Companies struggle to attract and train qualified employees, while job seekers bemoan the lack of solid career options. How can the composites industry bridge the gap?

Gary Miller of SGS Tool Company recalls interviewing a high school student for an internship several years ago. “When I asked him to tell me about himself, he slouched down in his chair, crossed his arms and said, ‘I’m cool,’” says Miller, director of training and occupational development for SGS, a manufacturer of high-performance cutting tools for composites, aluminum and titanium. “I waited because I hoped he was going to tell me what he was cool at, but he never did.”

Rather than abandon the idea of hiring interns, Miller decided to help prepare students for the workforce. He reached out to local high schools with machining programs and offered tutorials. Now he visits classes, teaching students everything from how to write a resume and prepare for an interview to how to read micrometers and perform simple shop mathematics.

For the past seven years, SGS Tool Company has hired one or two interns each year. But that’s really a side benefit of his community outreach, says Miller. “We’re not in there to push the SGS brand, nor am I going to classes to recruit. I am preparing these kids for any manufacturing career,” he says.

Attracting and training the next generation of workers is a challenge for manufacturers, including those in the composites industry. By 2025, there will be two million jobs available in U.S. manufacturing, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). But 84 percent of manufacturers report a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers.

“In the last five to seven years, workforce development has become a really big issue with smaller companies – those under 500 employees,” says Mary Ann Pacelli, manager of workforce development for MEP, which is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “They recognize that not having the right talent is really holding them back.” Since its inception in 1988, the MEP nationwide network has helped create and retain more than 797,000 jobs. But individual companies are doing their part, too. Here’s a look at efforts undertaken by four firms in the composites industry to find and train future workers.

Partnering with Workforce Agencies

Company: JRL Ventures/Marine Concepts

Headquarters: Cape Coral, Fla.

Employees: 268

Measure of Success: Less than 2 percent employee turnover