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Supply Chain News: FAME Training Program from National Association of Manufacturers Delivering Results


Focus on Soft Skills Key to Success for Technician Graduates

Sept. 10, 2020
SCDigest Editorial Staff

There are hundreds of thousands of US manufacturing job available, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that in June there were 336,000 US manufacturing job openings, the most recent month available. While down from a recent peak of 502,000 job openings in August 2018 due to the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, it still means there are a lot of jobs manufacturers can't fill.

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Of the roughly 850 students who have graduated so far, 85% have been hired by their sponsoring employers with starting salaries at $50,000 or more.

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Often, manufacturers say a lack of enough skilled labor is the primary driver of the persistently large number of job openings in recent years. Other say US manufacturers need to develop the training and apprentice programs popular in some European and Asian countries but little used in the US.

A program from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is meant to address both issues. Started a decade ago by Dennis Dio Parker, a manager at Toyota's Georgetown, KY factory, the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) enables students to earn a two-year associate's degree while working in their sponsor's manufacturing facility as advanced manufacturing technicians.

FAME, now managed by The Manufacturing Institute, an arm of NAM, was initially developed in 2010 by Parker to help with challenges Toyota was facing finding enough workers at is Georgetown plant. Toyota managed the program even as it opened it up to hundreds of manufacturers until it 2019, when management transferred to NAM.

A key tenet of the FAME program that differentiates it from other training programs is its emphasis on not just the technical skills needed for the job but as much or more so on the soft skills ultimately needed for real success on the factory floor.

Those include developing a safety mindset, professional behaviors, communication skills, problem solving, and visual workplace organization.

In a recent interview with Washington Monthly magazine, Parker noted that beyond technical education on how to maintain and repair equipment, workers also needed the problem-solving skills to figure out why a machine might be broken and how to fix it. In addition, they needed to be able to communicate and work closely with the engineering department and with each other. Unfortunately, Parker said, "not many people were passing the assessment tests" that indicated if they were fully ready for a job.

Parker created and refined the program in part by studying high performance technicians and learning the skills and habits that were key to their success.

Being on the job and on-time is obviously one fundamental behavior. To drive that home, the Washington Monthly reported that outside each classroom are attendance sheets with students' names and a daily log of arrival times. Students are marked in green if they are 20 to 30 minutes early to class, while on-time arrivals are marked in yellow and arrivals of even one minute past the start time are in pink or red. A single red mark is enough to warrant a warning; three tardies means dismissal from the program.

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To reinforce the core principles, FAME classes use "pocket cards" as a tool. For example, the first week of class, students receive two cards focused on "safety culture" and three cards on "professional behaviors." As the program continues, they accumulate more cards on these and the other skills.

They are expected to memorize and be able to state what is on each card if asked by trainers.

The FAME program aims at 18-20 year old students with high school degrees, but will take on older participants as well.

The sponsoring companies match with specific students at the start of the program and pay them a minimum of $14 an hour. The training can be tailored to a sponsoring company's need. FAME graduates leave debt-free.

The Manufacturing Institute says the FAME program has grown to involve more than 350 manufacturers in 13 states, from large refrigerator makers to smaller plastics plants. Of the roughly 850 students who have graduated so far, 85% have been hired by their sponsoring employers with starting salaries at $50,000 or more.

Companies can find more information on the FAME program here.

Are you familiar with the FAME program? Whether Yes or No, what do you think of it? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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