Workforce Development: Supporting Philadelphia’s Advanced Manufacturing Industry

by Carol J. de Fries, Vice President of Workforce and Economic Innovation

Once hailed as the “World’s Greatest Workshop,” Philadelphia has a proud and strong manufacturing legacy that fueled the city’s and region’s economy for more than 300 years. Philadelphia’s manufacturing sector, unlike most other manufacturing cities, had expertise across a spectrum of manufacturing subsectors rather than a dependence on one particular kind of product or good. Philadelphia was also well known for its small- and medium-sized nimble and entrepreneurial firms, many of which were founded by workers, families or supervisors who decided to become entrepreneurs. Philadelphia’s manufacturing strength was fueled by its central location, its innovation and flexibility, and its highly productive and skilled workforce.

Although there has been a steep decline in manufacturing jobs in the city and surrounding counties over the past six decades, manufacturing remains vital to our overall economy, providing above average, family sustaining wages to individuals without a college degree, and producing vital products and goods that we rely on every day. The city of Philadelphia and area business leaders recognized the significance of manufacturing to the Greater Philadelphia Region and created the Mayor’s Manufacturing Taskforce in 2013. The taskforce outlined a manufacturing growth strategy that included Community College of Philadelphia playing a pivotal role in strengthening and growing this important industry to the region. The report, issued in December 2013, outlined some important facts about the sector.

At its peak in the 1950s, manufacturing was the dominant economic engine in the city, helping to employ more than 360,000 people and equaling 45 percent of total private sector employment. However, after World War II, the nation began to see a sharp decline in manufacturing, and Philadelphia’s sector followed suit. Philadelphia’s economy started shifting more toward professional services, less emphasis was placed on technical and vocational training, and greater emphasis was placed on white-collar positions. The aging of the skilled workforce between 1960 and today, with few programs created to replenish and maintain employment, contributed to a steep decline in employment and manufacturing output.

In the last 20 plus years, manufacturing employment lost more than 34,000 jobs in the city and more than 150,000 in the suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia. Starting in the 1990s, the city and region started losing manufacturing-related employment at a rate greater than the U.S. average, which was seeing growth in the sector nationally. Although manufacturing employment continued to decline in the 2000s, the rate of loss between the city and region paralleled one another. However, in 2009, after the recession and as the United States started to see growth in the sector, the city and region saw continued gradual manufacturing employment loss.

Manufacturing employment levels in the 11-county region totals more than 160,000 jobs, of which 23,000 are based in Philadelphia. Close to 5,300 establishments in the area produce $105.6 billion in output, or 14.05 percent of the region’s total. Competitive manufacturing employment subsectors in Philadelphia are in food processing, chemicals, medical equipment, machinery, transportation equipment and parts, and petroleum. Also of interest is that more than 85 percent of manufacturing companies have fewer than 50 individuals on their employee payroll. Of Philadelphia’s 750 manufacturing firms, 575 companies have 20 or fewer employees, reflecting our historical structure of smaller to medium-sized firms. This decreased size of Philadelphia’s companies makes the ability to find, train and attract workers for manufacturing jobs even harder and more costly.

One of the greatest advantages of manufacturing employment is its above-average wages for employees without a college degree. The average annual wage in 2012 for the sector was $58,977, compared to $57,616 across all private sectors. The levels of education and experience required to get an entry-level job in production occupations are lower than in other major occupational groups. The report also found that anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the regional manufacturing workforce is nearing retirement age, which means a potential shortage in qualified workers just to maintain existing levels of production and employment.

The Mayor’s Taskforce issued several recommendations in December 2013 to turn the tide of manufacturing loss into a growth strategy for the city and region. At the top of the list were several strategies regarding talent. Of particular note was the lack of academic or technical training certificate programs within the city’s secondary and post-secondary institutions. The taskforce issued a call to Community College of Philadelphia:

“Expand technical training opportunities provided by community colleges that are aligned to the needs of the manufacturing sector. Establish a manufacturing training program at Community College of Philadelphia… These manufacturing technician programs should focus on both students enrolled in degrees or those seeking certification in specific skills, techniques or equipment.”

Hearing this clarion call from the region’s political, civic and business leaders, the College answered with the creation of an Advanced Manufacturing program with certificates focused on three technical skill areas of manufacturing where the majority of jobs exist within the sector in the region: Welding, CNC Precision Machining Technology and Electro-mechanical/Mechatronics Technology. Classes will be offered during the evening, Monday through Thursday, or during the day on Saturday, starting September 2016. Supported by a grant from the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), the College established an Advanced Manufacturing committee to assist in the development of the program curriculum. Members of this committee include participants from the Manufacturing Alliance of Philadelphia (MAP), the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC), Philadelphia Works, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and the Philadelphia Academies; and employers PTR Baler, Philly Shipyard, First Quality and Windle Mechanical Systems. With input from employers, the College has created programs that meet their needs and allow students to receive industry certifications in each technical area.

In order to offer these certificate-based programs, the College has joined with the School District of Philadelphia to lease its state-of-the-art Ben Franklin High School Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering. The School District and the Middleton Foundation have invested more than $5 million in the creation of this facility, which opened in October 2015. The CAME facility is conveniently located across from the College and at the Broad and Spring Garden subway stop, making it a centrally located program for area manufacturers and potential students. Classes are currently open for registration and will start with Welding and Precision Machining. The Electro-mechanical program will be offered at the College’s Center for Business and Industry, made possible by the U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant. Labor data from EMSI for the Greater Philadelphia Region show entry-level salaries for CNC operators at $41,120, electro-mechanical technicians making $61,780, machinists salaries at $43,820 and welders making $39,120.

The taskforce released its most recent update in June 2016, emphasizing the new mayoral administration’s commitment to the growth of the manufacturing ecosystem in Philadelphia. The report identified talent as the number one issue facing Philadelphia’s manufacturing businesses. Skills attainment and job readiness remain a top priority for these businesses, and the report cited the College’s new Advanced Manufacturing programs as key to moving the city forward in achieving its goal of a revitalized and growing manufacturing sector.

Community College of Philadelphia’s Advanced Manufacturing program is targeting the adult learner market of incumbent, unemployed, displaced or transitional workers. Becoming a provider of advanced manufacturing technical skills training will position Community College of Philadelphia as a resource for producing qualified workers that will sustain the growth of manufacturing in the region.

CNC Operators $41,120
CNC Programmers $54,100
Electro-mechanical Tech. $61,780
Machinery Maintenance $48,080
Machinery Mechanics $48,000
Machinists $43,820
Welders $39,120

Source: EMSI Data 2016.1; Final Release: March 11, 2016