Central Valley partnership filling manufacturing worker skills gap earns Summit award

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(Photo: VOLT Institute)

Angela McIntyre had worked for a manufacturer for 24 years when the company announced it would be closing its Modesto plant and relocating out of state. Some employees relocated with the company but others, like McIntyre needed to stay in the region.

McIntyre was a CNC (computer numerical control) operator, but she wanted to learn new skills to increase her chance of gaining new employment. During her offboarding process, a teacher suggested she check out the VOLT Institute. She did and not only learned new skills, but found an area of new interest. “I liked a little bit of everything. I liked the welding because it was a challenge for me. And I like to be challenged in certain areas.”

Because of its success and innovative workforce training program, VOLT Institute has been selected as one of the top three winners of the Partnership for Industry and Education (PIE) Contest. The annual competition put on by the California Economic Summit honors partnerships between employers and education institutions training skilled workers needed in their region.

VOLT Institute started in 2016 as a partnership between the Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto Junior College and Opportunity Stanislaus. Its goal is to train a high-skilled workforce for the local manufacturing industry currently facing a skills gap. Opportunity Stanislaus estimates more than 300 positions for industrial maintenance mechanics and advanced manufacturing go unfilled each year because of a lack of qualified workers.

“The industry collectively came to us and said, ‘We would like to start a manufacturing training center to train for very specific skills in industry that are available now and will be available in the future,’” explained Tyler Richardson, Opportunity Stanislaus’ chief business services officer. “The model will be set up as technology changes and as practice changes and we will be able to mirror the kinds of skills that companies are looking for.”

VOLT’s Manufacturing Training Center is run out of a former newspaper facility in downtown Modesto. It serves low-to-moderately skilled individuals who want to upgrade their skills to qualify for better jobs. Students can attend on their own (some qualify for scholarships or assistance provided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), while others are sponsored by their employer to increase their skills for new positions or promotions.

In its first two years, VOLT graduated 83 students. Its goal is to graduate 120 students annually within five years in its effort to create a high-skilled, high-wage job pipeline for local businesses.

Packaging manufacturer Pacific Southwest Container (PSC) has both sent their employees to VOLT for training and hired students who have completed the VOLT program on their own. “We’ve found that there’s way more demand for those skill sets than there is supply, at least in the Central Valley,” said PSC’s Human Resource Manager Kristi Imfeld. “So, it’s beneficial to have a program that’s local to Modesto to develop people’s skills who are interested in that area. That provides us an opportunity to hopefully tap into those people and pull them in to join us.”

The Manufacturing Training Center is a big benefit to local employers. VOLT Executive Director Deborah Rowe recalls one business that ran its own training program only to have the trained workers leave to different companies. “In this way, we’re providing the training program for a host of employers so they don’t have to individually train their own people and that way, they have more benefit for the community as a whole versus one individual employer over another.”

Rowe also believes that training a locally based, high-skilled workforce is a benefit for the entire region. “If we could do more to keep the 12,000 people who leave us for the Bay Area and the thousands who go up the Sacramento, if we can grow our own base to keep our own workers within our own boundaries so we can grow our own community, that’s only going to make our community better.”

PIE Contest judge Kelley Gulley from the Irvine Foundation praised the program for its flexibility in response to employers’ needs. “Under the outcome and results, they have a very accurate way to measure what they are doing,” said Gulley. “It seems like they have an inbuilt way to mitigate when results are not coming in or when the transitions to jobs it is not happening.”

The VOLT Institute will receive its PIE Contest award during a presentation at the 2019 California Economic Summit which will be held in Fresno on November 7-8.


Nadine Ono

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