A partnership between Missouri Western’s Western Institute, area businesses, the University’s Innovation Stockyards, the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce and the St. Joseph School District has created a workforce development initiative that will provide skilled employees for manufacturing companies in the region.

Last fall, Dr. Gary Clapp, coordinator of workforce development and grants procurement for the Western Institute, began teaching a course at Hillyard Technical Center to students who wanted to earn a Manufacturing Technician Level 1 (MT1) certificate.

For several months prior to the class, area manufacturers, especially those in the animal health industries, had been having difficulty finding employees for their production positions, Dr. Clapp said.  

“Businesses were concerned about their ability to generate interest in critical production positions. How do we address that hole in our workforce? That is a difficult spot to fill.”

Cathy Martin, vice president, human resources at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, had previously worked in Virginia and was familiar with the Virginia Manufacturers Association’s manufacturing certificate program that was created in 2006. She suggested that it be initiated in St. Joseph to help address the manufacturers’ workforce needs.

The Western Institute worked with the Hillyard Technical Center to create a cohort for the pilot program. They identified high school seniors who were currently enrolled in classes at Hillyard, and Patt Lilly, Chamber president and CEO, arranged funding for the class from area businesses and the United Way of Greater St. Joseph.

Dr. Clapp took a course and test from the VMA in August 2015 to become a certified instructor, and the class, two adults and 21 high school seniors, met once a week from October to April. One of the adults passed the tests and earned his MT1 certification after just five weeks.   

The certification course consists of 10 modules in three sections: Math for Manufacturing, Mechanical and Spatial Reasoning, and Business Acumen. Additionally, there are three learning objectives of the MT1 Certification: 1) Students will have a greater understanding of modern manufacturing and production processes; 2) Students will be able to generate a high-level process flow map of a manufacturing process; and 3) Students will be able to describe the type of skills and work behaviors that are required to obtain a job and be successful in a manufacturing company.

The Western Institute was also approved as an assessment center, and two staff members along with Dr. Clapp have been approved as exam proctors for those who complete the course.

Area manufacturers, especially those in the Animal Health Corridor, have told Dr. Clapp that job applicants who have earned the MT1 certification will be moved to the top of the applicant pool for production positions.

“This (certification) tells employers that this person has the drive and the thought processes, and is trainable. It doesn’t guarantee them a job but it can certainly give them many extra tools to be productive on the line,” Dr. Clapp said.  

The certification program is “a plank in the platform of our education continuum,” he added. “This is an awesome program for someone not quite prepared for a two-year or four-year degree. It is a great complement to our education system.”