Rebuilding a workforce requires companies to rethink their approach to hiring, training and retaining their employees, business leaders cautioned Thursday at the 10th annual National Coalition of Certification conference.

A panel of five business leaders, speaking during the morning session of the Leadership Summit of the weeklong conference, told an audience of 200 educators and business leaders at Gateway Technical College’s Madrigrano Auditorium that it is important to form partnerships with educators and to consider the needs of younger employees.

Titled “Innovation and the Future of Work,” the panel discussed how industry should address the needs of companies and the education system.

Panelists noted that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educational programs are a step in the right direction to produce the type of skilled workers needed for the future.

Young students, they said, need to learn more about manufacturing and realize that it has changed significantly.

“Building a corporate partnership with education is important,” said Jason Scales, business manager with Lincoln Electric.

Such alliances are extremely important for smaller companies with fewer resources.

“Smaller companies are relying on educators to find where the spark is,” said Michael Carr, a vice president with Snap-on Inc.

Better communication

They also said it is important to communicate to educators the types of skills that are needed to fill some of the positions they have in a constantly changing technical environment.

They noted that industry must do a better job of communicating their needs and describing what they do.

Rod Cook, vice president and general manager of Great Northern Plains Trane, told the audience it was important to constantly “upskill” employees because the rate of change in technology is so high.

Therefore, it becomes important for employers to do a better job of identifying their needs.

“Companies need to improve their description of what they do,” he said.

Technical skills needed

Thomas Lichtenberger, chief executive officer with Festo Didactic, said it is hard to find skilled people to fill positions.

“We need more talent with technical skills,” he said. “We have a challenge in industry to find people beyond certification.”

Maureen Tholen, sustainability director with 3M noted that expectations are higher now than ever before.

The panel noted that it is important to consider the workplace needs of millennials.

The NC3 conference began Monday with several with several different sessions at Gateway’s Kenosha and Racine campuses.

Some sessions feature business professionals training high school educators and panel discussions on various topics.

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