On Wednesday, April 17th 2019, America’s Job Center of California (fka the Onestop) hosted a panel discussion at their facility in Concord, CA.
Workers from Benchmark Electronics, Quick Mount PV, and Ramar Foods participated on the panel, sharing insights about their companies, their jobs, and their personal journeys in their respective manufacturing careers. The approximately 50 attendees learned about the state of manufacturing in our region and the career opportunities that jobseekers can find in the industry
The panel discussion opened with a brief introduction to manufacturing in the US and in the Bay Area. With 8,400 manufacturing firms throughout the 9 county Bay Area region, manufacturing is a highly diverse sector, making everything from cupcakes to jet fuel. Manufacturing accounts for $50 Billion dollars of economic activity in the Bay Area every year. Moreover, the manufacturing sector consistently boasts the greatest multiplier effect for job creation and economic activity, as a function of supply chain, logistics, and many other support products & services. Further, the manufacturing sector is very entrepreneurial by nature, with most companies working hard to discover niche markets and growing organically from there.
The three panelists described the work that they do and how they got there.
Benchmark Electronics, located in Concord, builds specialty electronics systems for a variety of markets, including medical, defense, and commercial aerospace. Their local production facility is part of a much larger company. For Naz Jindoian of Benchmark, working with his hands in the realm of tool & die and machining, has been a rewarding, career-long passion.
Quick Mount PV in Walnut Creek, started out as a husband and wife who noticed that solar was getting a bad reputation because installers were making roofs leak. The two invented various photo voltaic (hence PV) panel mounts which protected the roof and took the company from 2 people to the 70 people it is today. Daniel Hagge started at an entry level position (production operator) and grew into ever greater leadership roles. He made the point, which so many companies such as Quick Mount highlight: we like to hire from within, growing our own inhouse talent from the lower rungs of the ladder. “The totem pole can be climbed!”
Ramar Foods, located in Pittsburg, is the largest food manufacturer, specializing in Phillipino cuisine. At nearly 500 employees and a wide variety of products, Ramar is a juggernaut in this market. Noriel Llanza is a supervisor at Ramar, where he helps lead the production of Phillipino ice creams. Having worked at other companies prior to joining Ramar just six months ago, Noriel was quick to point out the many internal training opportunities that Ramar offers, which generally reflect the training opportunities that can be found throughout the manufacturing sector.
I was able to obtain my engineering training while working as a machinist. Once I was given the opportunity to move into engineering, I chose to stay with machining because I love the work and it paid as well or better! …My outside technical training allowed me to advance more quickly than others who did not have that same level of training.
Mark Martin is the manufacturing Deputy Sector Navigator for the Bay Area Community Colleges, serving as a valuable point of contact and subject matter expert for training curricula available at community colleges throughout the region.
With a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, and a background in manufacturing, Mark described a few of the many programs in the area. He pointed to the burgeoning apprenticeship opportunities, which the region’s manufacturing sector is increasingly using, to train local talent.
The audience was quick to ask lots of great questions. Among them was Charles Reed, Employment Services Specialist at Goodwill, representing reentrants. Reentrants are formerly incarcerated individuals who are looking for a foothold into the economy and a path to fulfilling, gainful employement. Mr. Reed asked the panelists how open their companies were to considering an applicant who happens to be a reentrant. Echoing the sentiment which this author has heard from other manufacturers, the panelists suggested that their companies were open to it and have hired or strongly considered such applicants in the past. Naz Jindoian of Benchmark made the point that one of the finest machinists Naz has ever known obtained his training while in prison.
When the discussion turned to pay ranges, panelists reiterated the earlier point that it is not uncommon for individuals to start at or near entry level, e.g., $17/hr, but with full benefits. For those who show initiative, moving up can happen quickly. Mark Martin and others referenced pay ranges for highly skilled tradespeople, which can easily grow into competitive, high 5 figure salaries, typically accompanied by a generous benefits package and overtime pay opportunities.
As has been the case wth past events, attendees took the opportunity to network with the panelists and each other after the discussion concluded. Sean Kearns, field representative for Assemblymember Jim Frazier was in attendance and expressed his praise of the event. Similarly, Harry Dispensa of the US Dept of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship, Jim Blanton of EDD Veteran Employment Representative, and many others contributed to the lively discussion.
AMBayArea is committed to bringing more of the community into the manufacturing talent pool by educating the public of the career opportunities that are available to them. We work with community organizations with expertise in delivering the vital services needed so that individuals struggling with barriers can succeed and grow and manufacturers who hire them have taken that risk out of the equation.
AMBayArea is grateful for the contibutions of its partnering organizations. The Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County (WDBCCC), CalWorks, and America’s Job Center of California all contributed staff time who worked to host the event and contributed to its execution.
Special thanks to George Carter, Workforce Services Specialist of WDBCCC who helped market the event and coordinated with COSTCO, which donated the refereshments. Monique Brown, Director of Workforce Services for Rubicon Programs, offered a welcome to the audience and provided staff to assist with the event. Lubna Hanif provided attendees with background about training opportunities through WIOA.
Additional appreciation goes to April Treece of OPUS LEEDS for communicating with her industry connections.
Attribution: Manufacturing Institute’s Dream it. Do it. network and BACCC contributed elements for this handout.
Special thanks to EASTBAY Works and the region’s Workforce Development Boards for supporting this work