Clocked In

Nevada program tries to bridge the skills gap

Marketplace Contributor Sep 5, 2012
Clocked In

Nevada program tries to bridge the skills gap

Marketplace Contributor Sep 5, 2012

Sarah Gardner: Some of the unemployed and underemployed out there have been told they don’t have the right skills for the jobs that do exist right now. Policy folks like to call that the “skills gap.” Well, a Nevada pilot program “Right Skills Now” is trying to narrow that gap. It’s the brainchild of the Manufacturing Institute, a group that works with about 11,000 American manufacturers.

Youth Radio’s Ross Andrews checked it out as part of our series “Clocked In” about the ways young people are finding work.

Ross Andrews: Meet the first woman to graduate from Nevada’s Right Skills Now program.

Katie Christian: Hi, I’m Katie Christian.

Christian is a 29-year-old mother of one. She’s bubbly, and if you get her to laugh hard enough, she’ll let a snort or two. Before enrolling in the training program, she had a bunch of different jobs.

Christian: I was a security guard at the Marine Corps base. And I also have been to culinary school. I love it, but it’s a passion and a hobby, not a job for life.

A job for life is a lot to ask of any employment program, let alone one that only lasts 16 weeks. But Right Skills Now got Christian into the machine shop at GE’s Bentley, Nev., facility, and she loves the work so much she says she could do it for 40 years.

Christian: So now I have the spot drill coming in, getting ready to have the actual drill come in. And then the boring bar will come through.

The program that got Christian into this kind of work was piloted by a group called Dream It Do It Nevada. Jonathan Begley is the executive director.

Jonathan Begley: Our role in this whole thing is to take people from the unemployment lines and to connect them with employment quickly.

Dream It Do It goes into community colleges with a different model. Classes are designed with an actual job in mind. Big employers like General Electric and small local companies are part of the mix. Students get a crash course in the basic skills — splitting time between the classroom and a paid internship on a factory floor.

Begley: Industry has really come up to the plate and said, “These are the types of workers that we need. There’s an immediate demand among manufacturers for skilled CNC operators.”

CNC stands for “computer numerical control.” They’re basically really expensive machines that are essential to factory work. And being able to run one makes a person pretty employable.

Jim Flemming runs the GE plant where Katie Christian works. He’s excited about a pipeline of CNC talent.

Jim Flemming: If you look around the tool room itself, you have about 20 pieces of equipment, most of them manual, run by eight different guys who have been here for 35-40 years. One by one these folks are gonna be going away.

But at GE they’re not going away yet, which is one of the sticking points of Right Skills Now. It doesn’t solve every company’s immediate need.

Flemming has been impressed with Katie’s Christian’s work, but he doesn’t have a job for her, which is why she works as a temp. GE rules say Christian has a year to get hired before she’ll be forced to leave. If that happens, she says she’ll take her CNC skills and borrow a line from Ginger Rogers: She’ll pick herself up…

Christian: Brush yourself off, and start all over again.

I’m Ross Andrews for Marketplace.

Gardner: Ross’ story was produced for our series “Clocked In” by Youth Radio and its New Options Desk, which reports on how young adults can find work.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.