SME Partners with the Military to Help Veterans Succeed in Manufacturing

smelogoAs we've noted here at IMT Machining Journal, although national unemployment numbers have trended downward for the past several months, unemployment figures among veterans -- especially veterans of contemporary military engagements including Iraq and Afghanistan -- have remained surprisingly high. Part of the problem is lack of certification despite some common skills shared by the military and manufacturing. The military is thus working with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers on skills and training certification to try to reverse the tide of veteran unemployment.

Veteran unemployment in the United States sat at 7 percent as of December 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slightly lower than the national non-farm unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. However, the unemployment rate among Gulf War II veterans (those who served after September 2001) was at 10.8 percent, a significant increase.

Although the military trains soldiers for a variety of skilled tasks, including mechanics, engineering, languages, and medical care, its job certifications do not sync up with desired, industry-recognized certifications. A trained military machinist might apply for a job with tasks he has done a thousand times in the service and be told he needs certification, which often requires years and investment in schooling.

Recognizing that something had to be done to address this mismatch, the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) last spring invited to the White House officials from the Dept. of Defense, the Dept. of Labor's veterans team, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, and private organizations to discuss solutions. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and its partners in the National Association of Manufacturers-endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System were included in these talks, in recognition of their services to certify workers for manufacturing positions.

In an interview with IMT Machining Journal, Pamela Hurt, SME's manager of workforce development, explained that the discussion started with the idea to "translate military specifications into something human resources departments in companies can understand." However, after the White House discussions, SME realized its role in trying to solve veterans unemployment was by working through its core competencies: assessment, certification, and education.

SME runs Tooling U, an online portal for manufacturers and potential employees to get assessed, get training and education, attain certifications, and receive employment counseling. SME provides three certifications: Certified Manufacturing Technologist, Certified Manufacturing Engineer, and three levels of Lean Practitioner. SME also works to get students aligned with National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC), American Welding Society (AWS), and other professional organization standards.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based organization has partnered with the military to validate the skills and knowledge of veterans as they prepare for civilian manufacturing careers. In a pilot program, it is running a series of six-week classes in lean manufacturing, which began last July at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Those who finish the six-week course can take an exam to achieve Lean Bronze Certification from SME. Last year, Hurt told Forbes, "The Army already delivers the training and skills through education or on-the ground work. This certification program is validation of [veterans] work skills and knowledge."

Further, the Army is hopeful that after cycling through classes of roughly eight to 10 groups of students for a year, it will be better able to identify the kinds of civilian-transferrable training veterans already have and where they need further education. The Army is using the course cycles to adjust what it is teaching and make servicemen and servicewomen not only military viable but also private-industry ready.

A second SME pilot program is a one-time, eight-month course for engineers who may be able to pass Certified Manufacturing Technologist certification. This program, which started last September and will end this spring, is designed to evaluate the engineering education the military is teaching. Similar to the lean manufacturing classes, this course will gather feedback for both SME and the military on soldier skill sets and how their education and training can be improved for their post-service civilian employability.

The military, SME, and its certifying partners have a five-year working agreement. While the two initial efforts are pilot programs, SME and partners plan to work closely with the military to develop other programs to assist veterans.

One of the other potential ways SME can reach veterans is by incorporating its Tooling U assessments into the service's community college programs. SME is working to establish a pilot project to provide over 300 soldiers with a pre-assessment test and develop individual programs for each soldier, and then perform a post-assessment on delivered education.

Additionally, Tooling U donated 50 seats to the Marine bases Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton for its proof-of-concept education courses.

As Hurt explained, the military is dedicated to providing soldiers the proper training they need to succeed in private industry, and SME is committed to being a fundamental building block in developing the programs that will help them join the civilian manufacturing workforce and achieve that success.

-Brian Lane

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