The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 month ago

Why It’s Time to Modernize Workforce Education (& How to Do It) w/ Kathy Walker


One of the biggest challenges in the industry today?

Upskilling the country’s workforce for careers in advanced manufacturing.

Training centers and technical schools need to step in to fill the skills gap, but many of them are still training for the jobs of yesterday.

It’s time to modernize workforce education.

Kathy Walker, Founder & CEO of eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI), joins the show to discuss eKAMI’s innovative and unconventional training program, which is upskilling eastern Kentucky’s workforce after years of declining employment in the mining industry.

In this episode, we discuss:

- eKAMI’s role in workforce development and training

- Why we need to modernize workforce education

- Potential career paths for eKAMI graduates

- Why soft skills are equally important

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For any manufacturers out there listening whoare looking for a home with an incredibly skilled and capable and hard working workforce. Eastern Kentucky is open for business. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast,where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Hereyou'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share abouttheir successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing expertsabout how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get intothe show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm JoeSullivan, your host and a CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency Gorilla Seventysix. While most of the manufacturing sector throughout the United States works tirelessly tofill jobs that can't seem to be filled, there's a land not so far away, eastern Kentucky specifically, where a new workforce is emerging, being trainedin machining, robotics and advanced manufacturing. There's skilled workers and they're hungry forjobs in this sector. My guest today is the founder and CEO of anincredible establishment in Appalachia that should so nerve as a model for how to attractand build the future of the manufacturing workforce. This episode isn't just about ideas,because this organization is actually doing it. So let me introduce her. CathyWalker moved to paint still, Kentucky over thirty years ago from the WashingtonDC area. Her first small town experience, cathy quickly adapted to life in RuralKentucky, enjoying the slower pace, natural beauty and, most of all, the people. And Entrepreneur. Cathy began her career in the coal industry, later diversifying into the banking business. She's a civic leader and member ofseveral public and private boards, including former chair of the board of Morehead StateUniversity. For the past several years, Cathy has dedicated her time to creatingjobs for the people of Eastern Kentucky. Developing the e Kentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute, Ekammy. He can't ease reskilling the region's workforce for new careers in advancedmanufacturing. Numerous national news and trade publications of highlighted the success of the innovativeand unconventional ECAMMY training program in central Appalachia. Cathy, welcome to the show.Thank you, Joe. It's a pleasure to be here. Well,I'm really excited about this conversation. A few months ago I had Aaron praythere from fed acts on the show and he told me a story of agroup of former coal miners in Kentucky who went from zero robotics knowledge to lightsout production in ten days, which was pretty cool to hear about. Andthen I later learned that it was your organization, Ekammy that was behind itand I immediately knew that I had to get you on this show. Sohere you are. Thank you. Well, Cathy, can you kind of juststart things out by telling our listeners about what you can he is andhow it came to be? Sure, so, he cammy. We area workforce Development Training Center located in Paintsville, Kentucky, which is in the easternpart of the stay, about a hundred miles east of Lexington, Kentucky, and we are upskilling the region's workforce for new careers in the advance manufacturingindustry, more specifically see and se machining and robotics. We are teaching indemand skills and in preparation for jobs of today's economy. So e Cam mea little bit of history. This initiative was started to address the need forjob creation and economic diversification in this area...

...following years of declining employment in themining industry. So when that industry began to fade, not only the directmining jobs but all the support industries took a hit with it. So wehave thousands of incredibly talented and skilled people who were left without meaning for jobopportunities. So we had to do something and he came e started about fouryears ago and it's approach has been kind of untraditional. We are a hausecenter. We partnered with a Gene Hoss Foundation, so this is a hausetechnical education center and we have developed up today curriculum and our people are beingsought after by employers all across the country and they're doing everything from s ANDCmachining to installing robots customer support, and we're very proud of the success thatthey have had as far. Yeah, it's really amazing. I've heard aboutyour organization through a number of different sources, not just Aaron pray there, buttalk a little bit about your personal journey. How did you wind upin the middle of all this? Well, that's an interesting question. I amnot out of a manufacturing sector, nor the education space. I justsaw the need for life beyond coal and I saw so much talent in theworkforce here, and that's a misconception among many people. The talent that existshere is just exceptional and the skills that the people in this part of thecountry have are born out of really necessity rather than choice. It's amazing.They are multi skilled, they know a little bit about a lot of differentskills and I basically just tapped into that and try to figure out what wouldmake sense, what would be a fit for the workforce and a fit forthe culture and a fit for this location. And it happened to be seeing seemachining and the people love it. They're good at working with their handsand although it was a little intimidating at first to walk in training center likehe cam a, I mean it's state of the art. We have allthe latest and greatest equipment. We've been eating the elephant one bite at atime and they everyone has done just exceptionally well. We are military style here. We teach not only the cutting edge technical skills but soft skills as well. So we're very strict and not everybody makes it. Most people make itthrough if they come with the commitment to want to get through. We stresspunctuality, of respect in the workplace, common courtesy, really business etiquette,problem solving, skills, goals. We promote teamwork and it's really been agood compliment to the technical skills that we're training. Well, it's really interestingto me is that you have almost the opposite problem that much of the manufacturingsectors experiencing right now, where you've got to workforce, at least from whatI'm hearing from you, you've got to workforce that wants to go to work. But we're traditional industry has faded away, whereas most of what I hear frompeople throughout the country is in manufacturing is, you know, there areso many jobs open and nobody to fill them. What do you think isthe difference? Like? What why is this going on where you are inEastern Kentucky versus elsewhere? Yeah, that's...

...a good question, will joe.Basically one industry has dominated the economies of most all of these communities up anddown the river, and so when you have a soul industry when the bottomdrops out of that, you're left with few alternatives. And so the overarchinggoal of the camping is to attract manufacturers to this part of the country toreplace the thousands of jobs that are permanently gone. And it's a great time. I think our time is impeccable. So for any manufacturers out there listeningwho are looking for a home with an incredibly skilled and capable and hard workingworkforce, Eastern Kentucky is open for business. Cath, you you clearly saw aneed to fill in workforce education. What, if anything, do youthink maybe hasn't been working the way it needs to inside the education system forthe manufacturing workforce? Well, now I'm I want to I'm out of thebusiness sector, so I probably view the situation through a different set of lenses. So when I began this, certainly I did my research and homework andit appears that we've been talking about the skills gap, if you will,for many years and you know quite candidly the emerging technology is outpacing the expertiseneeded to support industry. And so we have the innovations, Americans are greatat innovations, and we have the manufactures in dire need of the automation.What's missing the bridge are the boots on the ground, people to deploy thatautomation, and so I think it's incumbent upon the training centers and technical schoolsto bridge that gap. And what I have found is in a lot ofcases we're still training for jobs of yesterday, jobs that no longer exist, andwe need to transition into the new generation jobs, and there's just alag there. There is a huge gap. I can tell you that what weare focused on here the camming are the jobs of today. So Ibelieve that as a whole, as a country, we need to update andmodernize are manufacturing education system. So with the current system maybe needing to getup to speed more and the modernized for the jobs that are needed right now. Like, how much of the workforce education burden from this point forward doyou believe needs to fall on the shoulders of the private sector or the manufacturersthemselves? Well, I believe that it requires a collaborative effort among all thestakeholders. Certainly industry should be driving what we're teaching, and I can tellyou one hundred percent the industry drives what we teach here at be camming andwe're nimble. The curriculum that we began with is not what we're teaching today. We adapt and constantly solicit feedback from industry and, point of fact,a lot of our curriculum has been developed with industry hand in hand. Soindustry needs to set at the forefront and...

...certainly academia and our policy makers needto be engaged in those conversations as well. But we've lost our way. There'syou know, we're on different tracks, which I think is the reason weare where we are today. We're behind, you know, opportunity torestore these tremendously great manufacturing jobs to this country. Opportunities knocking at the doorand we're still trying to get ready. And there's some one, one call, in my mind, to overhaul what we've been doing in the education space. Yeah, it makes sense. You know, I'm just thinking of itfrom my perspective. I'm a marketing guy and working with the manufacturing sector,but I see what's being taught in the schools and it's very different from thewhat I need in from people in their jobs here, and I don't knowhow much of that is true in your world, but it's definitely true inmy world in marketing, and you need the people who are in this dayin and day out and who are seeing all the technology advanced so quickly toplay a role in educating the, you know, soontob workforce. So youknow, again, I can't speak to it from your perspective, but Iimagine there are some parallels. They're absolutely and in fact I think that,you know, we're more focused here on post secondary, but I think alot of the exposure could begin in the secondary school. So we've had,for example, the local high schools. They brought some juniors and seniors andhigh school to Ecamon recently and once they saw what this was, what itis today, they were really excited. I mean they had no idea aboutwhat advanced manufacturing of the twenty one century looks like. So, in fact, I have meeting this afternoon. They want to come back. I meanthey're willing to they're ready to get started, and so I think if we canreach down and present to students in high school, maybe even great school, and let them see the very dynamic and exciting opportunities there are, thatthat we could begin to attract some of the newer generations to the workforce.I've heard from enough manufacturing leaders to know that one of the challenges on thatfront is the parents and they don't want their kids who grow up to befactory workers, and you know that their perception of what manufacturing is. SoI'm curious what you have to say about that and specifically, maybe what acareer path may look like based on the success of students who have moved throughyour ECAMMY program right. Well, that's interesting because I've had some parents comehere who are professionals and because their their children have said that's where I wantto go. And of course they're all about for your educations, and Iwant to make it clear that attending a program like Ecammy, wherever it mightbe, it does not necessarily preclude for year education and engineering degree or something. So it may be a bit nontraditional, but we've actually had number one,I've had several students attend here with bachelor's degrees. Number two, wehave students who have attended the program and they're working for global companies now whoare paying for them to go tonight school at a for Year Institution. Soto me that might be the best of all worlds. You have your trainingon the job and you know, maybe one to UK engineering school at nightor something. So and you know, they reimburse and so they're able tohave their education paid for and it and...'s something that they know that theywant to do, and so that is something. Again, it's thinking outof the box and think things are changing, so why not? You know,the adults at tend here for five months, and our youth program wehave two separate cohorts. So we have a program for displaced workers and thatis a fivemonth program and our youth program and these would be for kids,say eighteen to twenty three years old, right out of high school. That'sa ten month program. So, you know, small investment and certainly,like I said you, it's they're young, they still have time to go toschool like they so desire. And with regard to parents thinking that theseare factory jobs, I wish we could delete the word factory from our vocabulary. I think when you say that word it automatically puts you in mind ofthe dirty, dark and dangerous industries of the past, and advanced manufacturing oftoday is far from that. It's more like what you see here at ecamping so I think the industry as a whole needs to work on rebranding itself. You're a marketing person, Joe, so I'm sure you see where I'mgoing. There and again exposing people to what this really is today. Theseare high tech, really cool jobs, and most everybody who comes in herewants to do this. They just weren't aware that it looks like this.Absolutely Cath you mentioned earlier the importance of developing soft skills. Let's come backto that for a second. What do you mean when you say soft skills? Why are they so critical and how have you had success skilling up yourtrainees in these areas? Subsoft skills, the intangible skills, are embedded inthe program here at a camping I'm often asked how do you teach those?We learn by doing day one and we're on military time. Fifteen minutes earlyor you're late. So we start class at eight o'clock and everyone has tobe in their desk with their laptop fired up and machine is, calculator andeverything they need by seven hundred and forty five. And we're really strict.We have rules and we enforce them, you know, just common courtesy.I think we've lost our way to a degree. Business Etiquette. You knowwhat what utensils are yours and you know when you begin eating and discussion atthe dinner table and we have fun. We have mock dinners and everyone getsto participate and we teach about the balance. You know, you could have ahighly technical person with zero soft skills. You know, maybe a person whocan't get along with the people he works with and comes in late.And we make those comparisons and you know, if this were your shot, whichone, which you hire? That guy or the person who has okaytechnical skills but as really as strong interpersonal skills? And you know you cantrain the rest of the technical skills, but it's difficult for people to taketime to teach the soft skills and in a lot of businesses just won't theyjust you know, a lot of people eventually work their way out of thosecompanies. So I think that's I'm confident that has contributed to a lot ofour success. The employers provide constant feedback on our people and their punctuality,their appearance, the team work, you know, problem solving skills, wepractice communication skills, public speaking. There's...

...a long list and it's been effective. We're getting extremely high marks on that. CONGRATS. It's such an important partof training that I think sometimes it gets overlooked. Frankly, it does. I think expectations are that people are taught these things at home and ina lot of times that that just doesn't happen. So we're taking the timeto try to bring them up to speed on all those things. Cathee,my hope is that what you are building at e can you can serve asa model to inspire other regions in the country how to embrace the workforce that'salready there. What advice can you give the manufacturing world about how to tapinto the talent that's there in your backyard and show them what's possible in termsof a career in manufacturing? Yes, I think that the model that wehave developed would be successful in in other parts of the country really on theglobe. I think it's important that the instructors are from the area and havea connection with the people. For example, several of my instructors are former coalminers and so they're teaching their brothers and sisters. They're from the area, they can communicate and they understand what makes our people tick or you knowhow they think and why they think. They understand the lifestyle, they understandwhere they've been and where they're going. So I would just stress that.I think most importantly, that you have people teaching who are of the people. It's good advice. Is there anything I did not ask you about,Cathy, or a success story you'd like to tell, or so something youwant to communicate to our listeners from the manufacturing world here before we put herAPP on this one? Well, I just would like to say that wehave hundreds of stories. Everybody who comes to camping has a story, especiallya lot of the people out of the mining industry. Number One, theywere unaware that this industry, this high tech industry, existed and number two, they never dreamed that they'd have an opportunity to participate. And anybody cando this. This is if people have a commitment and the desire to learnCNC machining or robotics, they can learn it. And Myself, for example, I do not have any chanical bone in my body, but I canlearn this technology and these are incredibly empowering jobs. Their well paid jobs,great benefits, great companies and there are millions of jobs open right now.So there's something out there for everybody, whether it's, like I said earlier, in a CNC machining at trilogy, customer support, applications, engineering,there's something for everyone who may have an interest. Great, and they're notfactory jobs right. No, factory. Awesome, will Cathew, this isa really great conversation. I appreciate you doing this today. Likewise, Iappreciate the opportunity to thank you very much. You Bet. So, where canour audience get in touch with you and where can they go to learnmore about Ekammy? We have a website where. I don't think we're underconstruction yet. We're in the process of developing a new website, but kyamcom and we're on Linkedin. Is Well. Linkedin is probably the best place toget in touch with me and welcome...

...anybody and everybody perfect well. Iwould encourage everybody listening to go check out what Ekam he's doing and what Cathy'smaking happen there. It's it's a pretty special thing and and just a differentway of thinking about one of the biggest problems out there that we have inthis country right now, and so I applaud you, Cathy, for whatyou've been able to accomplish today. Thank you to appreciate it. Awesome.Will Cathey once again thanks for doing this today and, as for the restof you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the ManufacturingExecutive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that younever miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player.If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll findan ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for bedb manufacturersat Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until nexttime.

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