Manufacturers today are eager, even desperate, to hire skilled technicians to keep their factories humming. As Dante Boutell, vice president, Powertrain Design Division of Toyota North America, told the Mackinac Policy Conference earlier this year, “There’s a big gap” between the need and the supply of workers. “There’s a big pipeline crunch right now.”
To help fill that gap, one of the more innovative training programs is coming to Washtenaw Community College in Fall 2023.
Known as FAME, an acronym for the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, it is a program Toyota created internally about 20 years ago but recently began to expand to include Tier 1 suppliers
and others in a broader network.
Partnering with a local economic development agency and a community college, the program offers a five semester work-study training regimen that results in an associate degree as an advanced manufacturing technician.
Tony Davis, national director for FAME USA, an arm of the National Association of Manufacturers that manages the program, told a conference at the Suburban Collection in Novi earlier this year that graduates can earn $55,000 upon graduation working for companies like Toyota. That’s not bad for a recent high school grad who may get an associate degree while no more than 21 years of age or so.
‘It is Different and It Works’
“They are not all professionals on day one,” Davis said of the program’s participants. “But if they put all the elements together, they are global-best, entry level multi-skilled technicians when they come out of this program. It is different and it works.”
There currently are about two dozen FAME chapters around the country, mostly in the nation’s industrial heartland. For the local chapter, Washtenaw Community College will partner with the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association and companies like Toyota. Training consists of three days of work and two days of classroom training. Recent high school graduates make up about 80% of those in the program, with veterans and incumbent workers
making up the rest.
The emphasis is on training to create multi-skilled technicians, workers who can address any number of tasks for a manufacturer and not just one. With work experience and an associate degree in hand, many graduates of the FAME program can go on to early a bachelor’s degree to advance their careers.
A Skilled Workforce Isn’t Only Four Year Degrees
By providing formal training and an associate degree, the FAME program aims to create a skilled workforce and overcome the notion that only a four-year degree is needed. “There’s still that thinking where we need a degree,” Boutell said at the Mackinac Policy Conference this year. “We have people who are very sharp and talented that have two years of college.”
With about 15 to 20 students in each class of recruits, the program here will soon be producing the kind of well-paid, skilled technicians that manufacturers are looking for.
“We’re glad to see FAME taking shape in Michigan and providing another tool to help manufacturers of all sizes be even more competitive in an already strong manufacturing
state,” said Davis.