Editor’s Note: This week, NBC is taking a look at the challenges and opportunities for America. As part of the series, "America at the Crossroads," NBC's Tom Brokaw travels to Cincinnati to show how the right skill set — and an old idea — can make a difference in today's job market.
CINCINNATI — Even in the dead of winter, Joe Snyder doesn't mind heading to work at 5:15 a.m. He's happy to have a job. Where he lives in Cincinnati, afterall, has lost a quarter of all its manufacturing jobs in just the last 10 years.
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As a 33-year-old apprentice at MAG Industries, Snyder works under the watchful eyes of MAG's most senior employees, many of whom will retire soon and need to be replaced.
"I do feel a sense of pride here," Snyder said, "and at the end of the day it's because of the team effort."
There was a time in American manufacturing when you could get a good job if you had a pair of willing hands and a strong back. Not anymore. Now manufacturers say they need workers with a real skill set in order to design and build their high-tech products.
Finding the next generation of employees with the right type of skills is one of MAG's greatest challenges — not foreign competition.
"It’s been a very big struggle to get the mechanical and electrical disciplines that we require here to build the product that we do," said MAG president Bill Horwarth.
That's because MAG, which grew out of an old tool and die business, now ships carbon composite fuselages, wind turbine blades and other products around the world. Just as manufacturing has changed, so has MAG's factory floor. They need fewer workers, but ones with more specialized skills.
MAG is not alone. Three million jobs have been lost in this recession, and many of the old line manufacturing jobs are gone forever. To succeed in the new manufacturing industries, people need knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.
To cultivate and train this new generation of workers, MAG has turned to an old idea — apprenticeship.
Gateway Community and Technical College is one of the places where MAG and other Cincinnati-area companies are trying to provide workers with the right skills.
The college's Center for Advanced Manufacturing opened just this year as a partnership between Gateway and local manufacturers. Attending classes here is part of Snyder's job, and MAG covers his tuition.
Asked if this is the future of community college education, Gateway President Ed. Hughes said, "Absolutely — not only the future, it’s the present."
Hughes is firm in his belief in American manufacturing — and in Gateway. More than 80 percent of graduates find work in their chosen fields, he said.
"We like to say we're about the bottom line," Hughes said. "We can train the worker for your bottom line. You all win."
Joe Snyder's uncle Jim, a 38-year MAG veteran, also sees the future — in Joe and the other young apprentices.
"It’s amazing what they need to know now," Jim Snyder said. “It’s all computer-generated, high-tech equipment. We have a good group of kids coming through, and that’s the future of the company."
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