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Wanted: Students of Manufacturing

Ask most any Rochester-area manufacturer how they’re dealing with their work force, and they’ll probably tell you they’re doing all they can to avoid layoffs and retain the talent they have.But with better-than-expected growth from the country’s manufacturing sector in October, finding and hiring new employees may soon be back on the agenda for area machine shops and optics grinders. And as orders start to roll in, companies will need a pool of young employees to hire from.Creating and nurturing that pool is the goal of the Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturers’ Enterprise, or FAME, which on Monday hosted an event at Monroe Community College aimed at connecting manufacturers with government officials and educators.The goal: Increase the number of high school and college graduates who pursue careers in manufacturing.The organization, active on the east side of the city for the past two years, recently decided to expand to the entire nine-county Rochester region. Monday’s “Futures Forum” was held in the hopes of creating exposure for FAME and pushing manufacturers in the area to join and support the group’s efforts.”It’ll be a slow comeback, but the need for what we’re doing is going to be more pronounced in the next year than it’s been in two years, and beyond that it’s going to be even more pronounced,” said Mike Mandina, founder of FAME.Following a keynote address by Takashi Tanaka of QV System Inc. in Rochester, who discussed the need for manufacturers to create multiskilled workers, a panel of manufacturers, educators and government officials took questions from forum attendees.Questions covered a variety of problems encountered with today’s manufacturing work force, but the cause for many of them was the same.”Pick a technical skill (and) the schools are doing a good job,” of teaching it, said Alan Davis, senior vice president of Liberty Pumps, a Bergen, Genesee County, pump manufacturer. “The problem is, we’re not encouraging enough kids to seek that form of education.”FAME is doing its part to solve the problem. Its members make themselves available for student tours, job shadowing programs, internships, cooperative education programs and summer employment. Awareness is half the battle.”We’re having people understand that advanced manufacturing is not the greasy factory floor it used to be,” said Leslie Bamann, FAME’s coordinator. “Then it’s about getting the school districts and kids of all ages interested, and getting them into that pipeline.”Mandina admits that his own company, optics manufacturer Optimax in Ontario, Wayne County, did little in the way of hiring over the past year.But prior to the recession, his company was hiring an average of 10 employees each year, and the dearth of qualified candidates is what led to the creation of FAME. And when the economy turns around, companies need to be able to hit the ground running.”It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and this is an opportunity to be proactive and do something about it,” said Mandina. “You’ve got to do it when things are good and you’ve got to do it when things are bad.”SDOBBIN@DemocratandChronicle.com

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