DEVENS -- Manufacturers need to connect more with schools to fill an employment gap, employers were told at a forum on Thursday.

One in three manufacturers reported problems finding production workers they needed, according to a UMass Dartmouth survey of more than 1,000 manufacturers across the state.

The number is a little higher than the national average but unsurprising, said Michael Goodman, part of the Advanced Manufacturing Regional Partnership Academy that worked on the study.

"We are more innovative as a group and we are more knowledge-intensive, and correspondingly we require a higher level of skill and higher level of education and training for our workers," he said.

But manufacturers still need to tell the community what kind of people they are looking for, he said. The study also found most respondents do not collaborate with K-12 and higher educational institutions.

Goodman said they need to do a better job of working together to meet the manufacturing needs of the state.

The message hit particularly close to home in Devens, where large manufacturers such as Nypro have set up shop.

The same survey found that more manufacturers preferred industry experience to industry certifications.

"What we have is a need for not just certification, but actual demonstrated experience," he said.

That need could be filled with students who take hands-on programs from vocational schools or community colleges such as Mount Wachusett Community College.

One of the school's programs offered students six college credits at a time when no one would give credits for that kind of work, explained MWCC Vice President Jacqueline Belrose.

"We're really enforcing the type of workforce standards that you need to have," she said. "You can't come in flip flops, you can't come late."

The school is also putting together a new advanced manufacturing degree, she said.

Certification standards, she argued, are coming quickly to the manufacturing world, and that is going to require education.

"I think what we're going to see is educational institutions working a lot more closely with private vendors and certification agencies," she said.

Lowell High School Headmaster Brian Martin urged employers to partner with public schools and share what kind of employees they need.

Martin said the change from MCAS to PARCC testing is really starting to force schools to focus on career paths.

"The shift now is to create pathways so that students come in as freshman and sophomores and are taking surveys and establishing some idea of a career plan," he said.

Lou Gaviglia of MassDevelopment said one of the biggest issues in matching students to jobs is transportation.

"These kids can't even take jobs as apprenticeships because you can't get them there," he said. He cited one program in Connecticut that provides transportation.

It seems the need for skilled laborers is there, but only waiting to be filled by the appropriate workforce. Half of survey respondents said they expected to employ more production workers in the near future.

Employers also learned about a few Workforce Training Fund grants, available through the state, that help businesses train their employees.

Rosemary Scrivens, who attended the conference as part of the state's Office of Business Development, said workforce is the number one issue for businesses after money challenges.

She said she would have thought that manufacturers would at least be connecting with technical high schools that have manufacturing programs to find employees.

"I was kind of shocked that such a small percentage of the manufacturers are engaging with the high schools and the community colleges," she said.

Christine Bradshaw of the Shriver Job Corps in Devens said she came to talk about how the center's education program can interact with employers. The federally funded national Job Corps program offers technical training to 16- to 24-year-olds.

"It sounds like workforce development is really where the gap is," she said. "There's a big crevice there, and the study proved that."

Although Shriver does not have a manufacturing program, the sister center in Rhode Island has one and Mount Wachusett has a certificate program, she said.

"I think it might be more likely that we would work with Mount Wachusett right here on Devens -- we're both located on Devens -- to try to put some of our students into the manufacturing program, because it sounds like they have everything all set up," she said.

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