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What do manufacturers want from factory workers? Problem-solving skills

Henry Ford Community College

It's been a long time since the days you could succeed on the factory floor with "a weak mind and a strong back," as the adage goes.

Modern manufacturers need people who use their minds more than their bodies.  

Today, manufacturing workers need to be computer literate, solve problems when the robots on the line shut down, and work in teams.

The Obama administration says manufacturing companies added jobs for the first time since the 1990s - more than 500,000 jobs in the past 30 months.

But there's often a big gap between the skills workers have and the skills that are required for those jobs.  That's likely slowing down the job hiring.

The administration recently awarded a $15 million grant to Henry Ford Community College and 14 others around the country to revamp the way manufacturing workers are trained.

Jay Williams is director of the federal Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers.

He was also mayor of Youngstown, Ohio when the steel industry collapsed.

"We were unable to compete," he told a panel assembled to celebrate the grant, "because we didn't have the skills sets -- nor were we gearing our education to the skill sets that the companies were requiring." 

Henry Ford will lead the initiative, relying on input from Ford Motor Company, Chrysler, Marathon, and Severstal. 

The companies will tell the college what skills they need in their workers (and that can change pretty quickly in today's manufacturing climate) and the college will build the training to suit.  

The grant will also allow the College to order about a dozen "factories on wheels." 

The mobile laboratories closely simulate a modern factory floor, in miniature, allowing students to develop manufacturing skills during hands-on training. 

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.