The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 8 months 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 who are 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. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency Gorilla Seventy six. While most of the manufacturing sector throughout the United States works tirelessly to fill 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 trained in machining, robotics and advanced manufacturing. There's skilled workers and they're hungry for jobs in this sector. My guest today is the founder and CEO of an incredible establishment in Appalachia that should so nerve as a model for how to attract and 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. Cathy Walker moved to paint still, Kentucky over thirty years ago from the Washington DC area. Her first small town experience, cathy quickly adapted to life in Rural Kentucky, 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 of several public and private boards, including former chair of the board of Morehead State University. For the past several years, Cathy has dedicated her time to creating jobs 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 advanced manufacturing. Numerous national news and trade publications of highlighted the success of the innovative and 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 pray there from fed acts on the show and he told me a story of a group of former coal miners in Kentucky who went from zero robotics knowledge to lights out production in ten days, which was pretty cool to hear about. And then I later learned that it was your organization, Ekammy that was behind it and I immediately knew that I had to get you on this show. So here you are. Thank you. Well, Cathy, can you kind of just start things out by telling our listeners about what you can he is and how it came to be? Sure, so, he cammy. We are a workforce Development Training Center located in Paintsville, Kentucky, which is in the eastern part 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 manufacturing industry, more specifically see and se machining and robotics. We are teaching in demand skills and in preparation for jobs of today's economy. So e Cam me a little bit of history. This initiative was started to address the need for job creation and economic diversification in this area...

...following years of declining employment in the mining industry. So when that industry began to fade, not only the direct mining jobs but all the support industries took a hit with it. So we have thousands of incredibly talented and skilled people who were left without meaning for job opportunities. So we had to do something and he came e started about four years ago and it's approach has been kind of untraditional. We are a hause center. We partnered with a Gene Hoss Foundation, so this is a hause technical education center and we have developed up today curriculum and our people are being sought after by employers all across the country and they're doing everything from s ANDC machining to installing robots customer support, and we're very proud of the success that they have had as far. Yeah, it's really amazing. I've heard about your organization through a number of different sources, not just Aaron pray there, but talk a little bit about your personal journey. How did you wind up in the middle of all this? Well, that's an interesting question. I am not out of a manufacturing sector, nor the education space. I just saw the need for life beyond coal and I saw so much talent in the workforce here, and that's a misconception among many people. The talent that exists here is just exceptional and the skills that the people in this part of the country 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 different skills and I basically just tapped into that and try to figure out what would make sense, what would be a fit for the workforce and a fit for the culture and a fit for this location. And it happened to be seeing see machining and the people love it. They're good at working with their hands and although it was a little intimidating at first to walk in training center like he cam a, I mean it's state of the art. We have all the latest and greatest equipment. We've been eating the elephant one bite at a time 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 it through if they come with the commitment to want to get through. We stress punctuality, of respect in the workplace, common courtesy, really business etiquette, problem solving, skills, goals. We promote teamwork and it's really been a good compliment to the technical skills that we're training. Well, it's really interesting to me is that you have almost the opposite problem that much of the manufacturing sectors experiencing right now, where you've got to workforce, at least from what I'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 from people throughout the country is in manufacturing is, you know, there are so many jobs open and nobody to fill them. What do you think is the difference? Like? What why is this going on where you are in Eastern 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 and down the river, and so when you have a soul industry when the bottom drops out of that, you're left with few alternatives. And so the overarching goal of the camping is to attract manufacturers to this part of the country to replace 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 listening who are looking for a home with an incredibly skilled and capable and hard working workforce, Eastern Kentucky is open for business. Cath, you you clearly saw a need to fill in workforce education. What, if anything, do you think maybe hasn't been working the way it needs to inside the education system for the manufacturing workforce? Well, now I'm I want to I'm out of the business 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 and it 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 expertise needed to support industry. And so we have the innovations, Americans are great at 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 that automation, and so I think it's incumbent upon the training centers and technical schools to bridge that gap. And what I have found is in a lot of cases we're still training for jobs of yesterday, jobs that no longer exist, and we need to transition into the new generation jobs, and there's just a lag there. There is a huge gap. I can tell you that what we are focused on here the camming are the jobs of today. So I believe that as a whole, as a country, we need to update and modernize are manufacturing education system. So with the current system maybe needing to get up 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 do you believe needs to fall on the shoulders of the private sector or the manufacturers themselves? Well, I believe that it requires a collaborative effort among all the stakeholders. Certainly industry should be driving what we're teaching, and I can tell you one hundred percent the industry drives what we teach here at be camming and we'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. So industry needs to set at the forefront and...

...certainly academia and our policy makers need to be engaged in those conversations as well. But we've lost our way. There's you know, we're on different tracks, which I think is the reason we are where we are today. We're behind, you know, opportunity to restore these tremendously great manufacturing jobs to this country. Opportunities knocking at the door and 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 it from 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 the what I need in from people in their jobs here, and I don't know how much of that is true in your world, but it's definitely true in my world in marketing, and you need the people who are in this day in and day out and who are seeing all the technology advanced so quickly to play a role in educating the, you know, soontob workforce. So you know, again, I can't speak to it from your perspective, but I imagine 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 a lot 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 and high school to Ecamon recently and once they saw what this was, what it is today, they were really excited. I mean they had no idea about what advanced manufacturing of the twenty one century looks like. So, in fact, I have meeting this afternoon. They want to come back. I mean they're willing to they're ready to get started, and so I think if we can reach down and present to students in high school, maybe even great school, and let them see the very dynamic and exciting opportunities there are, that that 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 that front is the parents and they don't want their kids who grow up to be factory workers, and you know that their perception of what manufacturing is. So I'm curious what you have to say about that and specifically, maybe what a career path may look like based on the success of students who have moved through your ECAMMY program right. Well, that's interesting because I've had some parents come here who are professionals and because their their children have said that's where I want to go. And of course they're all about for your educations, and I want to make it clear that attending a program like Ecammy, wherever it might be, 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, we have students who have attended the program and they're working for global companies now who are paying for them to go tonight school at a for Year Institution. So to me that might be the best of all worlds. You have your training on the job and you know, maybe one to UK engineering school at night or something. So and you know, they reimburse and so they're able to have their education paid for and it and...'s something that they know that they want to do, and so that is something. Again, it's thinking out of the box and think things are changing, so why not? You know, the adults at tend here for five months, and our youth program we have two separate cohorts. So we have a program for displaced workers and that is 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's a 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 to school like they so desire. And with regard to parents thinking that these are 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 of the dirty, dark and dangerous industries of the past, and advanced manufacturing of today is far from that. It's more like what you see here at e camping 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'm going. There and again exposing people to what this really is today. These are high tech, really cool jobs, and most everybody who comes in here wants 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 back to 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 your trainees in these areas? Subsoft skills, the intangible skills, are embedded in the 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 early or you're late. So we start class at eight o'clock and everyone has to be in their desk with their laptop fired up and machine is, calculator and everything 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 know what what utensils are yours and you know when you begin eating and discussion at the dinner table and we have fun. We have mock dinners and everyone gets to participate and we teach about the balance. You know, you could have a highly technical person with zero soft skills. You know, maybe a person who can'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, which one, which you hire? That guy or the person who has okay technical skills but as really as strong interpersonal skills? And you know you can train the rest of the technical skills, but it's difficult for people to take time to teach the soft skills and in a lot of businesses just won't they just you know, a lot of people eventually work their way out of those companies. So I think that's I'm confident that has contributed to a lot of our success. The employers provide constant feedback on our people and their punctuality, their appearance, the team work, you know, problem solving skills, we practice 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 part of training that I think sometimes it gets overlooked. Frankly, it does. I think expectations are that people are taught these things at home and in a lot of times that that just doesn't happen. So we're taking the time to 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 as a model to inspire other regions in the country how to embrace the workforce that's already there. What advice can you give the manufacturing world about how to tap into the talent that's there in your backyard and show them what's possible in terms of a career in manufacturing? Yes, I think that the model that we have developed would be successful in in other parts of the country really on the globe. I think it's important that the instructors are from the area and have a connection with the people. For example, several of my instructors are former coal miners 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 know how they think and why they think. They understand the lifestyle, they understand where 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 you want to communicate to our listeners from the manufacturing world here before we put her APP on this one? Well, I just would like to say that we have hundreds of stories. Everybody who comes to camping has a story, especially a lot of the people out of the mining industry. Number One, they were 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 can do this. This is if people have a commitment and the desire to learn CNC machining or robotics, they can learn it. And Myself, for example, I do not have any chanical bone in my body, but I can learn 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 not factory jobs right. No, factory. Awesome, will Cathew, this is a really great conversation. I appreciate you doing this today. Likewise, I appreciate the opportunity to thank you very much. You Bet. So, where can our audience get in touch with you and where can they go to learn more about Ekammy? We have a website where. I don't think we're under construction yet. We're in the process of developing a new website, but ky amcom and we're on Linkedin. Is Well. Linkedin is probably the best place to get in touch with me and welcome...

...anybody and everybody perfect well. I would encourage everybody listening to go check out what Ekam he's doing and what Cathy's making happen there. It's it's a pretty special thing and and just a different way of thinking about one of the biggest problems out there that we have in this country right now, and so I applaud you, Cathy, for what you'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 rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that you never 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 find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for bedb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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