SME to Partner With Community and Technical Colleges

Purpose is to address the manufacturing industry’s workforce shortage and skills gap crisis.

Purpose is to address the manufacturing industry’s workforce shortage and skills gap crisis.

The Workforce Pipeline Challenge is a 3-year pilot program with a goal to attract 1,000 individuals at each of the initial 25 participating community and technical colleges annually. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

SME, a national nonprofit committed to accelerating new manufacturing technology adoption and building North America’s manufacturing talent and capabilities, announces a new initiative involving a partnership with community and technical colleges to address how to grow manufacturing’s industrial base, strengthen the industry’s talent pipeline, and accelerate the skills and productivity of manufacturing workers.

The Manufacturing Imperative – Workforce Pipeline Challenge (MI-WPC) launches this fall and combines the industry and workforce expertise of SME with the educational programs and innovations of a select group of U.S. community and technical colleges. The initiative builds awareness of careers in manufacturing, optimizes workforce systems and accelerates the education and skill development needed to place individuals in jobs making family-sustaining wages, according to SME.

“I am pleased to celebrate SME’s newest initiative, the Manufacturing Imperative – Workforce Pipeline Challenge to help address the national workforce crisis facing our manufacturing sector,” says U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Amy Loyd. “We appreciate SME’s leadership and willingness to bring together the national voice of manufacturers alongside our nation’s community and technical colleges to address local and regional labor market needs and support efforts to invest in America and prepare youth and adults for good jobs.” 

Through the Workforce Pipeline Challenge, SME will work with schools to conduct a labor analysis of the local, regional, and state landscape; develop and expand sector strategies to attract new populations—particularly those under-served and under-represented in the workforce; and implement new programs, curriculum and applicable certifications to develop skilled individuals that are ready to hire for the vast array of growing, unfilled positions in manufacturing.

Jeannine Kunz, SME’s chief workforce development officer, explains the key motivation behind launching the initiative: “SME, along with many other industry organizations, understands that manufacturing is a critical engine of America’s economic strength and national security, playing a role in almost every sector of our economy. It is our responsibility to support the development of a diverse and qualified talent pool by stepping up our efforts and investments to strengthen the manufacturing supply chain with technically skilled individuals. Only then can we ensure our industrial base remains resilient now and into the future.”  

The Workforce Pipeline Challenge is a 3-year pilot program with a goal to attract 1,000 individuals at each of the initial 25 participating community and technical colleges annually, resulting in 75,000 or more qualified workers in pursuit of manufacturing careers. The estimated economic impact of growing the industry’s workforce in this way is $6 billion. Best practices identified throughout the program will be shared nationally to help other programs implement innovative solutions to grow local economies, reduce barriers to employment, and fill vacant manufacturing jobs.

The partnership between SME and the initial institutions will leverage a strong alliance with the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC). Craig McAtee, NCATC’s executive director shares that “any advanced manufacturing, workforce development initiative led by SME is top-notch and impactful for education, students, and employers across America—NCATC is inspired to be a partner on the SME Manufacturing Imperative – Workforce Pipeline Challenge.”

“It is our pleasure to work with educational partners, specifically our community and technical colleges who are the workforce engines of our communities. Currently these institutions enroll more than 40% of all undergraduate students in higher education, as well as engage hundreds of thousands of adult learners in non-traditional programs,” says Dr. Debra Volzer, government and workforce partnerships director for SME, who is leading this initiative. 

A few of the institutions selected to participate in the challenge include Wallace State and Calhoun Community Colleges (AL), Daley College from the City Colleges of Chicago (IL), WSU Tech (KS), Grand Rapids and Schoolcraft Community Colleges (MI), Wake Tech Community College (NC), Columbus State and Lorain County Community Colleges (OH), Tulsa Community College (OK), Greenville Technical College (SC), Pellissippi State Community College (TN), Lone Star Community College (TX) and Patrick & Henry Community College (VA). These colleges have committed to specific requirements, demonstrating commitment to this national approach to pipeline development and to implementing solutions to address industry challenges. Their collective voices will inform legislation, policy and funding. Based on the program’s success, SME plans to expand this initiative beyond the initial 25 pilot institutions.

“We are honored to partner with these forward-thinking educational institutions to address the multifaceted manufacturing challenges at the local, regional, and state levels,” says Dr. Timothy Wilson, SME’s research lead for the program. “Through this strategic collaboration, we aim to integrate SME's national insights with the invaluable local and regional expertise of the colleges and their community-based allies. Our goal is not just to enhance the workforce and its system, but to truly understand and uplift the unique strengths of each institution.”

For more information on the Workforce Pipeline Challenge, visit

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