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Manufacturers Outline Their Needs

Manufacturers Outline Their Needs By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter Representatives from some of the most prominent Valley manufacturers sat in the cafeteria room at Los Angeles Valley College recently, listening to a presentation, when a speaker asked them whether their employees needed basic training in English and math. Just about everyone raised their hands. Those skills, and a host of others, were the reasons the community college brought the local manufacturers to campus for the first installment of several focus-group style meetings planned to pinpoint workforce training needs and help the school get a state grant to pay for the cost of the training. The first meeting was on the morning of June 23 and had some prominent attendees: Superior Industries International, Boeing and Precision Dynamics. A total of seven Valley-based companies attended, as well as consultants who represented several manufacturers. Through the “Manufacturer’s Coalition,” Valley College officials hope to secure a state grant up of up to $350,000 that will pay for hiring teachers and teaching classes for the companies at no cost to them. “We have the ability with this money to go ahead and meet these demands,” said Lennie Ciufo, director of job training at Valley College. The lack of properly trained workers is a problem facing most manufacturers, which have pointed to a lack of a trained workforce as one of the reasons for moving operations to other states. Of course high costs of doing business in California are also driving the companies away. After a brainstorming session with company representatives mostly hiring and human resources executives a list of key training needs emerged. Valley College officials organized them into three categories: industry needs, management, and “soft skills.” Company representatives overwhelmingly said their employees needed “survival English” training, as well as basic reading and math. Another popular area was computer skills, especially for such programs as Microsoft Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint. Precision Dynamics, a 400-plus employee company based in San Fernando that manufactures wrist bands, sent 35 employees through “survival English” training and found it helpful. “There was a great need, (because) two-thirds (of our employees) are Spanish-speaking,” said Fabian Grijalva, director of human resources at Precision Dynamics. Grijalva said two Valley instructors came to Precision for three hours per week and were very effective; the results were “immediate” as communication noticeably improved. “At the graduation ceremony, no Spanish was spoken,” Grijalva said. “We gave each participant a movie ticket and insisted they go see an English-language movie.” Employee commitment Because of the success of that program, Precision is planning follow-up classes. This time around, however, they are planning a reversal getting instructors to teach English-speaking employees, including top executives, Spanish. “It’s critical that we have their commitment,” Grijalva said, adding that the training happening during the company’s normal working time was due to support and encouragement of top executives. “(The employees) can’t wait for the next class,” Grijalva said. Carmen Bizjack, training specialist for Superior Industries International, a car parts manufacturer in Van Nuys, eagerly listened to Grijalva describe the ESL class. “We need ESL skills and we need computer skills,” Bizjack said. “We have a large service workforce and our company has just become automated.” Bizjack said some supervisors at Superior “don’t have e-mail skills.” But, she emphasized that English training for Superior’s Spanish-speaking employees was the most important. “There’s definitely a great relationship between basic skills and critical thinking skills,” Bizjack said. Other companies pitched other priorities to the Valley College officials. For instance, Monica Pinon, training and development facilitator from Glendale-based Nestle USA, which makes Hot Pockets and employs about 700 people in Canoga Park, said the company needed maintenance and safety training for its employees. Meanwhile, a representative of Boeing’s Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power, in Canoga Park, said the company was in desperate need of qualified welders, and was looking to Valley College for “skill enhancement” for its employees in areas such as welding and new manufacturing techniques. Citing needs Leonard Salazar, Rocketdyne’s training and development specialist, said the company had 850 current staff that could retire any day which would leave a substantial number of key positions unfilled. “When they decide (to leave), we’ll be stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Salazar said. Salazar became aware of the Manufacturer’s Coalition by accident. His boss’ daughter, he said, met a Valley College instructor and told him about the meeting. “I go out there and make these connections,” Salazar said. Valley College officials were pleased with the turnout at the first meeting, which was attended by Tyree Wieder, the president of Valley College. “I thought the turnout was good and the quality was good,” Ciufo said. “The individual companies who participated were very receptive to our approach (of conducting a focus group-type meeting).” Ciufo said his office has already received several calls from participants requesting training, even before the college secures grant money to pay for it. “I left with a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and they’re excited to move forward with the project,” Ciufo said. The next meeting of the Manufacturer’s Coalition is scheduled for July 16 at 7:30 a.m. at Valley College. A WISH LIST: Some requested training courses. Industry -Welding -Maintenance -Electrical Management -Budget and finance management -Decision-making Skills -“Survival” English -Reading and math

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