Manufacturers continue to face long-standing workforce challenges. A new brief published by the W.E. Upjohn Institute suggests that the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) can help manufacturing enterprises meet their training and hiring needs. 

The key is to put in place workforce- and workplace-enhancing strategies that improve job quality in order to increase worker retention and decrease turnover. The MEP is starting to integrate these types of workforce strategies into its ongoing work to help business owners address other operational and competitive challenges. MEP center efforts can be summarized in three approaches:

  1. Closely couple high-demand business services with workforce services. MEP center staff pair services explicitly requested by employers, such as lean process improvement, product design and development, and marketing and sales assistance with workforce services. MEP center staff intentionally introduce options for concurrent improvements on the workforce side. 
  2. Don’t just help individual workers move into jobsprepare the workplace to attract, retain, and nurture the manufacturing workforce. MEP staff assist employers in identifying and resolving problematic organizational, interpersonal, and institutional dynamics, helping to improve the workplace and job quality. Training is provided for support supervisors, managers and executives, as well as technical skill development for frontline workers. This training prepares managers to support ongoing career success for workers.
  3. Leverage the immediate need for workforce development services during the pandemic to scale these services more broadly and for the long-term. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated preexisting concerns around workplace safety and employee benefit costs, but MEPs can emphasize job improvement strategies to make firms more resilient to future crises, whether due to health, climate or other factors. Such efforts may address the connection between business performance, worker retention and employee benefits; help companies navigate changing regulations; or even provide new ways of offering workforce training and skills development. 

These findings stem from interviews with select MEP center directors to learn about approaches MEP centers have taken to help manufacturers navigate employment challenges. However, not every MEP center is fully committed to workforce development. This research indicates a promising opportunity for MEPs to make workforce development a core service. The focus on job quality and workplace enhancing strategies also represents a complementary strategy to the workforce development system’s primary focus on improving individual job skills. 

This blog post is adapted from “How the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Can Anchor U.S. Workforce Development,” by Matthew D. Wilson, Nichola Lowe, Greg Schrock, Rumana Rabbani, and Allison Forbes, which appeared in the July 2023 Employment Research newsletter, Vol. 30, No. 3 from the W.E. Upjohn Institute