Workers LEAP into jobs of future

Employers in our region will add thousands of good-paying jobs in the next few years for people with skills in advanced manufacturing.

In fact, all of us are witnesses to one of the most profound economic shifts in the history of Nevada as the state becomes a national hub for advanced manufacturing.

As we prepare young people for these jobs, and as we undertake the additional training needed by experienced workers, it’s clear that we can’t pursue a one-size-fits-all approach.

Manufacturers need a spectrum of workers, from skilled production technicians to mechanical engineers. Individual workers have varying interest in higher education and other self-development programs.

To meet these wide-ranging demands, the region will meet its needs for a skilled advanced manufacturing workforce through a program called LEAP, short for “Learn and Earn Advanced Career Pathway.”

Spearheaded by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, LEAP is a vibrant partnership of K-12 schools, institutions of higher learning, and organizations focused on strengthening the region’s manufacturing sector.

They joined together in 2014 to begin planning for explosive growth in demand for highly skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade.

GOED estimates that employment in advanced manufacturing positions will grow by 46 percent in the next decade, driven by employment at Tesla’s gigafactory and the arrival of other advanced-manufacturing employers.

Here’s how LEAP works:

Some young people will be trained to move directly into entry-level positions at advanced manufacturing companies after high school graduation. Others will pursue additional technical training at Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College. Still others will pursue degrees in mechanical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno.

We know that ambitious workers will upgrade their skills throughout their careers. Some may return to a community college to earn technical certification after a couple of years in entry-level positions. Others will use the skills they learned at a community college as the basis for a bachelor’s degree at UNR.

Most of us can attest that individual career paths aren’t always smooth. LEAP was developed to deal with the starts, stops and bumps that most workers encounter as they build skills throughout their careers.

Karsten Heise, GOED’s director of technology commercialization, says LEAP draws on elements of successful programs worldwide. Sources include vocational training systems used by European countries (particularly Germany) as well as programs created in Michigan and Kentucky to develop a highly skilled manufacturing workforce.

LEAP is designed to provide a seamless pathway that makes sense for students, parents, teachers and career counselors. And Heise says it’s designed to meet the workforce needs of employers across a wide spectrum of manufacturing.

Other training programs such as apprenticeships or fast-track training can fit under the LEAP umbrella as they are developed.

At every step along the pathway, expectations are clear. Manufacturers will know the level of expertise possessed by candidates who have earned certification at different levels.

High school students, for instance, will learn technical skills such as print reading and an understanding of measuring techniques. Their classroom work will provide skills in math, communications and applied problem-solving.

The Washoe County School District already has begun delivering those programs through its respected Signature Academies and Career & Technical Education programs. In fact, the school district was named the Silver 2015 Optimas Award Winner by Workforce magazine for its work with the LEAP program.

TMCC, meanwhile, offers an associate’s degree in advanced manufacturing — again, the requirements are clearly spelled out — as well as specialized certificate programs for welders, production technicians and CNC machinists. Its certifications fold in the standards established by nationally recognized organizations such as the National Institute of Metal Working Skills.

For workers who want to take another step on the career ladder, an associate’s degree in advanced manufacturing meets one year of requirements for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UNR.

All along the way, the skills developed by LEAP participants will be matched closely to those specified by employers who provide detailed job descriptions.

But the pipeline to develop a skilled workforce for good-paying positions in advanced manufacturing will be effective only if students, parents and mid-career workers recognize the abundant opportunities that are available.

The partnership that supports LEAP now focuses its efforts on reaching even the youngest students in the K-12 system to begin building interest in manufacturing careers. Plant tours, classroom programs and workshops all are designed to build interest in advanced manufacturing careers and the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills that support them.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, are encouraged to incorporate elements of the LEAP training into their own standards for technical skills. Companies in the advanced manufacturing sector also are encouraged to specify LEAP components as their “credentials of choice” among candidates to fill job openings.

It’s an ambitious program, but it’s critically important as we move into our economic future.

Nancy McCormick is vice president of business expansion, retention and workforce at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada. Contact her at or 775-829-3719.


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