Monday, February 04, 2008

Fairfield Labors To Build A More Advanced Work Force

Fairfield Labors To Build A More Advanced Work Force
East Bay Business Times - by Michael Fitzhugh

Solano Economic Development Corp.’s Michael S. Ammann says that as new industries come to town, Fairfield will need increasing numbers of skilled workers. (Stephanie Secrest | East Bay Business Times)

View Larger As labor-intensive production gives way to advanced manufacturing, Fairfield's factories are scrambling to meet the demand for more-technically skilled workers. As those factories expand and more facilities come on-line, the number of qualified applicants is not keeping pace, forcing the city's business leaders to take action.

New manufacturing positions are increasingly asking for enhanced qualifications. For example, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.'s current opening for a quality-assurance analyst at its Fairfield brewery requires a bachelor of science degree. Even an electrical maintenance job at the brewery lists "programming experience preferred."

Manufacturing floors across the nation have changed with the introduction of new technologies, said Cynthia Garcia, management analyst for the city of Fairfield's Economic Development Department. "Today, you could eat off the floor. Now you have process operators, not necessarily laborers."

Investment by companies such as Calbee America Inc. and Anheuser-Busch in new and current facilities is starting to draw and support complementary industries such as Owens-Brockway Glass Container Inc. that will need even more skilled workers in the years ahead, said Michael S. Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corp.

In June 2006, Fairfield city administrators called together plant managers, engineers, educators and work force service providers to address the changing requirements in the field. When employers learned of the training courses, curricula and money available to help build the work force they needed, they were amazed, said Garcia.

Demand for training is high, said Deborah Mann, who designs training courses for Solano Community College as its program developer. "The employers practically knocked me down with their biz cards," she said of the 2006 meeting.

Solano Community College now offers employers courses in everything from Spanish to electrical work in a variety of formats - delivered online, in classrooms and on-site at local factories. Even at the high school level, career education courses were infused with more technical training to "fill the pipeline," said Garcia.

The regional momentum gained as interested parties collaborated to train new workers. And money to take the effort countywide in Solano came through last month. That's when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger awarded the Workforce Investment Board of Solano County a $135,475 grant to create a Solano County manufacturers work force task force.

The task force will match manufacturers with training programs and work force development professionals to help current employees learn new skills. It also plans to lead development of new training programs and educational curricula to build the county's pool of qualified workers.

Initially, the task force is developing a Web site and a marketing brochure to tell the community about how many valuable job opportunities exist in local manufacturing. It plans to make the materials available through schools, outlet centers, public relations campaigns and even MySpace, YouTube and craigslist. It will also solicit veterans via the Airman and Family Readiness Center at the Travis Airforce Base, which helps Air Force personnel prepare for the transition from military to civilian life.

People responding to the Web site or brochure will be directed to call a line staffed by Workforce Investment Board and local Employment Development Department officials, which will then "catch and refer" applicants, sending those with sought-after advanced manufacturing skills to employers and directing those without such skills to training programs.

Another program still in development at Solano Community College is "Mechatronics," a program that will feature entry-level credit courses for local workers designed to prepare them for advanced manufacturing jobs. Employers will help support the program with donations, said Mann. When she meets with them they're going to share the curriculum plans for the program and look at immediate needs and projected needs for the next five to six years, she said.

Guido Minaya, president of the Solano Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is working to advance another segment of the county's work force: Hispanic entrepreneurs.

His organization estimates Solano County is home to more than 300 Hispanic-owned businesses and about 83,000 Hispanic residents.

The Hispanic chamber will receive up to $49,726 from California's Employment Training Panel to train Hispanic small-business owners and senior staff members in its Excelencia in Entrepreneurship workshop series, a bilingual course for which it is recruiting 15 students.

The objective of the course is to enable small-business and micro-business owners to successfully manage their companies and move to a higher level of financial success, said a staff comment on the chamber's application.

Minaya said his chamber has also recently opened discussions with the California ETP about funding information technology and mathematics courses at small Solano manufacturers that could benefit from the application of advanced manufacturing techniques.

"There's a gap in the small manufacturing companies that need improved training but are too small to have their own training programs," he said. | 925-598-1425

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