For years, one of the biggest issues facing the material handling industry has been a “skills gap shortage.” Forklift dealers, especially, felt this crunch in the inability to find qualified technicians. Older technicians are retiring at a faster pace and there is not a large base of qualified employees to come in and take their place. Each year, MHEDA publishes its Critical Impact Factors that will affect the industry in the coming years, and every year the skills shortage has been on the list. This year, Critical Impact Factor Number One says, “Companies continue to face significant challenges recruiting employees, which is contributing to wage inflation and the need to develop more creative and unique ways to recruit and retain employees.”
This year, MHEDA partnered with the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) to develop the Certified Forklift Technician designation. The MHEDA Journal had the opportunity to interview MHEDA CEO Liz Richards, with input from MSSC CEO Leo Reddy, about the program.
The MHEDA Journal: Can you give a brief overview of what the Certified Forklift Technician program is?
Liz Richards: The program is still in progress with the end goal to develop the MSSC Certified Forklift Technician designation (CFT) and corresponding curriculum which will then be marketed to high schools, community colleges and technical schools across the US. Students who achieve this designation can then be considered for employment by members as entry level forklift technicians. Members can assess and further train these individuals on proprietary equipment.
TMJ: How did the idea come about to develop this program? What needs will this serve in the industry?
LR: For the past 22 years that I have been employed by MHEDA, members have continually expressed their frustration at the difficulty they have recruiting technicians and the problem continues to worsen, particularly as this segment of the workforce ages. This is a pervasive problem in all industries that compete for skilled labor. What has made this even more complex for MHEDA members is the lack of industry awareness we face. Most people think of automotive, trucking, heavy equipment, marine and motorcycle maintenance before they consider forklifts. In many cases, the career path opportunities and compensation packages that our industry offers are more competitive and we as an industry need to convey that to schools, workforce development agencies and potential employees.
TMJ: How has the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council been involved?
LR: I approached Leo Reddy, CEO of MSSC (www.msscusa.org) in 2015 to see whether MSSC would be willing, at its expense, to develop an entry-level national training and certification program for forklift technician. MSSC is the national leader in certifying front-line work in advanced manufacturing and logistics and already had foundational level Certified Logistics Associate (CLA) and mid-level technical Certified Logistics Technician (CLT) certifications that it was deploying in 49 states through MSSC’s network of some 1800 Instructors and Test Sites. As a result, MHEDA recruited members who are currently serving as subject matter experts (SMEs) to get this program off the ground. We are extremely grateful to MCFA for providing us with their entry-level forklift technician training curriculum as a foundation and starting point for both the CFT national standards and curriculum. Leo was a panelist at our recent Convention.
TMJ: Finding and developing skilled technicians has been a mainstay in the Critical Impact Factors for years. Why has it been such a challenge for the industry? How will this program address that?
LR: As mentioned before, the problem is exacerbated by the lack of awareness we face in this industry. Often we refer to it as “hidden in plain sight” since material handling is so ubiquitous yet the general population doesn’t really know about it or consider it as a career path. If we can convince as many schools as possible to incorporate this curriculum, it will be a good step in the right direction.
TMJ: How can MHEDA members participate and improve this program going forward?
LR: We will be extremely reliant upon members to help convey the availability, importance and their desire for the program to their local schools as a grass roots effort. Many members already have established relationships with their local technical schools and high schools and it will be up to them to help us promote it. We will provide the necessary “templates” for our members to make this a consistent message. Activities might include guest speaking, instructor support, equipment donation, field trips/ plant tours, etc. If members aren’t willing to make this commitment, the program will not succeed.
TMJ: What’s the next logical step in the development of the program?
LR: We are still only about halfway through the development process. At this point, we have asked members to validate the standards that were developed by the SMEs and we were very pleased with the number of members who responded to this request as well as the depth of responses. The SMEs will review those responses and potential modify the standards but keeping in mind this is training for an entry-level tech. Once the standards are finalized, MSSC will turn them over to an instructional design partner; they will design the curriculum. After that, marketing, marketing, marketing – with the help of MHEDA members!