Expanding Equity in Manufacturing with On-the-Job Training

“Earn-and-learn” models are powerful tools for building up a skilled workforce. On-the-job training allows employees to earn a paycheck while they learn the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to perform a specific job. Earn-and-learn models also open access to career-building skills for people who are often excluded from traditional training opportunities.

In 2018, The Boeing Company invested in a National Fund OJT program in five communities across the country to help job seekers and employees gain in-demand, advanced manufacturing skills.

The program allowed employers to fill open positions and introduce more racial and gender diversity into their workforce — and into the broader manufacturing sector. The project also developed employer leaders to advocate for public policies encouraging investments in skill development and work-based learning opportunities.

In 2021, three of the National Fund’s regional collaboratives carried the program forward with flexible funding from Boeing aimed at improving program implementation and increasing support services for OJT participants. By listening to the experiences of frontline providers and managers who worked with program participants, funders and systems leaders better understood the challenges OJT workers faced and how program strategies could address them.

The collaboratives leveraged Boeing’s support to address gaps in existing funding streams, serve individuals not eligible for training through other programs, and expand support services to address common barriers to employment success.

Easing the Commute on Chicago’s South Side

Women and people of color in the workforce often face challenges like access to reliable and affordable transportation, childcare, housing, and other essential resources. Chicagoland Workforce Funder Collaborative — a National Fund partner — supports organizations like OAI to help address these workforce issues.

On the South Side of Chicago, the most common barrier OAI’s on-the-job training participants face is transportation as there is a mismatch between where people live and work.

“Many of the employment centers are difficult to reach via conventional fixed-route transit systems, which leads to an over-reliance on expensive single occupancy vehicle trips or long and complicated transit commutes,” said OAI’s director Sandra Dafiaghor.

Boeing’s investment helped to reduce transportation costs for program participants by providing people with gas cards to offset soaring gas prices, allowing them the opportunity to catch up on other bills like car insurance and utilities.

OJT providers reported increased participant retention, particularly at the start of the program when many participants find it challenging to get to the work site due to transportation costs.

“Some new apprenticeship participants had been unemployed and had no income or assets at all,” said Dafiaghor. “The gas cards as well as supportive services helped them to get assistance with travel to the training site and working site before receiving their first paycheck.”

Meeting Workers Where They Are in Seattle

AJAC is an apprenticeship organization in the Pacific Northwest that believes mastery happens on the job. To help make it easy for employers to bring on apprentices, AJAC used OJT resources to offset employer onboarding costs and incentivize employers to sponsor existing and/or new workers into apprenticeship training. They were also used to encourage employers to hire recently unemployed and underemployed individuals, putting them onto an apprenticeship pathway.

AJAC supported workers in a wide variety of circumstances — from teens exploring if manufacturing was right for them, to formerly incarcerated women navigating the workforce, to AJAC apprentices who lost their job during the pandemic and needed to be placed somewhere new.

One of AJAC’s participants, a Latina woman in her thirties, transformed her life through OJT. She had a fifth-grade education and had difficulty communicating in English, as it was not her native language. Marie had been laid off from a part-time food service position paying $13.63 per hour when she came to the Workforce Alliance.

Through the National Fund’s OJT program supported by Boeing, she was able to start as a deburr technician despite having no previous manufacturing experience. She earned an entry-level wage of $15.00, working full-time with comprehensive benefits. With the technical job skills training provided through the grant, she has excelled with Cox and is now on a pathway for career advancement, earning more money than at any other time in her life.

Filling the Gaps in Wichita

The Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas prepares the region’s manufacturing and aviation workforce by investing in high-demand skills and working with local employers to prepare individuals for jobs in manufacturing, aviation, and healthcare.

Boeing’s investment supported the organization to expand its training to participants who are not eligible for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds.

“The Workforce Alliance experienced five consecutive years of WIOA funding decline, so non-WIOA funds like this grant were imperative to provide opportunities for more participants that federal dollars would allow,” said Amanda Duncan, the Workforce Alliance’s Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer.

The grant also provided support to smaller companies in the Boeing Supply Chain that can be overlooked by larger grants. These smaller companies often experience higher career path turnover once employees are trained and can qualify for jobs with Tier I and II suppliers, often leaving just due to higher wages.

“By focusing this grant on smaller vendors and Tier III companies, these smaller companies feel valued and appreciated from the investment within the supply chain,” said Duncan.

Supporting OJT, apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, and other “earn-and-learn” models is critical to ensuring that the manufacturing sector offers pathways to employment for job seekers facing barriers to traditional education and training opportunities.

This partnership with Boeing has allowed the National Fund and its collaboratives to expand access to manufacturing training and careers, particularly for people who are often excluded traditional training opportunities. Efforts like these are critical to ensuring more equitable pathways to good jobs.