and the potential for a full-time job at Evolve Manufacturing. If participants choose to continue their education at Ohlone College, they will also be able to apply the three credits earned through the ELF Pilot Program toward Ohlone’s Smart Manufacturing Technology Program.
The City of Fremont is planning to expand this program to other local manufacturers as it proves successful with the initial cohort of participants and its partners. The program provides great potential to bring people affected by the pandemic layoffs from diverse backgrounds to the manufacturing talent pipeline so that companies can continue to innovate and make their workplaces more equitable.