A manufacturing job-shadow program for North Bay high school students is picking up momentum in its third year.

[caption id="attachment_88824" align="alignright" width="360"] Students from Petaluma High School visit Petaluma's Raydiance as part of 101MFG's job shadow program in 2013 (photo courtesy 101MFG)[/caption]

Launched and coordinated by 101MFG, a Santa Rosa-based trade group focused on boosting California's manufacturing sector, the program is expecting up to 300 participants this year. It is a 50 percent increase from 2013, and more than six times the enrollment of two years ago.

That growth is another indicator of the increasing efforts among precision manufacturers to bolster their pipeline of talent, with the looming retirement of senior machinists creating intense demand for qualified recruits, said Dick Herman, president of 101MFG.     

"Much of that demand is a result of the wave of baby boomers retiring from the workforce. And with the acceleration of technical, automation and precision Q.C. skills needed to be competitive in a global market, our manufacturers have to be more involved in training and outreach to today's best students than they have been in past years," he said.

The program was created largely to pool the resources of small-to-mid-size manufacturers without formal internships and other targeted methods of cultivating new talent.     

"If you're big enough, you tend to have your own outreach. This program helps to level the playing field," Mr. Herman said.

Yet more large companies with local manufacturing operations have expressed an interest this year, highlighting an increasingly widespread sentiment that companies must step up their recruitment and talent development efforts.

Among those larger participating employers is Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical device company whose Santa Rosa-based cardiovascular division employs around 1,000 individuals.

Over 100 of those individuals work in the division's machine shop, with responsibilities that include rapid prototyping for Medtronic groups throughout California and some abroad.

While the company has an active internship program for engineers -- and many of those engineers are trained in basic machining -- programs specific to aspiring shop workers are less defined, said Craig Murphy, supervisor for Medtronic's Santa Rosa machine shop.

It is Medtronic's second year participating in the job shadow program, which Mr. Murphy said is "the first specific to manufacturing" for the cardiovascular division.

Other larger participants include Agilent Technologies and Enphase Energy, Mr. Herman said.

A market survey by Mr. Herman in 101 MFG's early days identified over 300 Bay Area manufacturers with around 5,000 openings expected in the coming years. Many of those individuals retiring from the profession began their training in high school, a foundation that has become less common as many schools refocus limited resources on academics, he said.

Mr. Murphy of Medtronic said his highest-ranking machinist is likely to spend another 10 years in the industry, but that the need to cultivate future talent is looming.

 "That's part of this whole program to get these kids trained up -- we need to figure out who's next in line," he said.

Those efforts also extend to current employees: Medtronic is working out the details for the second offering of a private course for its shop workers at Santa Rosa Junior College, one designed to cultivate a range of skills up to the operation of advanced computer-assisted machines, he said.

"Advanced manufacturing is in the top 10 fastest-growing industries in Sonoma County that nobody knows about," said Jerry Millar, dean of career and technical education and economic development at SRJC. "You have these large facilities that need talent, and need to retain talent."

Mr. Herman and others said that a number of North Bay high schools have been growing their connection to manufacturers and industry groups, including Petaluma High School's award-winning manufacturing program.

Yet he was quick to note that the industry is poised to hire more for more than manufacturing jobs, with the job shadow program including opportunities for those interested in areas like marketing and finance.

"It's one thing for everyone to say, 'Manufacturing is cool.' It's quite another when parents, teachers, counselors see -- there are good careers here," Mr. Herman said.